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Dog owner risks own safety to save pet trapped in icy river

Brian Skakun's quick actions bring happy ending to Kato's Fraser River rescue

Brian Skakun’s morning walk Saturday along the Fraser River trails south of the city turned to near-disaster when his dog Kato walked out from the shore and fell through the ice.

The seven-year-old Siberian husky/Malamute cross was clinging to the surface gripping the ice with his paws with only his head above the water when Skakun and his son discovered Kato's life-threatening plight.

They grabbed a 25-foot log and another tree length about eight feet long and Skakun used his makeshift ladder to spread his weight over a wider surface as he crawled out onto the ice to try to rescue his pet.  

“I always take my dog hiking with me and he does not like water, said the 61-year-old Prince George city councilor. “We got down by the river and I was taking a bit of a break and the next thing I know I hear him whining and looked and saw he went through some ice sticking out from the shore,” said Skakun.

“I grabbed (the logs) and I thought if I just kneel on them and crawl out and get him I’ll be OK and I wasn’t worried about myself drowning but I took my cell phone out and my keys out and went out there.”

With his son Jake recording video with his phone from the shore, it took Skakun about five minutes to get to Kato. He reached in and grabbed him by the collar to pull him back onto the ice and they made it back to dry land without further incident.

“He was terrified because he’s never been in water like that,” said Skakun.

“He had probably been in the water 10 minutes and he was just keeping his head up and his front paws were just dug into the ice. Some people say, it’s a dog, what happens if you had gone in? I figured I was well-prepared and my weight was distributed across the ice and I was able to get right near the soft ice where he was and pull him out without sinking in at all.”

The spot where Kato broke through was a deeper part of the river where an outcrop of land created an eddy current. The water wasn’t moving swiftly but it was deep.

“He never goes on ice and I’ve never seen him do that before and this time he must have thought the ice was safe,” said Skakun.  

“Had he gone under the ice he would have drowned, but I thought I’ve got to a get out there and grab him,” he said. 

“The funny thing is I got him on shore after and he just stuck right beside, I couldn’t give him enough affection for the rest of the day. It was like he knew, something happened. We do those kinds of thing for our pets. He’s not afraid to protect me and I just returned the favour.”

Skakun doesn’t recommend doing what he did because he easily could have gone through the ice as well, but he could not bear to see his best friend suffering on his own.

“I figured I was safe enough that in the worst case scenario I might have got wet, but I would have been able to pull myself out with those logs and I wasn’t worried about myself going in,” he said. “There was probably another seven or eight feet of ice and if he had gone under there where do you go? Most of the other areas along the river had no ice at all.”

There were a couple lessons learned.

“I’m not going to bring him to the water in the springtime when there’s ice and I’ll bet you he never goes out on ice again as long as I have him,” he said.