Deer saved from icy Alberta river in rescue caught on video

A doe was pulled to safety with the help of an ex-firefighter who waded into an icy river near Drumheller, Alta.

Former firefighter who waded into water says doe was 'so happy' when it got its hooves back on solid ice

This deer, stuck in the ice of the semi-frozen Red Deer River, was rescued with the help of Matthew Todd Paproski and others on the shore. (Starland Studios/Facebook)

It wasn't this doe's day to die.

A female mule deer stuck in the semi-frozen Red Deer River near Drumheller, Alta., was pulled to safety with the help of an ex-firefighter who waded into the icy water and a rope team on shore.

It all started through social media.

  • Scroll down or click here to watch a video of the rescue

Matthew Todd Paproski said he was just about to lie down for a nap when he saw a post on Facebook about a deer that was trapped in the river not too far from his home.

He replied to ask if anyone had offered to help and, about a half hour later, got a response.

"They said, 'Well, yeah, but most of the people that are offering to come help want to bring their rifles,'" Paproski recalled.

"I said, no, no, no. We're going to come along and let's see if we can help save that deer."

He grabbed his rescue equipment, his girlfriend Laura Dougan grabbed her camera gear, and they set out for the river, where they quickly found the deer in the water and a crowd on shore.

"It was stuck in the water and it was just so helpless looking, we had no choice but to help it," Paproski said.

"The deer was clearly in distress. The people on the shore watching were in distress, and we could do something."

The deer was stuck in the water near the home of April De Smet in Lehigh, a small community about 20 kilometres southeast of the main Drumheller townsite.

The self-described animal lover had posted the initial message to Facebook and resisted the suggestions from some in the community that the animal simply be shot dead.

"I wanted to see this deer out," she said. "It wasn't like it was in there suffering with a broken leg or hit by a car. Nothing like that. You just looked at it and knew it needed a little help."

Paproski agreed, but wasn't taking any chances.

Using his past experience as a firefighter and the assistance of others in the area, he set up with a rope and a belay and some spotters before setting out onto the ice.

'Might as well jump in'

As he first approached the deer, it tried to run away, venturing even further into the water, so Paproski changed tactics.

"I was walking across the ice and the ice was cracking underneath and I didn't know what to do, so I thought, 'Might as well jump in,'" he said.

"So I jumped in the river. Thank God it wasn't too deep — it was just to the edge of the top of my hip waders — and I got around and behind the deer and encouraged her to come back toward shore."

He then got a rope around the deer and, with people on shore pulling and him lifting from below, the team managed to get the animal up onto solid ice.

The deer took it from there.

"She was so happy," Paproski said. "She just went running to shore and just about as she got to shore, she slipped and had to slide on her bum a little way, but she got back up again and away she went."

'Just a great feeling for us'

This all happened on Dec. 10, but Paproski said he only posted the video online on Dec. 27, where it has since amassed 11,000 views.

As a filmmaker who specializes in wildlife and cares deeply about animals, Paproski said he hopes the video of the rescue will prompt people to think twice about the well-being of other living creatures.

He stressed, though, that the group carefully evaluated the circumstances before going ahead with the rescue and it's not the type of thing that should be attempted without due consideration and appropriate training.

"It looked like we had a good opportunity to be successful at it, so it was worth doing," he said.

"It was just a great feeling for us."

Interview with lead deer saviour

7 years ago
Duration 7:22
Matthew Paproski led the deer rescue, and he speaks to CBC

With files from Diane Yanko