Courage to Choose: The Day the Dogs Didn’t Die and Neither Did I

 Taking Chances in Life and Business Can Pay Off. Read the Story Below for a True Life Example.


The last time Zoe and Mattie went hunting.

The last time Zoe and Mattie went hunting.

Imagine a  skinny little five year old, huddled in a marsh, getting his first taste of duck hunting, cold as heck, but too enthralled to want to go home.  That’s how I started, with my Dad, planting  waterfowling in my blood forever.

Dad grew up in central North Dakota and his brother and sister still lived in the homestead. The house is on the edge of a tiny town, Kloten, smack dab in the middle of “duck country”

As my brother Marc and I got older, every fall we made a couple of trips to chase ducks and geese. We lived for the hunts.

Our equipment was poor, but we didn’t care.  We learned to persevere through the cold and we learned to hunt.  And we got better and became more successful every year.

Each year we would have better guns and decoys. Right after I graduated from college, we added Abby, a Springer Spaniel  to the mix.  Now we could really hunt.

Because we generally erred on the side of safety, other than getting wet occasionally, we never really had any trouble.  One day that changed.

They never missed a chance to go for a ride.

They never missed a chance to go for a ride.

It was late in the 1990’s and a huge blizzard was on its way, when we had planned to head to ND.  On our way, we hunted in the snowstorm at a friends goose field in western MN. It was a memorable and great hunt in 40-50 mph winds.

After the blizzard hunt,we picked up Dad and headed to the “hunting lodge”. The closer we got, the worse the roads were. We had to shovel the snow just to get into the front door.

Of course, snow wasn’t going to stop us.  We had my four wheel drive Expedition, and it could go through a lot.  Many of the sloughs were partially or totally frozen.  Duck hunting in ice can be a problem.

At the time, I had two young Labrador Retrievers–Mattie, a Yellow lab, and one of her pups–a Black Lab named Zoe.

We soon found a bunch of ducks huddled in with three swans.  We couldn’t go after the swans, but there were about a dozen prime plumage mallards  in a  small patch of open water right next to shore–a perfect jump shooting opportunity.

After a short sneak, we harvesting three beautiful drakes.  Unfortunately we also crippled one and it landed about 100 yards out, breaking through the thin ice as it fell. The dogs saw it. There was no stopping them.

Just when they reached the mallard, both of them fell through. Many sloughs in ND are shallow, but apparently it was too deep for them to push off the bottom, so there they were , holding on to the ice edge with their front paws.

They soon realized they were in trouble. It was very cold.  The water was cold. We were in trouble.  They were whining in fear.

Our boat was six miles away back at the house.  It would take at least 45 minutes to pick it up and get back, provided we could get the boat of the snow bank.  The dogs were unlikely to make it that long.

Looking at the situation, my brother and I knew there were not too many options.  What should I do”? I asked him.  He said, ” don’t know but you better hurry up and do something”. (He did use a little more colorful language).

Because I knew I had to try.  I also new it was dangerous.  However, I could not imagine losing them without even trying. I was willing too take the risk.  Not without trepidation.  The human species doesn’t last long in frigid water.

Thinking quickly, a plan developed.  I dug out a 25′ tow strap and a 50′ rope from the vehicle and stripped off my heavy coat.  I was cold all ready and knew my odds of getting wet were pretty good.

We did have a couple things in our favor.  Being avid outdoorsmen for many years, including lot’s of ice fishing, we could tell there was stronger ice reasonably close to where the dogs had gone through.

By this time both labs were crying continuously, begging for help.  The other advantage we had was that, although I am a big guy, 6′ 2 and 200 lbs,  Marc is bigger and  very strong.

So the plan was to walk out on the good ice and then I would switch  to a  belly crawl when I got close to the dogs. Marc would stay on the strong ice, ready to pull when needed.  I was really wishing I knew how deep it was, and how strong the “good” ice was.

The strategy worked until I reached the frantic retrievers.  Just as I grabbed their collars, down I went–face first. But I had gotten ahold of them enough to help them on to the ice.  They took off as fast as they could towards my brother.  Meanwhile, I was yelling at Marc “pull” as my head bobbed in and out of the frigid pond.

I heard him yell ” I am pulling” and in a moment I was back out of the water and soon was hurriedly getting myself back to safety. Our Dad had watched the whole event from the Expedition, wondering how things would work out.

After digging out a dry shirt and cranking up the heat, we were off to see if we could find some more ducks.  Duck hunters don’t quit easily.

Deep down, I guess I never doubted I would try making a rescue attempt.  I could not of lived with myself. Willingness to try, to take a risk, experience and being prepared paid off. The same qualities can work in business.

Desire and preparedness equals success–and in this case, two saved dogs.  Interestingly, neither would go on the ice the rest of trip.  They had learned their lesson.

Once a beautiful farm home.  Now a reminder of the "olden" days.

Once a beautiful farm home. Now a reminder of the “olden” days.

As in life, business decisions sometimes must be made quickly and decively based on options,experience and the best tools available.

Sometimes you have to take chances.

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