WORTHINGTON — Kelly Burns and his foster dog, Lena, are back in their Prior Lake home safely after a holiday visit to Worthington that could have ended fatally if not for quick actions by a Worthington police officer and local civilians.

Burns, who grew up in Worthington, described late Christmas day and early Thursday morning as his worst nightmare after Lena escaped from his mother’s Liberty Drive and Leon Avenue home.

The 2-year-old Golden Retriever, a rescued retired breeder dog, was discovered by a Worthington resident around 8 a.m. Thursday struggling to keep afloat after falling through the ice on Lake Okabena.

“All I heard was that the dog was in the lake,” Burns said of his initial reaction after receiving word Lena had been found approximately 15 hours since escaping the night before.

“I didn’t hear that she was alive and bobbing in the water. I immediately went to the dark side, so you can imagine how relieved I was,” he added about his relief once the adrenaline wore off.

Worthington police officer Tyler Olson heard the call for service first thing Thursday morning after getting to enjoy a Christmas off duty.

Upon arriving near Sundown Park, Olson could see Lena bobbing about 60 yards off the shore where the ice appeared to have heaved up in the warmer weather.

Olson said he could see Lena’s front paws on the top of the ice, but in about five-to-six feet of water, she was unable to pull herself up.

She got so excited at the sight of Burns and her furry companion, Bella, that Olson could see her slipping back into the water and struggling. He was afraid she might drown.

Although a Worthington resident was seeking a canoe to try to reach her safely, time became of the essence.

Olson struck the ice with his baton to get closer to Lena. Eventually, another Worthington resident on the shore threw Olson a tow strap to help him safely close the remaining distance between he and Lena. Olson and Burns' brother, Mike Burns, were able to grab Lena’s collar and pull her to safety.

Bella, who Burns said is extremely attached to Lena, was there to jump excitedly when her buddy was rescued.

Extremely exhausted and cold, Burns said the family cautiously warmed up Lena’s body with lukewarm water and wrapped her in warm blankets. He closely monitored her, looking for signs of frostbite or pneumonia.

Lena warms up under a fleece blanket after a Thursday morning scare falling through the ice at Lake Okabena. (Submitted)
Lena warms up under a fleece blanket after a Thursday morning scare falling through the ice at Lake Okabena. (Submitted)

On Friday, Burns said she was no worse for the wear.

Thursday’s rescue was a first for both Olson and Burns.

Burns has been fostering rescued dogs for Retrieve a Golden of the Midwest for 13 years. He also has three dogs of his own.

“I’ve (experienced) the gamut of everything that could happen to a dog, except falling through the lake,” Burns said.

Although rescuing a dog stuck in the ice was a new experience for Olson, he said he didn’t feel too uncomfortable due to his ice fishing experience.

As someone with experience rehabilitating and re-homing rescued Golden Retrievers and retriever mixes, Burns understands the flight risk rescued breeder dogs pose.

“They lack socialization at a young age, so they tend to be more fearful, shy (and) scared,” he said, adding that Lena was purchased at an auction in Missouri.

Burns said he takes caution with how she’s secured, and isn’t entirely sure how she was able to escape. He suspects she snuck out when another family dog was being let out.

He perused the area until about 11 p.m. Christmas night and was back out looking at 5 a.m. Burns credits his nephew, WPD Det. Brandon Piel, for getting the message out among his law enforcement contacts that she’d been missing. Burns said other officers sent him sympathetic messages and helped from the shore Thursday morning.

Missing fliers were also created and shared rapidly on social media, thanks in large part to the group, The Retrievers, who are dedicated to locating lost goldens.

Because rescued dogs tend to be more skittish, Burns said the passerby that found her took correct action by ceasing to approach her and calling the Worthington Police Department.

Burns said he’s eternally grateful to officer Olson, Piel, other WPD officers and civilians that assisted in bringing Lena to shore.

“It’s amazing everything worked out as well as it did,” he said.