AVON LAKE — A group of neighbors rallied together Wednesday in an effort to save a deer trapped on Lake Erie ice floe for days.
While the efforts led to the deer being freed from the ice and brought to shore, a broken leg meant it had to be euthanized.
Tim Bennett, who lives near where the deer was stranded on the ice, said he believes the deer probably walked out onto the frozen lake by Vermilion or Lorain when the ice broke away from land and started drifting eastward. Bennett said the ice has been shifting along the shoreline to the east over the past few days.
On Tuesday, Bennett received a call from his wife, who told him about the deer.
“When I came home, I saw he was about 200 yards off,” Bennett said. “We watched him all last night trying to figure out how to get out there to him.”
Bennett said the deer would jump into the water and try to swim to shore but was unable to get through the ice floating closer to shore. When the deer would tire, it would climb back onto the large ice floe and rest before trying again.
“It was a pretty awful thing to watch,” Bennett said.
On Wednesday morning, Bennett decided to call his friend and neighbor, Bart Schasfoort, who owns Underwater Marine Contractors in Cleveland. Schasfoort, who also lives near where the deer was found, was out of state but was willing to help, Bennett said.
“I told Bart what the situation was, and he said he’d do what he could,” Bennett said. “I told him that a bunch of us neighbors will pay for this thing. Whatever it costs, we want to get this guy out of here.”
Schasfoort also told Bennett he’d help with cost of the rescue himself.
Bennett then called Craig Lewis, who owns Lake Erie Outfitters in Sheffield Lake, to ask if there were any boat ramps open. Lewis said the boat launch in Rocky River was the only one he knew of being open.
When the dive crew from Underwater Marine Contractors got the boat to the ramp in Rocky River, there was so much ice built up around it that a backhoe had to be brought in to get the boat in, Bennett said.
Christopher Imbrigiotta and Christian Hartman, both with Underwater Marine Contractors, headed to Avon Lake once the boat was in the water.
“We usually do things like salvages, power plants and that stuff,” Imbrigiotta, the dive supervisor, said. “Normally we do more commercial work — underwater welding, burning and that stuff.”
What the company doesn’t usually do is animal rescues, Inbrigiotta said.
Once the boat got close to the area where the deer was, Hartman dove into the water and began pushing the ice out of the way in an effort to reach the deer.
“The ice was about 10 inches thick,” Hartman said. “I would just have to push it out of the way and try to get to him (the deer) faster than he could get away. At the end, he just got tired.”
Hartman said the water was probably around 32 degrees, but he really couldn’t feel it much due to the dive suit he was wearing. He also said he was probably in the water only five to 10 minutes.
Once the deer tired and stopped trying to get away from Hartman, he was able to tie a rope around it and the two men dragged it onto the boat. That’s when they noticed it had suffered a badly broken front leg.
The deer was brought to the shore and wrapped in blankets as Bennett, Imbrigiotta and Hartman tried to calm it. Lewis called a veterinarian, and a few minutes later Frank Krupka from Avon Lake Animal Clinic arrived.
Unfortunately, Krupka didn’t have good news.
“The whole way here, I was calling everybody I know that deals with any of the wildlife,” Krupka said on his arrival. “None of them can take the deer right now.”
Krupka said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources doesn’t allow people to have deer as pets, so the only option was to euthanize it.
Krupka gave the deer a sedative to help with its pain while several of the neighbors in the area called wildlife sanctuaries in other parts of the state, only to get the same news Krupka had received: The most humane thing to do for the deer was to end its suffering.
The deer was given a shot, and died peacefully.
While the rescue attempt didn’t lead to the happy ending the neighbors had hoped for, Bennett said he still felt the group had done the right thing.
“We did what we could do,” he said. “If he had to go, I guess it’s better to go that way than to be out there eaten by the coyotes. It’s better than doing nothing.”