With spring in the air, on March 24, 2004, Kim Shaknis set off to walk in Willard Woods in Lexington, Massachusetts, with her 10-and-half-year-old golden retriever, Montana, and her friend Tucker (Highgarth Deacon), Aaron Clayton's 10-month-old, 75-pound black Labrador.
Willard Woods is a haven for dog owners living in the suburbs of Boston. A multi-acre off-leash area where residents from Lexington and neigh-boring towns meet to walk their dogs, Willard Woods has wooded paths and open fields, hills and flats, ponds and streams, ducks, robins, finches, a few squirrels, sticks, and, most of all, playmates—all the makings for an enormous amount of fun.
Tucker has known Kim and her dog Montana (Tana) since he was 5 months old and despite the differences in their ages, the elderly golden and the young buck get along famously even when Montana's age requires her to slow down a bit. For example, when Montana recently had surgery, Tucker licked the area of her sutures to help her heal.
The twosome routinely romps on several hour-long walks mapped out by Kim in all kinds of weather. "It was a great spring day," said Kim describing that Wednesday. "It was cool but sunny. We had been out for about three hours already and were on the last walk of the day. Tucker loves the water, just loves it. Tana does too, but her age has slowed her down a bit now."
The pond, with the coming of spring, was half covered in ice. On the water half, ducks were playing. Tucker ran into the water from the edge and was swimming in the water chasing the ducks. He had found his way in and was weaving around the ice. There was a small ice-free pathway he could take and get back to the shore.
Tana, content usually to wait on the side of the pond, became very energized by all the fun Tucker was having in the water and decided to join him. Except, instead of entering the pond on the waterside, Tana darted onto the ice. Several yards from the shore, almost at the center of the pond, Tana fell through the ice and was surrounded by ice with no clear path out. Tana swam around but could not find a way out and soon her front paws were on the ice in front of her, holding on. Tana was tired and frightened. She started whimpering and crying. Kim tried many times to coax her away from the ice so that she might to swim toward the waterside of the pond. Kim called to Tana and used food as a lure but nothing was working.
By this time, recalled Kim, a small group of pet owners, also walking their dogs in the woods, had gathered and were trying to help. One woman, thinking she might walk out to Tana, took a step onto the ice, promptly broke through, slid waist-deep into the water, and crawled out cold and soaked. Others urged Kim to jump into the pond herself but Kim knew that this could be dangerous for both her and Tana in the frigid waters of the pond. But Kim also knew the situation would soon be quite dangerous for Montana. She was scared. She was growing tired and soon she would be cold.
Tucker was now at the side of the pond. He was barking with each of Montana's whimpers from the ice. "I pulled out my cell phone," said Kim "and was just punching in 911 when Tucker broke from the edge and leapt into the pond. There was small opening in the ice to get to Montana. Tucker swam through it, and crashed pieces of the ice making the path bigger. He swam all the way out to Montana and when he reached her, Montana slipped off the ice and followed Tucker out through the ice-free path to the pond's edge, where they both climbed out. Of course, all of us on the shore were ecstatic and could hardly believe what we saw. I was in tears. I have no doubt Tucker knew Montana was in trouble and could feel her and our panic begin to build, so he just jumped in and took care things. He's a real hero."
After the adventure, Tucker went back home and fell deep asleep. No wonder, he was completely Tuckered out. That hero stuff is, as they say, tiring work.