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Looking at Sandy Osman and her golden retriever Maverick, there is no doubting the affection that exists between the two. Maverick, one of three retrievers owned by Sandy and Marc Osman, moved up a notch in Sandy’s “love pecking order” when he saved her life. Photo by M. Kate West
When Sandy Osman decided to take her three dogs for a walk on March 2, she had no idea of the peril she would face at Catfish Beach.
Catfish Beach, which is located northeast of the Northshore Campground, has been a favorite swimming beach for generations of locals.
“On the way back from having breakfast with my parents in Westwood I noticed the ice was melted and I told myself I could take the dogs for a walk there,” Osman said.
Accompanying Osman on the walk were her three golden retrievers: 10-year-old Gertie, who is a search and rescue dog, and prospective search and rescue dogs 2-year-old Ethel and 22-month-old Maverick.
“I had all three dogs on (the) beach. Ethel and Maverick are close in age and good buddies. I saw an ice patch but it went way out in the lake so I thought it was of no concern for dogs,” she said.
“I then saw geese, and because I always have my camera with me, I took a picture of the geese on the ice. At the same moment I snapped the picture I thought, what if the dogs try to chase the geese? Just as I had the thought the dogs took off after the geese.
“When Ethel and Maverick get together they do like a power run, one slightly ahead of the other. The geese flew off but with their power run, they continued across the ice and jumped into the lake. Once in the water they couldn’t get out of the lake. They were holding on to the ice with their front paws and struggling to get out of the water.
“This was Catfish Beach in Chester; I’ve lived here all my life and we used to swim there as kids. I felt that if I went through the ice I would only go in up to my knees.
“I started walking out and I thought the lake depth would just be up to my knees. I got all the way out to Ethel and I was just thinking that maybe I should get on my stomach to proportion my weight when the ice broke under me.
“When the ice broke, the water was a little over waist deep and I was very surprised. But it also broke the ice so Ethel and Maverick could swim to me. I was able to push them up onto the ice.
“I then remembered I had my radio pack on and my phone in the pack so I called 911. I heard the operator say 9-9 but that’s all I heard because even though I had given Gertie a down stay on the beach she came and jumped in the water too,” she said.
Osman said she quickly gave the operator as much information as she could, even though she couldn’t hear the operator reply over the commotion the dogs were making. Included in her information was her location, a description of her truck and the fact that multiple dogs had broken through ice and were in the lake.
“I don’t know whether or not she really heard me so I called my mom next to have my husband, Marc, come after me in case the operator didn’t hear me,” she said.
Osman said she was able to push all three dogs out of the water and back onto the ice. She next began what she called a process to self-rescue herself.
“I heaved myself up at least four times but the ice kept breaking under me. At that point I became a little worried about my getting in over my head. My mind reverted back to other trainings where I have heard people say that when in this kind of situation you need to move slowly, not exert a lot of energy because you will go into hypothermia faster,” she said.
Osman estimates she had probably been in the icy water about 15 minutes before she heard the sound of sirens.
“I heard the sirens so I decided after my last attempt to let them rescue me. I yelled help twice and then I stopped trying to self-rescue.
“That’s when Maverick went crazy and grabbed the bill of my ball cap. I thought, what are you doing? Are you trying to run off with my hat? He then took my hat away and licked my face.
“He was lying eye to eye with me and I reached out and grabbed his fur around his neck and told him to pull — and he pulled me out! I don’t know if he backed out or pulled out. I was watching the ice because I expected it to break around me again.
“Maverick pulled me fully up onto the ice and I was then able to crawl off the ice. I guess I was able to do so because I wasn’t pushing down on the ice. With Maverick pulling me out, my weight wasn’t involved as he dragged me out of the water,” she added.
Osman said once off the ice she ran to a deputy and the ambulance. She said Plumas County Search and Rescue had been called out.
“Georgia Knutsen, the only search and rescue member in our area, was en route when my husband showed up. After assuring I was OK, official rescue was called off,” she said.
Osman checked out fine with the ambulance crew.
“They wanted me to get out of my wet clothes and warm up in the ambulance but I didn’t see much difference between that and climbing into my husband’s already warm truck and heading for home so that’s what I did,” she said.
After her close call Osman said she has given the incident a lot of thought.
“It seems that people go after their dogs a lot in instances of breaking through the ice. I think Plumas County Search and Rescue is awesome but it would be nice if more people in the Lake Almanor Basin would join search and rescue. I know it’s a huge training commitment but it is a lot of fun and it’s also very rewarding when you can save someone,” she said.
She also said that considering the many lakes in Plumas County she would like to see more ice awareness education made available to the public.
“In hindsight, I think I should have looked at the ice more before taking my dogs to the beach,” Osman said.
More about Maverick
In working with her two prospective search and rescue dogs, Ethel and Maverick, Osman said she had taken both dogs to Jack Fields for evaluation. Fields operates Canine Development out of Tracy.
“During this testing I learned that Ethel is more into the smells of the environment but not comfortable around people. He told me Ethel could probably be worked as a rescue dog, as she is food-driven.
“What that means is she would basically have to be starved until she did the ‘find’ and then she would get the big food reward. My husband and I definitely were not into that so Ethel will not be trained for rescue work,” she said.
Maverick was also evaluated.
“As soon as I took him out of the car, Jack said, ‘He’s the one.’
“Maverick really likes the learning games, has a high toy drive and he really likes people. We knew then that he is comfortable getting close and he has since proved it by saving my life,” Osman said.
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