- Associated Press - Saturday, February 6, 2016

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) - The little black dog with the pink collar raced through the snowy woods, leaving a trail of broken twigs in her wake. Sniffing around the base of every tree in her path, Whoopi made her winding way back to the place she found herself in trouble.

On Jan. 24, Whoopi became stranded in the middle of the Rivanna River in Keswick, stuck on top of the ice and desperate to get back to shore. With help from her owner, Marc Goldberg, and a team of rescue crews, the 3-year-old Labrador retriever was saved and - after recovering from hypothermia - is already back on her paws.

Goldberg had rescued Whoopi once before. He said he fell in love with the little pup when Whoopi, then 4 months old, snuggled up next to him in the Fluvanna SPCA and let him hold her. The name “Whoopi,” he said, just seemed to fit.

Goldberg had brought Whoopi with him to visit his girlfriend and her son at their Keswick home. With so much snow on the ground and no cars on the roads, Goldberg took Whoopi off her leash at the nearby golf course and let her run around, knowing she would periodically check in. But when the sun began to set and Whoopi was nowhere to be seen, Goldberg went looking for her.

Following his dog’s tracks in the snow, Goldberg found her trapped in the ice near the middle of the river. With plans of rescue racing through his mind, Goldberg quickly called 911 and said his dog was in trouble. Not being familiar with the addresses in his girlfriend’s neighborhood, Goldberg was unable to give the dispatcher a specific location. Instead, he relied on the phone to provide emergency services with a GPS location.

Rescue begins

Leaving the phone on the riverbank, Goldberg grabbed dead tree branches, waded into the freezing river and set about freeing his pet.

“I don’t know how she actually got in the river,” Goldberg said. “I don’t know if she fell through or went on the ice and happily tried to go swimming.

“When I found her, she already knew she was in trouble. She was trying to climb back on the ice and couldn’t do it.”

As he waded into the water, clinging to nearby branches for stability, Goldberg carefully threw pieces of wood to break up the ice around Whoopi. Realizing his legs and hands were losing feeling, Goldberg knew he couldn’t stay in the water much longer.

“I started to lose control of my legs much faster than I thought I would,” said Goldberg.

As Whoopi lay on the ice and became colder and colder, Goldberg said he saw the moment she began to give up. Before that moment, his dog was slapping at the ice and trying to free herself, but she eventually became so cold that she stopped moving. He said he knew if he didn’t get her out of the river at that moment, he probably wasn’t going to save her.

“At that point, she stopped fighting and that’s when I really started yelling at her,” Goldberg said. “If it wasn’t a life-or-death situation, this would sound horribly callous, but I was making jokes with my dog about how fat she was and how much she looked like a seal trying to get on ice.”

“When she stopped fighting, that scared me because I knew I couldn’t get to her in time if she gave up,” he added. “That’s when I would have had to dive in and go after her, and my life would have been at risk.”

Goldberg eventually broke up the ice enough that Whoopi was able to pull free. She managed to swim to shore, where Goldberg wrapped his arms around her and tried to keep her warm. Scrambling up the steep riverbank, Goldberg said he managed to half-drag, half-carry Whoopi through the woods and back toward the road.

At about 4:30 p.m. that day, the East Rivanna Fire Company in Albemarle County received a strange call, according to Deputy Chief Danny Vanderploeg. Rescue crews learned a dog was in the icy Rivanna River and its owner was attempting to rescue it.

“The caller said if we didn’t get there fast enough, he was going to jump in,” Vanderploeg said.

“We want to make sure people think smartly and don’t jump into the water after an animal,” he added. “Look after yourself first. I know it’s a family member, but you can’t be replaced.”

With the help of two National Guard members, Vanderploeg said three fire and rescue crews searched more than a mile of the riverbank, looking for any sign of the caller and his dog. By that time, Goldberg had retrieved his dog from the icy waters and was back on the phone looking for help.

That’s when a National Guardsman spotted the pair and immediately ran to help. Goldberg said he was confused when saw a man in fatigues running towards him, but he relaxed when he saw the rescue crews right behind the uniformed man.

“He went right for my dog and threw himself on Whoopi, and just held her to warm her up,” Goldberg said.

Road to recovery

Rescue crews immediately put Goldberg on a sled, removed his wet clothes and covered him with thick blankets to warm him up. Unbeknownst to Goldberg at the time, he was suffering from hypothermia and already was experiencing frostbite on his fingers. The Charlottesville Rescue Squad then transported Goldberg to the University of Virginia Medical Center.

Meanwhile, Whoopi was taken to Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital where she made a remarkable recovery, according to hospital owner Tripp Stewart. She came in with an internal body temperature of just 90 degrees, about 10 degrees below normal. The next step, Stewart said, was to slowly warm the animal.

Whoopi was wrapped in blankets and her feet were wrapped with hot water bottles to gently heat her body. She also was given warm intravenous fluids to keep the body’s internal organs working properly, according to Stewart.

Because Whoopi came in so quickly, Stewart said her treatments were fairly aggressive and the veterinarians were not overly worried about overdoing the treatments. As with humans suffering from hypothermia, Stewart said it’s important not to overwhelm the animal’s body with rapid heat. Within three to four hours, Stewart said Whoopi was back to a normal temperature and was able to go home that night.

On the other hand, Goldberg did not have such a quick recovery and remained at the hospital for three days. Along with suffering from symptoms of hypothermia, Goldberg experienced frostbite on his fingers and said he was told it would take a couple of weeks to regain all of the feeling in them.

Despite hospital stay and the slow recovery process, Goldberg said he never questioned helping his dog.

“I don’t think it was a bad decision,” Goldberg said. “We were out in the wilderness as far as I was concerned.”

“She’s really fine, in an annoying kind of way right now,” he said, laughing.


Information from: The Daily Progress, https://www.dailyprogress.com

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