WINSLOW — A 2-year-old Irish setter was rescued by boat from the frigid waters of the Kennebec River Friday morning after she got away from her owner on a hiking trail to chase ducks, wandered onto the snowy ice of the river and slipped into the water.

The dog, Keeli, was in the water up to her ears for about 30 minutes when Winslow firefighters wearing cold water suits arrived by boat in the rain and pulled her from of the water, wrapped her in blankets, towels and heat packs and took the dog back downriver to safety.

“I cannot thank the Winslow Fire Rescue enough for saving my sweet girl this morning,” said Gail Bacheller, the dog’s owner. “It seemed to take forever for them to arrive but what relief when I saw the boat coming up the river. They are a wonderful group of men.”

The rescue took place about a mile north of Simpson Avenue, off Benton Avenue, on what is known as the Benton rail trail that runs along the river. Firefighters put the boat into the water just north of the river dam.

“It was a good operation,” said David LaFountain, chief of Winslow and Waterville fire departments. “We had enough help and everything worked like clockwork and it was a success. The training and dedication pays off.”

It was the second time in three days that Winslow firefighters used special equipment for rescues at the Kennebec River. On Wednesday, they rescued a 45-year-old man who had fallen down a 40-foot embankment to the river’s edge north of the Ticonic Bridge.

Just before 9 a.m. Friday morning, Bacheller was walking the dog with two friends, Larry and Donna Genest, on the rail trail, as they do every day. Keeli began to chase ducks, Bacheller, 63, said at the scene.

“She usually goes off the trail on the other (east) side, but she decided to go the other way today,” Bacheller said.

Bacheller, a former Maine State Police dispatcher, stood on the riverbank in deep snow and water, waiting for rescue workers to arrive as Keeli struggled in the cold water about 25 yards from shore.

“You hold on, Keeli,” a calm Bacheller called out. “You hold on, baby — don’t you dare let go.”

The temperature was 33 degrees when Keeli went into the frigid waters. A frantic and worried Donna Genest kept watch from the railroad tracks above the water, waiting for rescue workers, as her husband waited a half-mile north of her on the trail, expecting firefighters would arrive from nearby Benton Avenue and try to rescue the dog from the shore.

But after a tense wait, Bacheller saw the Winslow rescue boat, a semi-rigid inflatable boat, arriving in the river from the south.

“The boat is coming,” Bacheller called to Genest, who cried with relief.

The boat, carrying Winslow fire lieutenants Scott Higgins and Waylon Capp, as well as Firefighter Adam Burgess, approached an exhausted Keeli at 9:23 a.m. and pulled her into the boat, hollering to Bacheller that they would take the animal back to the dam.

The Genests drove to the dam to retrieve the dog, with Bacheller not far behind. The three took the wet, shivering dog to Hometown Veterinary Care in Fairfield, where she was treated by Veterinarian Amy McGee.

McGee told Bacheller that Keeli had good color, but was shaky and a bit in shock.

“I think she’s going to be just fine,” McGee said. “We’re going to get her on some fluids. She’ll be able to go home around 4.”

Bacheller, looking relieved, said she had a dog two years ago that became ill and had to be euthanized, so she was happy to know Keeli was going to be OK.

“I lost my male dog two years ago,” she said. “I didn’t want to lose my female.”

Friday afternoon, Bacheller said she heard from the veterinarian’s office that Keeli was comfortable and doing well.

“People sometimes do not get the bond between human and animal, but that bond is very strong,” she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17


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