Mum's shock as have-a-go hero plunges into freezing river to save dog

Woman with daughter and jack russell in snow

Sally Willis and her daughter Elizabeth would like to find the women who helped save he Jack Russell Sophia from a frozen river in Suffolk - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

A mum-of-two has told how she was left stunned when a have-a-go hero waded into an icy river to save her drowning Jack Russell.

Sally Willis, from Melton, was walking her pet dog Sophia near her home on Saturday afternoon when she suddenly darted after a moorhen walking on an icy sluice.

Woman holding dog and carrot toy

Sally Willis had the fright of her life when her beloved Jack Russell Sophia jumped onto frozen water and fell through the ice - Credit: Ella Wilkinson

Disaster struck as the excitable pooch skidded across the ice and plunged into a river behind it. 

"You think it happens in the films, never to you, I always risk assess because I live right near the river anyway," she said.

"The sluice runs parallel to the river and as soon as I got down near it I saw the moorhens, she ran for it and cracked through the ice.”


Dog with toy

Sophia was rescued from a sluice near her owner's home in Melton - Credit: Sally Willis

Despite several desperate attempts to coax the dog back to safety, Sophia began to run out of energy - with her owner fearing the worst.

The 54-year-old says it was the extraordinary action of a passerby who plunged into the river and broke the ice to free the animal that ultimately saved her pet's life.

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"I was so stunned by this woman who went into the water," said Ms Willis, mum to Ben, 13 and Elizabeth, 10.

She admits she did consider going in herself.

"In hindsight, I did have a line which I could have tied around me but I wasn't sure whether the older ladies (who were nearby) could pull me out.

"The firemen said when they dredged my coat out that it was 5ft deep and sludge, I've heard horror stories and seen first hand when you get stuck and you can't get out.

She added: "I begged this lady, please don't go in - she put her foot in, and fell in sidewards, outstretched her hand, and started smashing the ice.

"The dog swam a little towards her, she dragged her out and she said run to the vets. That's when the fire brigade started running towards us."

“Another lady helped me carry all my stuff and was trying to phone the vets."

The dog owner continued: "It was touch and go, she was on death's door.”

Vets told the mum-of-two that Sophia was very lucky to be alive - but none the worse for her experience she is now safe at home celebrating her sixth birthday.

Now Ms Willis wants to find the woman and thank all those who stopped to help: "I said to this lady please leave your name at the vets, I need to thank you properly. She had a greyhound or a lurcher with her with a coat on.

"There was another woman who ran to the woods and came back with branches, so many people stopped to help, even in the pandemic."

Official advice from the Royal Life Saving Society UK warns against going onto ice to rescue a dog, instead, owners should move to somewhere the animal will be able to climb out and be called towards safety.

Exposure to freezing water can cause life-threatening illnesses such as hypothermia, cold water shock and even death.

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