From the St. Catherine’s Standard Posted By MATTHEW VAN DONGEN
Turns out Freddie the German shepherd has trained to save his owner’s life for years. The feisty three-year-old routinely drags Mike Hambling across his St. Catharines living room carpet on his back during spirited tug-of-war battles. The powerful pooch proved a life-saver in January 2007, pulling his semi-conscious best friend out of frigid water after Hambling fell through ice near Orillia.
“I thought I was finished. Without Freddie, I’m not here today,” an emotional Hambling said after his four-legged friend was inducted into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame in Toronto Monday.
“He’s the hero of our household.” Freddie was honoured along with four other courageous canines at the 40th anniversary ceremony for the Hall of Fame, which has so far inducted 114 dogs, 23 cats and one horse. The hall of fame is meant to “pay tribute to the pets and service animals that are a part of our everyday world – and specifically honour heroes that have gone beyond the call of duty to help save lives,” said Mary Siemiesz, spokeswoman for Nestle Purina PetCare.
It’s possible friendly Freddie didn’t understand what all the fuss was about Monday, as he was presented with a year’s worth of dog food and a new collar featuring an engraved hall of fame medallion. But Hambling, a retired General Motors worker, said he’ll never forget. He and his wife, Debbie, own a cottage near Coldwater, Ont., that is only accessible in winter by crossing a 30-metre frozen channel between two lakes. Freddie and his owner had just set off to visit cottaging friends across the channel when the ice broke beneath Hambling’s feet. The soaked man crawled most of the way out of the water on his stomach, then slipped back in. He rolled out again on his back, only to feel the ice collapse underneath him again. “I couldn’t get out and I couldn’t touch bottom because it was too deep,” he recalled.
“At that point, I thought, ‘I’m done.’ I started losing consciousness, then I felt a tug on my arm.” The 100-pound dog, still attached to Hambling by a two-metre lead and harness, slowly pulled his owner out of the hole – and another five metres across thin ice towards the shore. “I was deadweight. I didn’t help him at all,” said the 165-pound man, who was wearing a waterlogged snowsuit and heavy winter boots. “My wife started screaming at him to pull, and he did. She kept screaming, and he kept pulling.” A neighbouring cottager eventually brought man and dog inside by a fire to warm up.More than a year later, Freddie was recognized publicly for his efforts. It didn’t take that long for Mike and Debbie to say thanks. “My wife went into town as soon as she could and bought him the biggest, thickest steak we could find. It was a T-bone,” Hambling said with a laugh. “And to this day, once a month he still gets a steak. That’s just the way he gets treated from now on.” Freddie was a little bewildered and tired out by all the attention in Toronto, Hambling said. He had a slight personality conflict with a heroic 14-year-old miniature schnauzer, but loved his new chew toys. As long as Hambling is around, Freddie is happy. “We’re attached at the hip,” Hambling said. “He doesn’t go anywhere without me, and I try to take him everywhere with me that’s practically possible. We’re inseparable.”