Good Dogs

Woody the Very Good Rescue Dog

A family’s yellow Lab plunged into frigid water to save a boater outside Savannah

Photo: Courtesy of the Atkinson family

Woody, shown in 2016.

A yellow Labrador retriever near Bluffton, South Carolina, was a good, good boy this week. Woody, a seven-year-old rescue, did some rescuing of his own when he saved a man from drowning in the 58-degree water of the Okatie River on Wednesday.

Three workers were refurbishing a dock when they decided to take a break for lunch and tool around in a small jon boat. According to the Beaufort County Sheriff’s incident report, one of the men explained that his “coworker flipped [our] boat” in the choppy waters.

All three plunged into the coldness, wind whipping and the current pulling them along. One of the men managed to swim across the river and get out, and another got stuck in pluff mud, where a local charter captain, Jason DuBose, saw him. “He’d been in the water a long while before we found him and was in pretty bad shape with hypothermia,” DuBose recounted in a Facebook post. “We pulled him out of the marsh and got him back to the dock where the EMS took over.”

But the third man, 24-year-old Mason Ringer, is the one who owes his life to Woody the dog. Billy Sparks, who manages a property belonging to Woody’s family along the river, was watching Woody for the land owners. Sparks heard shouting and then saw Ringer’s head bobbing. “This is a big river, and the wind was so rough, it was white capping the water and the tide was coming in,” Sparks told G&G on Friday.

Sparks didn’t command Woody to jump in; Woody decided to help on his own. “Woody ran down the broken ramp next door, and swam right out to the guy,” Sparks said. “This guy was calling for help and Woody sensed that. When you call Woody, Woody’s coming.”

By that point, Ringer wasn’t able to swim on his own. He “was cramping up from the cold water and could not make it to shore and was going down quickly,” DuBose, who could see the events unfold, recalled.

Photo: Courtesy of the Atkinson family

Woody at home in Savannah.

Woody swam toward Ringer and turned to let the man hold onto him. “Ringer grabbed Woody’s tail, and the dog towed him for a moment, but Ringer lost his grip,” reported the Island Packet. But Woody would not give up or leave Ringer behind, paddling back and offering Ringer his collar. Dog and man moved slowly through the cold, choppy water, for ten or fifteen minutes, Sparks said, all the way back to the dock and safety.

“It was a miracle,” Ringer told the Island Packet, adding that he wanted to buy Woody “the biggest steak I could find.”

Unfortunately, Woody is currently on a diet, according to his owner Suzanne Atkinson. The Atkinson family, who lives in Savannah, rescued Woody (full name: “Woody the Cowboy”) from a humane society in Nebraska in 2011. There they learned he had been put up for adoption in Florida months before. The twice-rescued dog loves water, often paddling in the river and pulling up rocks, and swimming in the ocean.

Don’t tell, but Woody does get a slice of bologna from time to time, and it clearly hasn’t hurt his swimming ability one bit. “I know all the rest of his life,” Sparks said, “we will tell Woody he’s a good boy.”