Vail Daily letter: Thin ice and other dangers

After a perfect day of skiing, I took my white English Lab, Topper, to the Edwards Freedom Park as has been our après-ski tradition all season. This was his reward for having waited patiently for me while I was on the slopes.

Unlike our usual practice, however, this day I had a phone call scheduled with a client in Singapore — a call that I simply couldn’t miss. Not wanting to deny Topper his opportunity for exercise and playtime, I figured I could take the call from the park and still keep my eye on him from atop the hill.

Everything was absolutely “as expected” for the first 20 minutes or so ... lots of chasing, sniffing, fetching, running and tug-of-warring for Topper; all in plain sight on the hillside above the pond. Lulled into complacency, my phone call increasingly absorbed my attention. Although it seemed as if it had only been a few moments since I had last checked on him, the next time I saw him, Topper was on the ice down by one of the open pools standing near a man who was pulling another dog from the water. And the man was soaking wet.

Believing that Topper hadn’t been directly involved in the ice rescue, I whistled for him and went back to my call. Once he got up close to me, though, I realized he was soaking wet and had obviously fallen through the ice, too; only to have been saved by the very heroic act of another owner. And I had been so distracted; I was oblivious to the entire happening even though I thought I was being my usually attentive and responsible self! Not!

And that’s my point. With the seasons beginning to change on the valley floor and soon in the higher country, dangers can exist one day that weren’t a factor the day before: thin ice, excessive run-off due to breaking log jams, rock slides, downed trees, avalanches and mud slides to name a few. Paying attention to the ones for whom we are responsible must always be a full-time job, not relegated to a lesser status because a familiar situation has never posed a problem before. Being more diligent at this time of the year can mean the difference between a tragedy or another perfect day with a best friend and/or family member (hound or human).

Topper and I were extremely fortunate to have a selfless hero on hand by the name of Phillip, a local area police officer and former Navy Seal who had the knowledge and the skill to act without hesitation. But you may not be so lucky. So please, learn from my near catastrophic loss and increase your attentiveness as the shoulder season approaches. It takes what may seem to be only a moment — even in the most familiar of situations — to find yourself, or your dog, truly out on thin ice.

Nat Stoddard


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The VailDaily Updated Mar 24, 2014 12:10PM Published Mar 24, 2014 11:04AM Copyright 2014 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.