Quick thinking by a Mountie with ties to Ponoka helped to save the lives of a dog and his owner from a freezing river.
Courtenay, B.C. resident George Oliver considers himself lucky to be alive. He found himself requiring rescue after he made a risky attempt to save his nine-year-old English Cocker Spaniel, Joey, that fell into the Puntledge River Nov. 29.
Oliver took Joey for a walk at that evening. It was raining and it was dark. When they crossed the Fifth Street Bridge into Riverside Park, the dog bolted and went missing.
The rescue came from Comox Valley RCMP Cpl. Chris Backus, 36, who was the watch commander at the time. He heard the call of a man and his dog caught in the river. Police officers and firefighters attended the scene but Backus was first to arrive.
The river was flowing quickly because of fresh rains and melted snow, and Oliver was stuck in a spot of the river making it hard to escape.
Backus saw the man in the river holding onto his dog and knew right away it would be a challenge for Oliver without immediate help.
“His grip was slipping on the hose and by the time I got there I knew he was pretty exhausted,” the Ponoka Composite High School grad recalled.
Backus grabbed a rope from another Mountie, tied it around himself and with support from the other officer, swam to Oliver. “I jumped into the river…I swam out there and was able to, having the rope tied around my waste, was able to just sort of grab a hold of him and his dog.”
The Mountie grabbed the dog, which allowed Oliver to free both hands to be helped to safety by firefighters. The river was surrounded by steep walls and this is one of the reasons Oliver had difficulty getting out.
“At that time I just stayed in the water with the dog,” said Backus.
He estimates 20 minutes passed during the entire rescue operation and he could not feel his toes when he got out.
There was only one thought in his mind when he first arrived at the scene.
“The man was trying to help his dog and I knew that the man and the dog there wouldn’t have lasted very long because he didn’t want to let the dog go,” Backus said.
Once Oliver knew he had a way to get out and someone had the dog safe, it became easier for him to let go, explained the Mountie. “It was a quick decision.”
“I thought I lost him in the river,” said Oliver. “I thought he slipped on the edge there. So for a few minutes I thought I lost the dog; he’s dead. He’s swept away.”
But five minutes later, Oliver heard barking and went over the edge of the concrete riverbank and found Joey clinging to a small ledge no more than a few inches wide, just above the river.
“If the tide was a little bit higher he would not have anything to stand on,” said Oliver, who tried to call 911 but was unsuccessful.
Backus’ mother, Laurette Comeau, heard about the incident from her niece who is a public relations advisor for RCMP K Division in Edmonton. “I’m of course proud of him.”
She feels her son generally tries to diminish his part in the rescue but knows he is the kind of person to help out when there is a need. He has always had an interest in athletics and extreme sports such as skydiving, Comeau said.
Despite her initial worry of Backus’ interest in being a police officer — his father was one as well — Comeau feels it was important to allow her son to follow his dream. “I would support him wholeheartedly in it.”
With files from the Comox Valley Echo.