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Puppy swims to safety after falling overboard in Lake Norman storm

By Tom Higgins

Correspondent

David Laney of Statesville holds a heartwarming, special bond without bounds Lucky, his Yorkshire terrier-poodle mix.

As a mere puppy a few months ago, the dog miraculously survived being lost in a deep, wide, storm-roiled Lake Norman.

The experience was so distressing to Laney, 51, owner of D’Laney’s Sports Bar in Statesville, that only recently could he discuss it.

“I almost lost something I deeply love and treasure,” Laney said last week. “And it would have been my fault.”

The incident happened at the mouth of Skipper’s Cove, where it meets the main channel just south of Troutman.

“I had bought a used houseboat and decided to put it in the water at Skipper’s Landing on Perth Road,” said Laney, who brought along his friend Derrick “Scooby” Parrot to help launch the boat.

“Lucky, of course, was with me. In the few weeks I’d had him we’d become inseparable. I was going through a rough personal patch then, and he brightened things for me,” Laney said. “The boat needed a lot of work, and I wasn’t sure about taking it out. But I was excited and decided to run it a little ways and then come back.

“It worked pretty well, so I went further than planned. Scooby said he’d never been on a boat before, so he really was enjoying the ride.

“Before I knew it, I was out to where the cove widens and runs into the body of the lake.

“As I turned around, a bad storm suddenly blew up. ... Before we knew it, rain was pounding down and the wind was blowing very hard. The surface quickly began white-capping, and it looked like the waves might be two feet high.

“The boat is 36 feet long, so being a newcomer to it, I found the handling difficult in those conditions.”

Finally, Laney got the bow pointed back toward the landing.

That’s when Parrott asked, “Where’s Lucky?”

A desperate search throughout the boat began to no avail.

“My heart fell,” Laney said. “I thought I was going to be sick.”

A small sliding glass door had been left open. According to Laney, Lucky, frightened by a clap of thunder, had run through it and fallen off the pitching boat.

“Scooby never had so much as paddled a boat, but I gave him the controls while I went outside to look for my dog in the water. I was screaming and shouting his name all the time,” Laney said. “Deep down I knew it was no use. He was so small that he’d have been almost impossible to see in that rough water.”

Laney phoned two friends who lived nearby. One immediately took a boat out to join the search while the other ran on foot along the bank.

No Lucky.

Darkness was falling, and the raging storm had abated only a little when Laney reluctantly headed to the dock.

“ ‘Distraught’ doesn’t describe how I felt,” he said. “I was heartbroken. I couldn’t sleep that night. Not a chance. All I could think of was that my little dog had drowned. I was ashamed for letting it happen.”

Around 9:30 a.m. the next day, Laney’s phone rang. Someone at Scott’s Creek Animal Hospital was on the line asking if Laney had lost his dog.

“A chilling feeling swept over me. ‘Yes, yes,’ ” Laney said. “I was told that a lady had called and said she’d found a little dog with a rabies tag on its collar. The number on the tag matched Lucky’s.

“I immediately called the lady, Jan Ambrose,” Laney said. “She said that Lucky showed up on her porch that morning. That little fur ball was so wet that she didn’t realize the animal was a dog until he barked.

“She was at work and said she didn’t get off ‘til 5. I told her I couldn’t wait that long to get my dog. So we made arrangements and I went over to her home right then to fetch him.”

Laney sobbed during the reunion.

From the spot that Lucky went missing to the shoreline where he was found is about 300 yards.

“To get there, he swam against the wind and those white-capping waves,” Laney said. “No telling how long it took him to make it. I think it’s remarkable that a tiny little dog was able to do it.

“That long of a swim in those conditions might have even tested the Olympic champion Michael Phelps.”

Laney and Lucky now spend a lot of time on the houseboat. The dog isn’t scared of the water and frequently swims with his owner.

Even so, that sliding glass door mostly stays closed.

Tom Higgins is a retired Observer sports writer who regularly contributes to Lake Norman News as a freelance writer.
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