LYON MOUNTAIN — When the Saranac Volunteer Fire Department responded recently for a back-country rescue, it was no typical call.
Their patient was a full-sized Great Dane named Bella.
Bella and her owners, Cody and Jaylene Roberts from Mooers, had been hiking up Lyon Mountain with several family members and three other dogs in their party. One of the dogs was a new Great Dane puppy, whom Bella was excited to play with.
They had been climbing for about an hour on a humid, 80-plus-degree Sunday when the problems started.
“We stopped, like, five times for water within an hour,” Cody said. “But Bella gets really excited and hyper, and she was running around and was really excited.”
When they were nearly to the top, Roberts said, Bella started to vomit, then collapsed.
“I was pretty sure she had died,” he said. “We put the rest of the water we had on her because she looked like she was really hot. The skin under her fur was really red.”
‘LIKE A PEOPLE RESCUE’
Cody’s mother, Gail Roberts, started running down the mountain to call for help. She eventually met up with Andy Hastings, who was hiking with his daughter. They were able to use Hastings’s phone to get a call out to Clinton County Fire Control, which dispatched the Lyon Mountain Volunteer Fire Department.
Fire Control later contacted the department from Saranac to assist — that outfit is a fully certified FEMA animal-rescue agency and has 12 FEMA-certified rescue technicians.
“Being a 120-pound Great Dane, we treated it just like a people rescue,” said Saranac Fire Chief Don Uhler. “We met up with them about 3 or 3
miles up the mountain. We transferred the dog over and secured the dog just like we would a human being.”
Roberts’s family members and several concerned hikers had fashioned a makeshift stretcher and were in the process of bringing Bella down on their own when they were met by Uhler and his crew.
Dannemora and Morrisonville fire departments were also called in to help. The entire rescue took nearly four hours.
“There are two reasons you take a job like this,” Uhler said about rescuing a dog. “No. 1, is it’s the right thing to do. We have the technology, it’s not costing the taxpayers any money, and it’s training we already have.”
The biggest reason, though, he said, is that well-
meaning but untrained and ill-equipped people were attempting the rescue themselves. That, he says, opens up the possibility of anything from a broken ankle to a cardiac event for one of the would-be rescuers.
“I’d much rather do an animal rescue than a human rescue.”
While Saranac was working on Bella’s rescue, a driver and full crew were left with the department’s technical rescue truck at the base of the mountain, to respond to any emergency that may have arisen, Uhler said.
About eight firefighters were involved in the rescue. They, Uhler pointed out, now have hands-on experience on Lyon Mountain if another back-country rescue is ever needed there.
By the time they reached the bottom, Bella had started to pick her head up and was showing signs of life.
“What’s impressive wasn’t so much what we did; what’s very impressive was the people who didn’t even know this family who were all helping out, just all working together,” Uhler said.
Bella has since made a full recovery. The Roberts brought her to a heart specialist the evening after her rescue, and she was given a clean bill of health.
Her hiking career, though, is on hold for the time being.
“It may be something we do in the future but definitely not now,” Cody said.
Taking a break from hiking with your dog this time of year may not be a bad idea, according to Dr. Thomas Brown, a veterinarian at Plattsburgh Animal Hospital. He recommends taking precautions when bringing a dog along on a hike, or for any exercise, in the heat of the summer.
“The No. 1 thing is sticking to short hikes, where you can quickly get access to water. It’s all about hydration,” he said.
“Stick to flat hikes, where you’re just kind of hiking to a lake, not the climbing-type hikes where you’re heading to a mountaintop. That’s the exact opposite of where you want to be.”
Since dogs can shed heat only by panting or by being in water, it’s important to bring along enough water not just for your dog to drink but to pour on your furry friend to help the animal to cool down.
Adding Camel-packs to your water supply are a good idea, he says, for bringing extra water along.
“Stay flat, stay cool, and stay in the water,” Brown said.
Age is another factor to keep in mind when hiking with a dog. A puppy’s growing bones aren’t well established until at least 6 or 8 months old, so hiking should wait.
For larger breeds, a year old is the norm to add that kind of activity, Brown said.
Canines can also break nails and sustain paw or other injuries on a hike, so it’s important to be attentive throughout the hike.
Even when you’re not out exercising with your dog, the heat this time of year can pose a danger. This is especially true for dark-colored dogs, which absorb more heat, or dogs that are left outside and can’t get to shade.
If a dog does become critically overheated, it is important to get it to a veterinarian for intravenous fluids or immersion in a cold tub as soon as possible.