Heath Keim felt helpless.
He watched as his 90-pound Labrador retriever scampered onto a frozen Nebraska lake and then plunge through thin ice.
Keim had been out rabbit hunting Saturday with his wife, Meredith, their two beagles and Johnny, a 10-year-old chocolate lab mix.
They were at Sandy Channel State Recreation Area , about 15 miles west of Kearney.
His wife and Johnny took a walk to the other side of a lake, while Keim and the beagles went looking for rabbits.
Soon the beagles spied a bunny and started yelping. Johnny heard them and dashed off across the lake to help with the hunt, as Meredith Keim tried calling him back.
Heath Keim saw Johnny get about half way across and then break through, about 30 yards from the bank. Johnny tried climbing out of the water, but had no luck.
Then Johnny started dog paddling. He didn’t look frantic. Keim said his dog has always been calm, even as a puppy.
His wife started driving around the recreation area looking for a boat, and called 911.
Keim knew he just couldn’t stand on the bank and watch his dog go under. So if a rescue squad couldn’t come, he planned to swim out to his dog, using a big stick to break the ice.
But the dispatcher called back with good news: Elm Creek Volunteer Fire and Rescue was on the way.
Tyler Hillmer, an officer with the squad, said one crew member brought out a small row boat. Two volunteers got in the boat, with one breaking the ice with a shovel and the other rowing.
Hillmer said the dog looked exhausted when the crew pulled him in.
“It’s always good to save a pet,” Hillmer said. “It’s important to people.”
Hillmer said it would be dangerous for owners to try to rescue their pets from the ice without a boat. Even though the high got into the 50s on Saturday in the area, the water temperature was frigid.
Keim said Johnny, who was in the water about 30 minutes, was shivering but otherwise in good shape. He took the dog to the vet just to be sure.
Keim said he’s glad Johnny is safe, and will always be grateful.