Omar the Spanish water dog was not supposed to be anywhere near the pond on his family's Greenwich Township farm Sunday when the temperature was struggling to reach the mid-20s.
"He has an electric collar and shouldn't have been down there," said owner Lydia Panas. "I guess the batteries ran out.
“He’s not allowed to go in the pond. He used to as a child, actually a puppy. But he would come out stinking and I was like, ‘No way, I can’t deal with that.’"
Panas said she and her husband, Ed Baldrige, started using an electric fence when Omar was about 4 to keep him away from the pond and relegated him to dips in their pool instead.
How exactly Omar ended up in the pond Sunday, they don't know. Panas speculated that an encounter with one of the nearby geese sent him onto the ice. Ironically, it was the geese that led to Omar's rescue.
“My husband had just run out to feed the sheep and he heard this squawking down by the pond from the geese," Panas said. "They were just going wild, kind of not normal."
Thankfully Baldrige went to check out the commotion.
“He calls me and says, ‘The dog is in the pond.’ I get off the phone, I call 9-1-1 and he called the neighbor — the farmer who farms our fields — and he was up here in five minutes and actually his son, too, who lives in the next township was here within 5 to 6 minutes.”
Panas, a professional photographer, captured the ensuing events on video with her phone.
Baldrige, neighbor Glen Christman and his son, Justin, tried to lasso the dog with a rope, but they couldn't throw it far enough.
"They tried to step on the ice and it cracked immediately, so nobody went out,” Panas said.
Then they tried throwing a pool raft out to Omar.
“I don’t know if he couldn’t lift his paws — he’s 14 years old — he couldn’t get into it. Then my husband brought down an extension ladder and tied it to the rope and this is all happening in like 10 minutes. … They slid it across the ice over to the dog, again he just wasn’t able to grab onto it."
That's when members of the Kutztown Fire Company showed up.
"They’ve got two people, a woman and a man — Caitlin Henderson and Adam Pearson — and they are getting into red diving suits," Panas said. "They put Caitlin in the front, I guess because she was lighter, and they kind of slid the ladder out toward the dog with her on it.
“Adam slides up next to her and has a hook that he was about to give to her, except that she ends up getting to the dog first and grabs him. At the same time Kempton Fire Company had come with tons of people and they had one of those like catamarans, with pontoon-like things."
Henderson grabbed Omar, pulled him up onto the ladder with her and those on shore began reeling in the attached rope.
Panas said she was just stricken with panic as the events unfolded.
"I thought we were going to lose him," Panas said. "He was 30 feet into the pond.
"What was going through our heads, was, ‘How are we going to tell the kids?’ " Panas added.
She and Baldrige have three grown children, Ana, Liam and Lucas. Ana, 30, is particularly close to Omar.
“She loves him," Panas said. "She lives in Philly, but we send her pictures of him every day."
A picture of Omar standing on the shore swaddled in towels and blankets is one they were especially thankful to be able to have.
“He was out in the water for 35 minutes,” Panas said.
Miraculously, Omar was just fine.
“We warmed him up with blankets, then we blew dry him and he was fine within the hour," Panas said.
She said one of the rescuers was a K-9 expert and told them what to watch for as side effects of Omar's icy dip. He exhibited no signs of distress, so they did not even have to take him to the vet.
On Tuesday, Panas said Omar was back to his old self.
“He’s very active, very bright and very snuggly,” Panas said. “He likes a lot of attention."
Baldrige added that Omar is ball crazy, too.
The family has had Omar since he was a puppy.
“We bought him originally because we had more sheep, and he’s a herding dog,” Baldrige, who runs a finance firm, said. “He’s really good with the sheep.”
According to the Spanish Water Dog Club of America, the breed was developed to herd, hunt, do water work, protect homes and farms and for companionship.
The only water work Omar will be doing in the future is when summer rolls around and he decides to jump in the pool for a leisurely swim.