Dog who fell through ice rescued by firefighter

A lucky dog was reunited with its owner after being rescued by Rockville Centre firefighters from the frigid waters in Hempstead Lake State Park. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (Jan. 22, 2014)

A 90-pound dog named Teddy fell through an icy patch of Hempstead Lake Wednesday and was pulled out by firefighters who had trained for rescues this month on the same waters.

For about 30 minutes, the 3-year-old dog clung with his front paws to a chuck of ice to stay afloat, with the lower half of his body under water, and icicles forming on his thick, bearlike fur, said his owner, MaryAnn Nesdill of Rockville Centre.

"He was so far out, I could barely see him out there," she said. "He was struggling to get out of the hole in the ice.

"I thought we were going to lose him. I thought he was gone. He was howling, crying the whole time, breaking my heart."

Nesdill said the incident happened when they were walking in Hempstead Lake State Park, where her husband often runs with Teddy, a Labrador-border collie mix the couple adopted in 2012 from Gimme Shelter Animal Rescue in Sagaponack.

On the walk, all was quiet until 9 a.m., Nesdill said, when the dog suddenly broke free, raced through a hole in a nearby fence, down a hill and into the lake.

"He took off like a bullet," she said. "Who knows what he heard?"

Unable to chase him because the snowy hill was too steep, she lost sight of the dog, she said, so she called and called his name.

"Then I heard the geese in the background," Nesdill said. "He was out on the lake and he was howling 'rowrl rowrl.' He was so loud."

She dialed 911 and within minutes, Rockville Centre firefighters arrived, along with the village mayor, the deputy mayor, state parks police and village police.

Firefighter Danny Leboff was the first to go on the ice, 100 yards out on his stomach, tethered by a rope to colleagues on shore, said Mayor Francis Murray.

Two others followed, including one with a raft already inflated, just as the firefighters had trained a week and half ago on the lake, the mayor said. Then, the firefighters had to dig a hole in the ice and one of them got into the water to play the victim in ice rescue drills, Murray said.

"They were so prepared," Nesdill said.

Leboff pulled Teddy out, and when the raft arrived, the dog jumped in.

"Then I saw his tail wagging," Nesdill said. "Then, he ran back up that hill and right to me."

She muttered "stupid dog" under her breath, but she was happy to see him, icicles and all, she said.

The dog ran around, happy, like he'd just been let "out of a cage," Murray said.

"It seems to me like a miracle that the dog didn't die," the mayor said. "I think a human being would have been gone."

Teddy had been rescued from a high-kill shelter in South Carolina and placed for adoption by the Sagaponack shelter, his owner said. The dog usually has a "teddy bear" personality and likes to howl and talk to his owners, race with squirrels in the backyard and play soccer in the basement, she said.

Murray said he'll invite Nesdill, Teddy and the entire 345-member fire department, where he's a first responder, to be recognized at the next village board meeting, Feb. 3. Leboff was fighting a fire Wednesday afternoon and could not be immediately reached.

Checked out by a vet, Teddy was home in the afternoon, lying by the front door, sunning himself and enjoying belly rubs, Nesdill said.

Those were his treats after the ordeal, along with a red ball that he tore up after Nesdill's friend brought it to him.

But still, Nesdill spoke with fondness of her dog, saying "My boy."

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