Vail Valley locals save deer from an icy river death
EAGLE — “Giving a deer a hug. That’s a first for me,” Robbie Berry said.
Berry and his girlfriend Taylor Patton pulled a buck deer out of the Eagle River and away from a gruesome, icy death.
They live in Eagle Lofts, along the Eagle River, and at around 7 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 21, Berry was walking their dog, an American Eskimo/border collie mix named Gracie. He noticed a deer at the end of their parking lot.
“Someone rode by on a mountain bike and asked if I had seen the one in the river. I didn’t know what was up, so I decided to check it out,” Berry said.
It was worse than he had anticipated. A buck had broken through the ice and was up to its neck in icy water that would soon kill him.
Berry ran back to their condo, put the dog inside and asked Patton to call the first responders.
He grabbed sweatshirts, towels — anything he could use to towel off the deer, and rushed back down to the river. He didn’t even take time to change his shoes, still wearing the moccasins he had slipped into to take Gracie for her morning walk.
When reached the river, it was bad. The deer could hardly lift its head off the ice. Icicles were forming on his face, eyes and nose.
“I don’t know how long he had been in there, but he wasn’t moving around much,” Berry said. “He was pretty much exhausted trying to pull himself out.
FREEZING RESCUE EFFORT
The first responders were on their way, but time was short, Berry said.
He worked his way onto the ice near the deer’s head, and managed to get his arms around its neck, careful to avoid its antlers.
“He was willing to let me wrap my arms around him once he figured out I was there to help. He did not thrash around. He was so exhausted I don’t know if he could,” Berry said.
Berry pulled with everything he had, and the deer budged.
But Berry’s shoe broke through the ice and plunged into the 14-degree water.
When he felt his foot hit the bottom of the river, he knew it wasn’t very deep and that he’d be fine.
“I knew the worst that would happen was that I’d get cold and wet. The deer was in much worse shape than I was,” Berry said.
Berry moved around, found some thicker ice — about 6 inches thick — and pulled again. This time the deer’s front legs came out from beneath the ice.
Berry worked his way around behind the deer and heaved again — one last pull — this time freeing the deer’s hind legs. The deer was free, but it took a few moments for him to realize it.
“When he realized he wasn’t still in the ice he started trying to move around a little,” Berry said.
Berry toweled him off as best he could, and the deer began to come around.
“Once he realized he was out of the water, he started trying to move away,” Berry said.
Patton was nearby, slightly up the bank. After falling a few times, the exhausted deer made its way up the riverbank, stopping near her.
“He reached the top of the hill and stopped to look at me. I just had tears in my eyes,” Patton said.
It felt like forever, Patton said, even though it was only 15 minutes.
But for that deer, those 15 minutes were a lifetime.
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