A search and rescue team in a motorboat pulled an unconscious Tish Smith from the waters of Lake Huron after her canoe capsized in a sudden storm, but the real hero is her dog Echo, an unassuming shepherd-collie mix who swam in circles around Smith for about six hours until rescuers arrived.
On July 16, 2006, the pair were crossing from Clapperton Island to Manitoulin Island—a fetch of about 2.5 miles—when a powerful thunderstorm blew across the lake. Gusts of more than 30 mph quickly turned the channel into a seething maelstrom and upended Smith’s 14-foot canoe.
Her first concern was for Echo. She tried to pull her spare PFD over Echo’s head, but when the dog resisted, Smith donned the second vest herself and pulled the dog to her chest. “I just held her, and she put her chin on my shoulder,” she says. With the dog in her arms, Smith began frog-kicking toward Manitoulin Island, more than a mile distant.
The sight of the dog swimming in circles around the motionless canoeist alerted search and rescue personnel.
They had been in the chilly water for about six hours when Smith passed out. She was suffering from hypothermia, exhaustion and rhabdomyolysis—a rapid breakdown of muscle fiber that, if left untreated, can lead to kidney failure. Any rescue professional will tell you that when Tish Smith slipped into unconsciousness that day, she was not likely to ever wake up.
The difference was Echo.
Between the time Smith blacked out and rescuers arrived, a period of about six hours, Echo faithfully orbited her master. It was the sight of the dog, swimming in circles around the motionless canoeist that alerted search and rescue personnel to her whereabouts. They rushed Smith to the hospital, and she has since recovered completely from the ordeal.
A week after the accident, Tish made a point of taking Echo out again in a canoe, both to conquer her own demons, and ensure the dog wouldn’t be turned off paddling for life. She also made a trip to a sporting goods store. “Right after that,” she says, “I purchased a canine life jacket.”