Dog gone, ice rescue challenges county sheriff’s deputies

REPUBLIC – A Republic Township man is grateful to Marquette County Sheriff’s Office deputies who tried to rescue his dog this week from an island surrounded by cold water and badly deteriorated snow and ice.

At about 5 a.m. Monday, Steve Nesbitt let his two dogs – an 8-year-old golden retriever named Tanner and a Canadian husky called Nikka, which just turned 2 – out for their morning routine.

Tanner came back to the door whining with no sign of Nikka. Nesbitt, a semi-retired aerospace worker who manages Lost Lake Lodge and lives there, looked for Nikka for an hour with no luck.

At about 7 a.m., Nesbitt and Tanner went back out, searching for the missing husky, also known as “the rebel dog from Canada.”

“This time, Tanner runs over to the lake and I follow him,” Nesbitt said. “I hear a faint crying and my worst fears kick in: a dog breaking through the ice or being attacked by wolf or coyote.”

Nesbitt realizes that somehow, Nikka had made it across the surface of Spring Lake to a small island covered with cedar trees and could not figure out how to make it back to the ice, which was covered with about six inches of slush.

“There was only one spot I could see where there was no water between the shoreline and the ice,” Nesbitt said.

Relieved the dog was alive, Nesbitt now wondered how he would be able to get him back to the safety of the mainland shore.

“I am alone, the ice is too thin to walk on and push a boat,” Nesbitt said.

Nesbitt called 911 emergency dispatchers, who told him to contact the animal shelter. The shelter was closed, but Nesbitt left a message and later got a call back. He called the local fire department, which was unable to assist.

In what he thought was a last option, Nesbitt called the county sheriff’s search and rescue detail.

Capt. David Lemire of the Marquette County Sheriff’s Office said Nesbitt told him his dog had wandered to the island, which was about 300 feet from shore.

“His dog was not able to return to the residence across the ice,” Lemire said. “I had advised him (Nesbitt) not to attempt to cross by himself.”

Lemire said he notified two of his special operations officers, Sgt. Errikk Decker and Cpl. Errol Lukkarinen, who responded to Spring Lake, which is situated off M-95 a few miles south of the intersection with U.S. 41.

Nesbitt said they geared up, loaded a rescue raft and arrived on the private grounds around Spring Lake at about 10 a.m.

“It was like watching an episode on TV,” Nesbitt said. “One deputy suited up, headed out and immediately broke through the ice. So we grab one of my smaller aluminum boats and he pushes that across the ice toward the island – the whole way, on his stomach, spread eagle.”

Lemire said Lukkarinen was suited in ice rescue gear and the boat being pushed was 10-feet long.

“He breaks through the ice again as he reaches the island,” Nesbitt said. “Not to be deterred, he gets the boat to shore and gets Nikka into the boat. The other deputy and I start pulling in the tag line and skid them back to land. All are a little wet, cold, but safe.”

Nesbitt said he wanted to thank the deputies and their captain for their quick response, concern and help in rescuing his dog.

“We appreciate the grateful comments of Mr. Nesbitt and want to applaud him for doing the right thing by not venturing onto the ice and putting himself in harm’s way,” Lemire said.

Lemire said deputies would advise the public in such situations to stay off the ice and call 911 or the sheriff’s office.

“There is no safe ice. This time of year is especially dangerous as the ice thickness is not a good indicator of ice stability,” Lemire said. “This time of year, the ice is referred to as ‘snow ice,’ which is very unstable, despite thickness.”

Nesbitt said he adopted Nikka when he was a year old in April 2013.

“He has been a work in progress as he had no training of any sorts when I adopted him,” Nesbitt said. “He has that wild wolf-husky gene that sometimes gets the better of him when he spots a potential wildlife meal. He has always returned after the chase, sometimes, up to two or three hours later. He is getting better understanding commands and I can usually stop him before the predator mindset kicks in. All and all, he is loving, playful and I love him dearly. He can test my patience at times though.”

Lemire said deputies in Marquette County respond to an average of five stranded animal calls each year.