Yellowknife man plunges through lake ice to save his dog

When Don Pittman decided to take his dogs out on the frozen lake one last time this season, he didn't expect this "nightmare scenario" to happen.

'It all just went at the same time,' says Don Pittman. 'Boom. I was in the water'

Curwibble, left with Don Pittman. Curwibble saved her sister Barachois' life when she raced to warn Pittman that Barachois had fallen through the ice on Yellowknife Bay. (Submitted by Don Pittman)

Don Pittman said he was "humming and hawing" about whether to take his dogs out on Yellowknife Bay for one last time this week.

The ice looked "pretty solid" and he said he remembered seeing some snowmobiles on it over the weekend. His dogs, Barachois and Curwibble, pooch sisters, loved running and rolling around in the snow on the frozen lake.

"So I figured, what the heck, we'll do one last time." Pittman said it was a "spur of the moment" decision mid-walk. And off they went.

Curwibble, left, and Barachois turned three years old this past week, just a day before Barachois fell through the ice. (Submitted by Don Pittman)

Sisterly concern alerts owner

All of a sudden, Curwibble — a brown, shepherd-like dog — came running back alone, trying to get Pittman's attention. She then quickly ran away toward a bobbing head and flailing paws some couple of hundred metres away.

The 70-pound Barachois had fallen through the ice.

"I sprinted back towards her," said Pittman. "Just wanted to get to her as quickly as I could."

When he got close, he got down to his stomach and crawled toward her to spread his weight out. Barachois was trying to make her way toward Pittman, he said, moving the water and breaking the ice in the process.

"And it all just went at the same time," said Pittman. "Boom. I was in the water."

Pittman said that thanks to adrenaline, determination and a series of "analytical" moves, he was able to pull himself up after reaching stronger ice.

Barachois and Curwibble are dog sisters who love to play on the frozen lakes in Yellowknife. (Submitted by Don Pittman)

He said he was calm, but afraid — adding that falling through ice was "very much a nightmare scenario for me."

Eventually, Barachois was able to swim over to the drenched Pittman.

"I was just able to grab her collar and pull her back out and we got the heck out of there."

Pittman said he's been in apology mode and the dogs have been receiving plenty of treats over the past few days.

"I kinda got down and gave her a hug and gave Curwibble a hug for letting me know that Barachois was in trouble."

Pittman warns other dog walkers and frozen lake aficionados of deceiving ice conditions this time of the year.

"Conditions change fast… and I wasn't prepared for that," he said. "I put my dogs at risk. I'm still beating myself up about that."

With files from Loren McGinnis


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?