First responders rescue 15-year-old drowning English sheepdog

Ann Hall

Had it not been for first responders' quick attention to a call from construction workers who noticed a dog struggling in a canal on the Isles of Capri, Arthur the sheepdog may not have been around for his master on Father's Day.

Arthur is a 15-year-old English sheepdog who belongs to John Harkless, resident of Capri. He is nearly blind with cataracts, and his age compromised his ability to have enough stamina in the water to find his way to safety after a recent fall from his family's seawall.

Recently around mid-day, Isles of Capri Fire-Rescue was notified of a dog in the canal behind San Juan Avenue. Engine 90 was dispatched immediately, and upon arrival, Lt. Jorge Lara, firefighter Chris Mercier and Collier County firefighter-paramedic Beau Nix quickly located the dog about 75 feet out in the canal.

Arthur was panting and struggling in the water, unable to swim against the current that had taken him away from his home after falling from the seawall.

Wayne Martin and firefighter/EMT Chris Mercier continue to provide medical assistance to the rescued dog.

With equipment in hand, firefighters secured Lara to a lifeline and provided him with fins. Lara quickly entered the water and headed for the dog in what is called "rapid water rescue mode."

"I had to reach him in time," said Lara in an interview after the incident.

"All life is precious, and every life counts," Lara explained, with tears in his eyes.


The dog gave up with no struggle. It seemed as though he knew his rescuers where there to help him. As Lara and Arthur approached, the dog just rolled over limp in Lara's arms, and surrendered himself to his rescuers as they quickly extricated him from the water.

Once on land again, Arthur was given oxygen with a pet oxygen mask. A dog tag with the pet's identification number was used to locate the owner, who immediately came to the scene and retrieved his pet.

It was hard to say who was happier to see whom as Arthur and his owner were reunited. According to the dog's owner, Arthur had gotten out of the house and apparently fell into the canal since he has a hard time seeing where he is going with his poor eyesight.

"I would like to thank the firefighters who rescued Arthur from the canal. The minute I saw my house in the picture posted on the Coconut Tele, I knew another dog had fallen in. I helped rescue Arthur's brother from a fall in the canal a couple of years ago. I hope everyone on the island is aware of how often this happens. This was the eighth one on Samar Avenue alone that I know of. Unfortunately, two of them did not survive. Thank God someone called to report it," wrote resident Sandra Bennett-Muth to the Coconut Tele.

It was ironic that Lara had made the statement publicly in the June 9 meeting of Collier County Commissioners that the team at ICFD Station 90 was "ready to hit the ground running and do their best no matter whom they worked for."

Now, he proved they were also ready to hit the water swimming to come to the aid of anyone or anything in distress.

Special training

When asked if there were special training for pet rescue, both Lara and Mercier said, "Yes."

In the case of Arthur, CPR was not required, but only a pet oxygen mask was needed to revive him. But in the case where that would not have been enough, they can administer mouth to muzzle CPR and also perform other lifesaving procedures much like those used on humans.

"I once had to use mouth to muzzle on my chihuaha," said Lara.

"My dog was electrocuted when he bit an electrical wire. I gave him CPR and then took him to Ochopee Fire Station near my home," said Lara. "He survived!"

I asked if Phoenix Awards are given for bringing an animal back to life.

"I don't think so," said Lara with a chuckle.

This was Mercier's first animal rescue as he has only been with Station 90 full time for three months. For the past year, he has served as a part-time firefighter/EMS employee, and prior to that he was a volunteer in the Ochopee ICFD.

Lara and Mercier described the rescue as a wonderful feeling, knowing they had been able to make a difference in a life.

Lara has been with ICFD for 15 years. Formerly he worked in Everglades City for 13 years, and for one year worked in Lee County. He is president of the ICFD Firefighter's Union and is working closely with the Greater Naples Fire District union to work toward a smooth transition as ICFD and GNFD enter the new management agreement for operations.

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