Big dog in big trouble; Coast Guardsmen rescue Great Dane from frozen Lake Huron

This post is courtesy of Ens. Phil Constantino, Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay.

Coast Guard men and women train tirelessly every day to be ready for any situation that could be handed to them. Sometimes they face intense trials. Other times, they deal with routine operations. Regardless of the circumstances though, each person has to be ready to spring into action for any event they may face.

March 16, 2011, after a long day of drills and training, the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay was finally about to anchor for the night in lower Lake Huron. We were almost at their anchorage when Petty Officer 2nd Class Mark Lauters noticed something strange. He called for a spotlight and quickly notified the bridge that there was a dog wandering around on the ice. It is not uncommon to see wild animals crossing the frozen rivers between Lake Erie and Lake Huron. But this situation proved to be different. We were more than three miles offshore in the Lake Huron Cut channel. Also, with the recent rise in spring temperatures, the ice was melting rapidly. Quickly taking these factors into account, the Bristol Bay’s commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Matt ten Berge, ordered the crew to set the ice rescue bill to retrieve the animal.

Bella

DETROIT -- Bella is tended to by crewmembers of Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay, March 17, 2011. She had been missing for over 48 hours from her home in Sarnia, Ontario and found more than eight miles away, wandering around the ice in the Lake Huron Cut channel. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Tuten).

The ice conditions in Lake Huron were the most challenging factors in the operation. While still fairly solid, the spring thaw was causing the ice to decay. As the cutter moved towards the dog, the ice would begin to crack, and large chunks would break off in all directions. The Officer of the Deck, Petty Officer 1st Class Kristian Sova, had to carefully guide the cutter around shoal water and towards the dog without scaring it off or putting it in danger. This was an extremely complicated task. Once the ice rescue team was ready and the cutter was as close as possible, Lauters went onto the ice and began the difficult job of retrieving the dog.

At first, the dog was tentative about approaching Lauters or the cutter. It took the whole crew’s effort to coax the dog with whistling and throwing leftovers from the previous meal. After about 30 minutes, Lauters was able reach the dog, attach a line to her collar, and guide her carefully back to the ship. “Lucky” (as she was affectionately called) was quickly taken onboard and tended to by Petty Officer 3rd Class Wesley Ham, the unit’s EMT, as well as other members of the crew.

The plan had been to bring the dog immediately back to Port Huron so that she could be handed over to the local animal shelter. However, the Bristol bay experienced engine trouble and was unable to return until morning. Chief Warrant Officer Darryl Johnson and Chief Petty Officer Dave Henrichs worked tirelessly through the night to get the plant back up and running. At dawn, with the engines back on line, we steamed into Port Huron to hand the dog over to the St. Clair Animal Control Office. When finally back on land, the crew honored her with a Temporary Cutterman’s Pin.

Bella and Bristol Bay crewmembers

DETROIT -- Several crewmembers of Coast Guard Cutter Bristol Bay pose with Bella the Great Dane, shortly before she is handed over to the St. Clair County Animal Society, March 17, 2011. She was returned to her owners in Sarnia, Ontario later that afternoon. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Adam Leggett).

Later that day, the dog’s owners were found, and she was returned to her home. “Bella,” the dog’s actual name, had wandered eight miles away from her home in Sarnia, Ontario, and had ended up over three miles offshore in the middle of Lake Huron. Her owners and their two young children were very thankful for our work and grateful to have their dog home.

“We were very happy to host Bella for the evening and extremely pleased that she has been returned to her owners in Sarnia,” said ten Berge.


  • Elisa Stroh

    Thank you for sharing this story! My good friend and former WTGB-102 crew member, USCG Auxiliarist George Keefer, would have been extremely proud of your efforts, as am I.
    Bravo Zulu to the entire crew!

    Respectfully yours,

  • tara

    i live here in port huron mich. and suggested the port huron article for coast guard compass, my son is in the coast guard too, i love you guys for all the hard work you do. i grew up with a grandfather that retired!! from the c.g. and a father who was in it too. great job guys you all have a heart. tara

  • Elizabeth Moore

    Love this story, and not just for the obvious reasons. My Dad was a former Coastie, we had several Great Danes at various times, and I grew up not far from Lake Huron. The fact that this tale had all three elements makes it perfect!

  • Brianna Fritz

    This is a very touching story, we normally are known for saving people from the seas or lakes, it is touching to hear the crew went through all this trouble for a lost dog. It reflects well on the Coast Guard as well as being a heartwarming story. Great job!