MANITOULIN ISLAND, ONTARIO
Echo, a Shepherd-Collie mix born on a Manitoulin Island reserve, managed to make her way to a small town. Quickly realizing she was not suited to “urban life”, Echo’s original owners decided to post an ad in the local paper to find her a more suitable “outdoor” home environment. Echo was adopted by Tish Smith and her husband Ted, and moved to the family farm. Tish knew in her heart, she and Echo were meant to be together.
Echo was immediately at home with her new family. An outdoor dog to her core, she loved the farm. When she wasn’t swimming, she was chasing chickens back into their coop, or herding cattle and sheep. In the spring of 2006 the Smiths had a wildlife pond set up on their farm and quickly discovered that Echo didn’t just like to swim, she loved it.
Last July, keen for a “self discovery adventure”, Tish decided to take a five-day canoe trip across lake Huron. Tish describes the decision to take this solo canoeing trip as “inexperienced enough to think I was experienced enough to undertake such an adventure.” To put it into perspective, Lake Huron, the second largest of the Great Lakes and third largest fresh water lake in the world, covers 59,596 square km – nearly the size of West Virginia ! And while the Smiths have five large dogs on the farm, Tish chose Echo as her only companion on this canoe trip – perfect for a dog who loves the outdoors and the water.
It was an incredible and beautiful five day trip – the best vacation of Tish’s well-travelled life. But at 6:00 a.m. on July 15, as they headed home, all of that changed. A massive storm came out of nowhere. The giant waves posed an immediate threat, and the danger of the canoe capsizing was inevitable. Tish tried to put Echo’s life jacket on, but she refused. Instead she sat in the canoe with her head on Tish’s thigh. Tish continuously talked to Echo, who, in turn, safeguarded Tish’s sanity and diminished her fear with a constant reassuring look. Frightened that Echo was not wearing a life jacket (Tish now wore two!), she hadn’t even begun to think about the possibilities of drowning or hypothermia.
After struggling for a couple of hours, the canoe was capsized by a towering wave and knocked Tish and Echo into the extremely cold water. They landed beside each other and watched as their canoe and possessions scattered across the black waves. They spent the next twelve hours struggling together in the water. Echo, the amazing swimmer that she is, didn’t abandon Tish for one moment.
With Echo by her side Tish never felt a sense of panic or fear, and felt they would eventually swim to shore or be rescued. From the very beginning Echo tucked herself into Tish’s side.
As a Registered Nurse, Tish realizes she should have recognized the signs of hypothermia as they set in, but feels now that perhaps it was a good thing that she didn’t. She may have panicked, which wouldn’t bode well for their survival. Tish’s last memory was feeling an extreme euphoria and warmth as her core temperature plummeted, and then she lapsed into unconsciousness. The next thing she remembers was waking up in the Emergency Department.
What happened after losing consciousness has been shared with Tish by police and health care professionals. The partially submerged canoe was found, and the OPP Marine Search and Rescue Team, and the Canadian Air Force Search and Rescue Team from Trenton , Ontario were contacted and dispatched. An initial grid search came up empty, and they weren’t even certain anyone was actually missing. The Search and Rescue Team then flew in over the tree line and spotted Echo swimming around Tish’s unconscious body. Paramedics jumped into the water, and were able to save both Tish and Echo.
What makes this story even more amazing is that by the time Tish and Echo were found, they were within swimming distance of shore. A dog’s natural instinct is to head for shore, but Echo never left Tish. Echo was able to retain her own body temperature because of her thick coat and staying close allowed Tish to absorb some of Echo’s body heat and prevent earlier onset of hypothermia and certain death.
Echo has changed dramatically since their adventure together. She is tremendously attached to Tish and follows here everywhere she goes. In fact, since the incident, Echo has decided she is no longer “a farm dog,” and has moved into the house where she sleeps on Tish’s pillow between her and her husband. Echo is truly Tish’s heroine.