When a family's pet pooch wanders onto a frozen lake this time of year and becomes stranded as thinning ice begins to break, the dog's cries can tear at the pet owner's heart.
That's why central Kenai Peninsula fire department rescuers are urging people to keep their dogs on a leash and not let them wander onto the ice in the first place.
"Usually people hear the stranded pet and try to rescue it themselves," said Barry Wheeler of the Nikiski Fire Department.
"Then we end up trying to rescue the pet owner," he said.
For that reason, the northern peninsula agency will respond to lend a hand in rescuing a stranded dog.
"We turn it into an impromptu training session," Wheeler said.
He said the Nikiski responders will attempt the rescue, unless they are extremely busy when the call comes in. If they receive another emergency call while attempting to rescue a dog, they will abandon the rescue.
Wheeler said sometimes that can be the hardest thing to do because by that point, the pet owner usually is very determined.
He recalled one incident on Daniels Lake two years ago in which three dogs had chased one another onto the lake, only to fall into the icy water.
The Nikiski Fire Department responded but was only able to save one of the dogs. The others drowned.
Newly appointed Central Emergency Services Chief Chris Mokracek said his department would look at dog-rescue incidents on a case-by-case basis.
"Our first call is to protect citizens," Mokracek said.
"Our first recommendation is for people to keep dogs on a leash," he said.
The CES chief said prevention is the key, but responders are trained for lake rescues, should the need arise.
Kenai Fire Department Assistant Chief Mike Tilly agreed that preventing dogs from wandering onto ice is preferred.
"(In Kenai) we have a few ponds. We're not set up to do aggressive ice rescues," Tilly said.
"We'd have to take it case by case. The hope would be to keep (pet) owners off the ice," he said.
Like the other agencies, the Kenai department advocates prevention.
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