Kayaker rescues dog stranded on icy Lake Michigan

Last Friday afternoon, the Chicago lakefront became the site of a rescue operation after a skittish dog roamed out into the dangerously cold waters of Lake Michigan. It wasn’t until a concerned citizen stepped in that the dog was brought to safety.

Pifas navigates the ice patches on Lake Michigan off the shores of Chicago. (Photo credit: Fox 32)

Pifas, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever who’d escaped from his owner’s home, wandered out onto the icy lake, and when he got caught on some ice floes he fell into the freezing waters. Struggling to get to solid ground, a very scared, very cold Pifas pulled himself up onto a large piece of ice, stranded far from shore.

That’s when Chicago resident Dave Kehnast looked out from his Rogers Park apartment window and spotted Pifas, who was precariously jumping from ice chunk to ice chunk, occasionally disappearing beneath the surface of the choppy water. Kehnast knew he had to act quickly if the pup would have a shot at coming out of his ordeal alive.

Luckily, Kehnast knew exactly how he could help — an avid kayaker, the North Side resident hurriedly gathered his gear and made his way to the nearby lake. Kehnast hopped into his kayak and paddled out towards the floundering pup.

“I saw him way out there and so I grabbed the kayak over here, and I know that the lake is only a couple of feet deep all the way out to where the ice shelf ends. So I knew I’d be fine,” Kehnast told ABC 7 News.

Meanwhile, a Chicago firefighter marine rescue team had been trying unsuccessfully to capture the very elusive Pifas, who seemed terrified whenever the group got to close. Rescuers attempted to surround the drenched dog from boats and even a Chicago Police Department helicopter, but to no avail. As the rescue team was setting up a spool of lifesaving line in order to send a diver into the water after Pifas, the guys saw Kehnast paddling toward the struggling Retriever. It was clear that perhaps Pifas would more likely come to safety with a single person instead of a large team of strangers.

At one point, Kehnast managed to come close enough to Pifas to pull the soaking wet Retriever into his kayak, but skittish Pifas nipped at his would-be rescuer and took off on another sheet of ice — but at least this sheet was closer to shore.

“I don’t know if he realized what kind of danger he was actually in,” Kehnast explained. “I just kept encouraging him. Here boy, here boy. And I got really close to him.”

The kayaker refused to give up on the dog, at one point even jumping in the water to encourage the dog towards dry land.

“I just kind of kept on him,” Kehnast described in a WGN News interview.

Finally, with Kehnast coaxing him along, Pifas made his way to shore. Scared after his nightmare afternoon on icy Lake Michigan, the Retriever took off into the Rogers Park neighborhood streets. But Chicago Animal Care and Control was ready, and they were finally able to catch Pifas and bring him to their facility to warm up and reunite with his owner.

Pifas was wearing a collar, and ACC staff was able to contact his very relieved owner, Nerijus Stepenovicius. “My dog disappeared on February 13, he’s been missing for nine days,” Steponavicius said. Pifas escaped as Steponavicius’s landlord was changing the locks.

Steponavicius went to Chicago Animal Care and Control Saturday morning to claim Pifas, but according to the Chicago Tribune the city will require the Retriever to be microchipped and neutered before returning home with his owner. But Steponavicius was thrilled his dog was safe — and Pifas was thrilled to see his dad after so many days.

“He’s really shy, so when he saw me he started jumping around the cage,” Steponavicius said of Pifas.

Steponavicius is extremely grateful for the efforts of the people who stepped in to try and rescue his pup — especially Dave Kehnast. He told ABC 7 News he has a message for the kind kayaker. “Just to thank him,” Steponavicius said. “I know it’s just words but I have to say them and to know him would be better.” Steponavicius hopes to treat Kehnast to dinner soon to express his gratitude.

As for Kehnast, he is just happy Pifas is going to be okay. “I wanted the dog to live just like any other person out here watching him,” Kehnast told FOX News. “I have the gear, I have the equipment, I would have been beating myself up if I had just sat there.”

Sources: ABC 7 News, WGN News, Chicago Tribune, FOX News