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Pensioner risks life to save his dog

A PLUCKY pensioner proved to be his dog's best friend when he risked his own life to save his pet from drowning in an ice-covered lake.

Eight-month-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier Alfie ran out onto the ice at a pool in Warrens Hall Park, Rowley Regis, Staffordshire while on a walk with owner Joe Hill during last month’s unseasonable cold weather.

When the ice gave way, 73-year-old Joe watched Alfie hopelessly try to scramble back to the surface. Realising there was no one around to help, Joe decided he couldn't leave his "best friend" to die in the icy water.

So non-swimmer Joe - who had knee replacement surgery in January and a heart operation last year - plunged into the water himself to rescue Alfie.

Joe said: "The dog went under four times - he just kept going down. He couldn't climb out onto the ice. He kept looking at me when he surfaced and I was shouting for somebody to help me.
"There was just one other person walking his dog in the park, an old man, and he said ‘He's gone down too many times, he's dead’.

"I couldn't leave him there. I tripped in the reeds and lost my footing in the pool. The water came up to my chest and then into my mouth. I thought I was going to die.

"I got closer to the dog, hit the ice and it cracked. The dog seemed to shoot up to the surface and I managed to grab him. I'm not even sure what part of him I got hold of."

Joe managed to wade back to the shore with the dog, but realised later that he, himself, was suffering from shock from his ordeal as he drove home with Alfie shivering on the back seat.
Joe’s wife Daisy was so shocked by his appearance when he came home that she thought he had been attacked.

She added: "I didn't even realise he had gone to Warrens Hall, I thought he had just taken the dog on the field at the back of our home. I got Joe some dry clothes and quickly put the dog in the bath with the shower on him to warm him up. He was shivering so much."

The couple then sat and held Alfie against them for an hour to warm him up. Luckily, within a couple of hours the dog was back to his old self.

Joe said: "It was on the television that night that more people die trying to rescue their dogs from frozen lakes than do trying to skate on them. It's quite frightening.

"To see him now though makes me feel as though I've done something great. I'm no hero though - I was scared at the time."

Safety campaigners have advised that people do not attempt to rescue dogs that fall through ice, pointing out that dogs have fur which insulates them for some time, whilst humans are very susceptible to sudden drops in temperature, such as would be brought on by wading into icy cold water.

Also, a dog would most likely manage to scramble out onto the ice again, whereas the ice would be unlikely to support a human’s weight.

Joe added: "I have taken him back to the spot but he won't go by the pool any more. He learned a hard lesson."

Joe, who has owned and bred Staffordshire Bull Terriers for 55 years, said he would not hesitate to do it all again. "He's a perfect pet and a perfect friend and I would do it all again. No way could I leave my best friend behind."

Cuddly Toy Rescue

Joe’s heroic – if somewhat desperate - rescue of Alfie was in stark contrast to the situation when fire fighters in nearby Hednesford launched a rescue operation to free two dogs from an icy lake - and then discovered they were cuddly toys.

A crew from Cannock fire station headed down to Anglesey Lake after a resident alerted the service to an ‘Alsatian and a Border Collie’ that were trapped below the surface of the water.
The fire fighters also took their boat and drafted in the help of two fire crews from neighbouring Rugeley.

The fire crews had attempted to use special catching poles to grab hold of the dogs from the bank, off Stagborough Way. But they were too far out leading to the boat being brought into action.

However, when the fire officers ventured further out onto the lake they realised the casualties were in fact life-sized cuddly toy dogs.

Watch Manager Neil Griffiths said the service would always take such calls seriously.

"When we got there we realised that one was obviously a cuddly toy but the other one looked like a Border Collie dog," he said. "As the operation continued we found that they were both in fact teddies. It was an easy mistake to make; the toys did look extremely realistic.

"We would always encourage anyone who has genuine concerns about the safety of an animal in a situation like this to call us."

He added the fire service had to carry out the operation in order to prevent members of the public from wading into the water.

"The toys needed to be freed as there could have been dire consequences if a child or a member of the public had mistaken them for real animals and had tried to release them."

"If they had ventured on to the ice, they could have broken the surface and fallen into the water which was pretty cold."