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St. Clair Shores

Published February 5, 2014

‘Animal lover’ rescues dog from Lake St. Clair ice

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Lucy, a 1-year-old boxer owned by the Sawka family, was rescued Jan. 20 from Lake St. Clair.

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Luck, timing, bravery and social media all made a difference in the life of a local dog last month, after she escaped her backyard and ended up almost five miles from home, on the cracking ice of Lake St. Clair.

Lucy, a 1-year-old Boxer, knows how to open the gate at her home in the area of Masonic Boulevard and Harper Avenue. That’s why there is an extra chain on the fence at the Sawka house. But the morning of Jan. 18, Lisa Sawka said a family member forgot to chain the gate when letting Lucy outside.

“Normally, she’ll sit at the front door and cry,” Sawka said. “But this time, she didn’t.”

Instead, the dog ran away from home. The family immediately began posting flyers and photos of the missing dog around town, putting messages on Facebook asking for anyone who had seen the dog with the purple collar to help, and calling the police.

The family looked for their furry friend all weekend in the frigid temperatures, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, 29-year-old Jonathan Szkola, of St. Clair Shores, decided to use his day off Jan. 20 to hit the lake with some friends for ice fishing. He was on the canal in Emerald Marina, next to Brownie’s on the Lake restaurant, when something out on the lake caught his eye.

“I seen something running around, back and forth, frantically,” he said.

He walked farther out on the lake to the open water, where others were fishing, as well, to see what they were catching but also because his curiosity had been piqued by the movement he saw out on the lake.

“I’m just watching out my peripheral (vision) … then we see it just plop in the water,” he said.

Despite his friends’ warnings of it being too far out on the lake, Szkola ventured out to investigate and discovered a 3-foot by 4-foot hole cut in the ice.

“The dog trotted over it, it wasn’t completely frozen over,” he said. “The closer I got, I seen it was a little Boxer. I was like, ‘Oh no.’ I dropped my stuff, ran over there. I don’t know how it survived that long. It took me 10-15 minutes to get out there.”

The dog had icicles on its whiskers, he said, so he pulled it quickly out of the water.

“I had a big, bulky hoodie on,” he said. “Took it off, tried to dry her off real quick.”

Setting the dog down for a moment to grab his fishing equipment, she ran off again, but Szkola followed her to a marina farther south. Meanwhile, his friends saw him disappear and feared the worst. They called 911 for help.

When the police found him and the dog, he turned her over to them, hoping they would reconnect her with her owner.

But Szkola couldn’t stop thinking about the dog and so, after he went home and got warm and dry, he headed over to the VCA Animal Hospital on Harper Avenue, where he had been told she would be taken. He also took a moment to post on Facebook about the dog he had found with a purple collar, asking friends to share the information in the hopes of finding her owner.

“Some woman … messaged me on Facebook,” he said. She told him that she had found a photo of a dog on a lost and found pets site that was a Boxer with a purple collar. “It fully resembled the dog. They said her name was Lucy.”

He asked the veterinarian to call the dog by that name, and “she started wiggling her butt,” Szkola said.

Later that night, he got a message from a friend, Jared Sawka. It turns out, Lucy was his family’s dog.

“It all kind of clicked,” Szkola said. “I’m an avid animal lover and I’d expect somebody else to do the same for my dog.”

Lisa Sawka said a woman who had seen the flyers told her she would post Lucy’s photo to the “For the Love of Louie Michigan Lost Pet Lookers” Facebook page.

“It was really weird, but thank goodness for every social network that there is out there,” Sawka said. “That is the only way we got our dog back.”

She said they got a call the evening of Jan. 20 from someone who had seen both their and Szkola’s Facebook posts.

“We looked … and we knew it was her,” she said.

Sawka said she felt terrible after learning that her dog had fallen through the ice and didn’t know then if Lucy was going to make it. She was nervous as she made her way to the veterinary hospital.

“The minute she saw me, she was just all over me,” Sawka said of the dog. “She’s doing absolutely wonderful.”

She said she can’t believe Lucy made it so far away from home, but she’s grateful for Szkola’s actions.

“We’re floored by the whole thing,” she said. “It takes that right person at the right moment, and he was there.”

For more local news coverage, see the following newspaper:

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