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Walworth County sheriff’s Deputy Blake Stewart poses with Dante, the Nova Scotia duck-tolling retriever who fell through the ice on Lake Lorraine on Nov. 12.

TOWN OF RICHMOND

Dante’s piercing whimpers filled the below-zero air near Lake Lorraine on a recent Tuesday night.

His body partially submerged in the frigid water, the frantic 10-year-old Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever was clinging to a piece of ice when a man heard his cries for help and called 911.

Walworth County sheriff’s Deputy Blake Stewart happened to be a few minutes away when the call came in at about 6 p.m. Nov. 12.

Sheriff’s office squad cars are equipped with cold water rescue suits. While Stewart normally would wait for another deputy before entering the water, he was told it was only 3 or 4 feet deep.

“I decided I had to go out there and get that dog because I hated watching it struggle and whimper,” he said. “Obviously, it was very afraid.”

Stewart fished Dante out of the lake and brought him into his squad car, where the heat was “absolutely blasting.” The 911 caller brought a blanket.

As deputies and neighbors canvassed the area to find Dante’s owner, the dog was sent to Lakeland Animal Shelter to make sure he was OK.

And don’t worry, he was. Dante was walking the next day and had only a little frostbite on his nose and paws, said his owner, Betsy Sheets.

She sent Stewart a grateful email two days later.

“I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for rescuing him,” she wrote. “I understand he did not have much time left and without your effort he would not be with us tonight.”

Sheets, 60, had let Dante out to go to the bathroom. As he started to wander away—as he has done periodically—she called his name and told him to come inside (at this point in the phone call with a Gazette reporter, a dog started barking; perhaps Dante disputed this sequence of events).

She said Dante usually goes to a nearby field and comes back full of burrs within 15 or 20 minutes. He doesn’t come back wet, which is why Sheets was surprised he ended up in the lake.

Dante didn’t return in his usual time, so Sheets dressed for the cold weather and drove around the neighborhood, calling for him. No luck.

“It was so cold,” she said. “I was scared. I was scared. He could have gotten hit by a car.”

After it all went wrong, Sheets appreciated how everything went right.

She said the man who called 911 was an Illinois resident who happened to be visiting his summer cottage.

At first, he ignored his own dog’s barking. But when it would not stop—seemingly imploring the man to investigate—he brought a flashlight to check out what was happening.

Fortunately, Stewart was patrolling close by and was able to use the man’s equipment. Then there was a neighbor who recognized Dante on a community website post that was looking for his owner. That neighbor showed Sheets the post, she said.

“Everything just worked perfectly for him that night,” she said.

Dante’s experience offers lessons for all of us.

Sheriff’s Capt. Dave Gerber said the ice is not yet thick enough for people to safely stand on it. Sheets said it is possible deer-rutting season is stirring dogs up.

Stewart, who visited Dante to check on his condition, said he is an “animal lover” who grew up with a dog. He kept thinking how he would have felt if his dog were trapped in a lake and a stranger saved it.

“I would be just overwhelmed with happiness,” he said.

Sheets was thankful for everyone who helped and cared for Dante.

“You both bring tears to my eyes because of your wonderful act of caring for that pooch who so desperately needed your help,” she wrote of the 911 caller and Stewart. “Dante is his same happy self—playing ball indoors—our carpet shows the wear!”

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