Deer rescued from frozen lake

Deer on frozen lake Photo courtesy of Mike Ritcey

Members of Search and Rescue are used to being called upon to assist humans in dicey situations, but one volunteer with the group recently found himself with an unusual client — a stranded deer.

Mike Ritcey, a member of Kamloops Search and Rescue, received a call from Kamloops resident Dawn Polischuk, who had found a deer trapped on a frozen lake. The lake, Lake Tunkwa, was extremely glassy and slippery, and the deer, a doe, was stuck 250 metres from shore and unable to stand up. The deer had been trapped there for over 24 hours.

SAR volunteer loading deer onto a toboggan
Another SAR member also volunteered time to help the deer. [Credit: Mike Ritcey]

Ritcey and another SAR member decided to volunteer their time to help rescue the animal. Ritcey told the CBC that he worried that if they didn’t, someone else might try to save it. “I figured it would be safer if we went out on the ice because we have the proper equipment,” he said.

Stepping out onto frozen lake can be extremely risky, but Ritcey and his co-volunteer used all the precautionary measures they’d been taught through SAR. They chopped the ice every few metres to ensure it was thick enough to hold them, and when they reached the deer, they covered its eyes with a scarf to calm it and rolled it onto a toboggan.

“The ice was just like glass under a skiff of snow,” Ritcey said.

Ritcey noted that the deer didn’t seem to have any broken bones or wounds, and when they got it to shore, it made a quick departure. “We helped stand it up and the thing took off,” he told the Canadian Press.

Mike Ritcey next to the deer laying in a sled
While he wouldn’t always intervene in the case of a distressed animal, Ritcey said that helping this deer was “the right thing to do.” [Credit: Mike Ritcey]

Since the incident, Kamloops Search and Rescue has put out a statement that this particular rescue was done by individual volunteers and was not an official SAR operation. They further noted that they receive their assignments from agencies like the RCMP and BC Ambulance, and they do not respond to calls from the public.

“While these agencies will not task us out to help animals, there are rare instances where we have been able to help the animal in need,” the agency wrote in a Facebook post. “These are typically rescues where there is considerable risk to the owner or public.

In such cases, they have been carried out by the many animal lovers on our team who have volunteered their own skills, free time and assumed personal risk to help out. This was the case at Tunkwa Lake this week.”

As for Ritcey, he said that usually he likes to let nature run its course in such incidents, but that sometimes intervention is necessary to save an animal from suffering. “It was the right thing to do,” he told the Canadian Press. “When they get out on the ice and they lay there, it’s a bad deal. The birds eat them alive.”

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