BY ISOLDE RYAN
Copyright is held by the author.
I COME from a small little town at the foothills of the Black Forest in Germany.
My husband John and I met there, he was in the Canadian armed forces. John loved living in Germany and stayed there, even after he finished serving in the air force. Maybe I was naive to think that everything would stay the same, and was in shock when he told me he wanted to move back to Canada.
John had lived in Germany for almost 10 years and felt as he was loosing his identity, and had to get back to his roots; being a Canadian. Under protest I agreed to go with him. He promised that we would move back to Germany after two years in Canada, and I felt that it was a fair deal to make.
On December 21, 1984, I arrived with our daughter Nadine, and a new Doberman puppy in Halifax, Nova Scotia. John and our adult Doberman, Chopper had gone ahead of us, and had been there for four month getting ready for our arrival.
He picked us up at the airport, and on the way to our new home we were in awe over the amount of snow on the ground! We arrived at our house at around 8 O’clock that evening. It was dark already, and I couldn’t see anything besides the shapes of houses and a lot of snow.
John had to be back at work by 7 O’clock the next morning, and had to leave us by ourselves for the day. He suggested I take the time to go for a walk around the new neighborhood, to get oriented with the area in which we now lived. And after breakfast, I did just that.
I bundled up my six year old in several layers of clothing, and off we went to explore with our two dogs on their leashes. We walked for a bit and found the school Nadine would be attending after the holidays, when I noticed a walking trail across the road. I decided that it would be more fun walking the dogs on a trail.
The trail took us into a forest where the fresh snow had covered everything.
I noticed that there were no footprints anywhere, and thought it would be safe to let our older dog run free. I un-clipped his leash and let him go. He was so happy, and immediately took off running! We walked a bit more, and I lost site of Chopper. He had run down a steep hill in to the forest, and I suddenly heard the sound of water splashing. We started running toward the sound, and I realized that there was a large lake, frozen completely over except for the part where Chopper had broken through the ice.
He had run out toward the middle, and at 115 pounds, Chopper was too heavy and broke through into the freezing water. I started calling his name, and telling him to come, but every attempt he made to get back on the ice ended with him making a bigger hole. My heart started racing for fear that he would drown. Then it happened, he went under for a few seconds longer before popping back up. He was getting visibly tired, she started to loose the battle.
My little girl Nadine began to cry as she watched our dog fight for his life.
I knew then, I had to make a decision.
I took my coat off and gave it to Nadine, she looked at me and cried, “Mommy don’t!”
I kept calling Chopper, who by now had gone under several times. I walked as carefully as I could over the ice, but on my second step I broke through, and I was up to my waist in water! Luckily, the ice around me was very thick and it didn’t completely break.
I had to jump up on the ice, using my elbow and my weight to break it open so I could move forward.
Chopper was about sixty feet from shore, and I had to hurry if I wanted him back alive. I kept breaking the ice and calling Chopper who had realized that I was coming.
I just kept telling myself, it’s not cold; it’s not cold, hoping I could trick myself into not feeling the icy water. Finally, I got to Chopper; it felt like it had taken forever. I was just happy that he was still paddling, trying so hard to stay up!
With my body I had opened a path through the ice behind me, heading back towards shore, and when Chopper realized this, he swam right by me, and got out! He didn’t even look back to see if I was coming!
I also turned around and started swimming toward the shore, but it wasn’t as easy for me as it had been for the dog! My clothes had gotten tangled on a tree under the water and it took me quite some time to get loose. Nadine was still crying when I got back to her, but all she could say was, “Look mom, now you’re all wet.”
I took her hand and said, “Let’s go home honey, and let’s see how fast we can get there.”
The walk home was about a kilometre, and steam from our escaping body heat had started to come of the dog and I as we headed back. The temperature was probably — 12; and half way home I started to really feel the cold, but I couldn’t let my little girl know that there was anything wrong with the dog and I, even though we had gone for a swim!
Walking through the subdivision, all I could think about was getting into something dry and warm, and I hoped that nobody would see me, I must have looked ridiculous, all soaking wet! I did feel a bit embarrassed.
When we got home, I quickly changed and took care of our poor dog who was visibly in shock.
The phone rang, my brother-in-law called to welcome me to Canada. When I told him what had happened to us, he seamed very concerned, and repeatedly asked me how I felt. I explained that it was the dog that had the accident not me, and that I was simply Chopper’s rescuer! I was not the victim.
He went on to tell me all about hypothermia and that it kills people in Canada every year. Something that I should apparently know if I was planning on living here!
Our neighborhood on Havelock Crescent was full of truly amazingly kind and compassionate people, who made the few years we lived there an amazing experience.
We often laugh about my first day in Canada and how easily it could have been my last. Nevertheless, I am still here.
We since have moved to Ontario, and the couple of years I was planning on spending here have now turned into thirty two; and I wouldn’t change a thing.
I am a proud Canadian with strong German roots; and I love this country for its beauty and all it has to offer.
My children are Canadians and my grand children are too, it is truly where I want to be.
By the way, I stopped a long time ago reminding my husband of his promises to move back.