South Slave

Breakup season leads to double dog rescue in Hay River

Last modified: May 10, 2021 at 12:51pm

As flooding and high water levels threatened Hay River, two people formed a de facto pet rescue team to save a pair of dogs trapped by the breakup.

Michel Gagnier and his neighbour carried out two separate canine rescue missions over two days. He is, however, reluctant to wear the moniker “dog saviour.”

“I don’t think we’re dog savers,” Gagnier told Cabin Radio. “I think we’re just doing anything a good neighbour would do.”


“I’ve lived down here four, five years … and it’s probably the first time we’ve saved a couple of dogs back-to-back, so it’s not like a common occurrence. Just right spot, right time. There wasn’t much else to it.”

Hay River’s Vale Island is among several NWT communities to face evacuation in recent days, alongside Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River.

A photo of lucky pup number one shared on Gagnier’s Facebook.

Gagnier lives outside Hay River and said he’s not as affected as those closer to town, but has noticed the water is much higher this year.

“This is the highest I’ve ever seen it,” he said. “It’s up to my yard right now.”


Last Wednesday, Gagnier heard a whine from somewhere in the icy mass near his house. Following the noise, he found one of his neighbour’s dogs stuck in slush about 40 yards offshore.

“Just her head was sticking out,” he said. “There was a bunch of open water and then a bunch of really rotten, slushy ice.

“She just couldn’t move. She couldn’t get out of there.”

Gagnier set to work trying to rescue the pup with the help of neighbour Rafe Smith. The two took a boat and slowly pushed themselves across the slush – a process Gagnier described as “a real pain in the butt.”

Eventually, the rescuers managed to get close enough to grab the dog’s scruff and pull it into the boat.

“She would have died, without a doubt,” Gagnier said. “She was pretty cuddly with Rafe there, when we got back to the house, so definitely grateful.”

Dog rescue: round two

Unfortunately, the high of Gagnier and Smith’s successful rescue was short-lived.

The next day, the pair discovered another dog in need of assistance. A neighbour’s collie had managed to swim to the opposite riverbank but was having trouble getting back through the breakup.

The men fired up Gagnier’s boat and set out to help.

A photo of the collie rescue shared to Gagnier’s Facebook.

“We were lucky in the timing because there was ice, but it was navigable,” Gagnier said.

“When we found the collie, it was an extremely tired. It could barely walk. When we got on the shore, Rafe had to jump out and wade through the slush and carry the collie to the boat.

“We knew the ice was coming, so we had to kind-of hurry because that old boat was not the greatest and I don’t think we would have outrun the ice if it had come.”

The collie smiles as it makes its way back to safety in a photo shared to Gagnier’s Facebook.

Gagnier and Smith got the collie home safely.

Sharing his experiences on Facebook, Gagnier joked that he and Smith should go into the business of animal rescue.

“Dogs sometimes just go where a dog wants to go, and I think they just had some bad luck,” he said. “It was satisfying, for sure.”