NORTH OGDEN, Utah – A quiet lunchtime hike turned into one Utah dog owner’s worst nightmare after she nearly lost her dog to fast moving water, and now she’s warning other pet owners of the dangers.
It’s a walk veterinarian Wynlee Decker and her dog, Tobi, had done a hundred times. But she never imagined one day he would jump in and she would almost lose him to the Pine View canal.
“I thought he would be gone in seconds and that would be the last time I saw him,” Decker said as she sat with her dog in her office at North Ogden Animal Hospital.
Like she had done time and time before, Wynlee loaded up her three-legged dog and took him to a nearby trail for an un-leashed lunchtime hike.
“It was hot so he immediately, ‘plunk!’ in the canal; he always goes for the streams and things like that,” Decker said.
“It (the canal) wasn’t even on my radar, even though I know better than that,” said Decker as she recalled the many times she had treated dogs for injuries sustained after being stuck in similar canals and culverts.
“I should know better. I put him in that situation,” she said, referring to him not being on a leash.
The water was moving fast, and it carried Tobi through a grate made of pipes and into the culvert.
“I thought he was going to drown, I knew he was going to drown,” Decker said.
“In my mind, I lost him. In my heart, I lost him,” she said, explaining how she felt after she saw Tobi slip into the culvert.
Tobi tried to get out, but with only three legs he didn’t have the strength to go against the current.
“He tried to come up this and it just shoved him right under,” Decker said, pointing to the fast flowing over-pour just beyond the grate.
Wynlee called out for help, but no one was around. So she dialed up a co-worker and told him where she was, hoping he would be able to find her soon.
“I called him, I said Jim, ‘Tobi’s gone down the culvert in the canal,’ I gave him poor directions and then I put my phone back in my pocket,” Decker said.
At that point she started to look for ways to try and save Tobi.
“I just wedged my hips right in here,” she said pointing to two of the pipes that made up the grate, “But I was way down there, I mean my shoulders were beyond this,” she said looking into the culvert.
“I didn’t think there was a way I was going to get a hold of him,” Decker said.
Tobi kept trying to swim to her, but he couldn’t make it and she couldn’t reach him.
“He was just looking at me for help and I couldn’t do anything… it was horrible,” she said.
After what felt like an eternity, somehow, she was able to get hold of him.
“It doesn’t seem possible,” she said as she stared down the culvert.
She didn’t have the strength to pull him out, so she held on.
“I was holding his collar underneath (his neck) so he could breath, it wasn’t comfortable," she said. "He was up against a cement wall and he was cold and he was crying, but he was really still."
“I told him ‘Don’t struggle Tobi, I don’t know if I can hold onto you if you struggle,’” Decker added.
And hoped her co-worker, or anyone, would get there soon.
“I promised myself I would never let go of him," she said. "Once I saw him leave and knew he could drown and I had a hold of him, ‘I can’t let go, I can’t let go.'"
Nearly an hour after Tobi had gone into the water, Wynlee’s coworker found her.
“I had been there for a long time and I just felt these two hands on my calves and I couldn’t see anything because I was down in this hole and I was like ‘Yes!’ I’ve never felt so happy,” Decker said. “I knew they would come eventually.”
Within 30 seconds, Wynlee and Tobi were safe.
“I loved Tobi before, but now I love him elevated!” she said.
“He was gone. He had disappeared down that tube… I still have him, he’s still here! I don’t take it for granted, I really don’t,” she smiled as she hugged Tobi.
Wynlee hopes other dog owners can learn from her mistake. Be safe, and no matter how well trained your dog is, always keep them on a leash.
“These guys are part of our families, the pain of watching him disappear into that culvert was… I never want anyone to go through that,” she said.