Retrieving Golden Labs from a NL Fishway


Construction company praised for the recovery of three golden labs

Adam RandellPublished on August 30, 2016

GAMBO, N.L. — The presence of a black bear in Gambo riled up Jennifer Ackerman’s three golden Labrador retrievers, causing them to knock off fence boards at her home and give chase on Aug. 21.

She tried calling them back but to no avail.

Ackerman put the word out trough social media and other various ways, hoping that her family pets would be found.

Two days later she was informed that her dogs were located, trapped in a salmon counting pin and that a rescue mission was underway at the Middle Brook fishway.

Charlie Bungay and Larry Wells, with Traytown Construction, were carrying out contract work at the fishway, when they happened upon the dogs.

“It’s pretty noisy because of the water running down the river and into the ladder, it’s hard to hear yourself talk sometimes,” said Bungay. “When we first got there you could almost hear the sound of a dog in distress, we looked around but never seen anything.”

Noting that a lot of residents use the trail system near the salmon ladder, they chalked up the noise to someone walking in the area with their pet and proceeded to work.

About a half hour later they heard the noise again, stopped worked and checked the area, even looking through the platform grates of the ladder to the rushing water below.

Still they found nothing.

“We worked away a little bit longer and heard the bark again,” he said.  “So we walked up and down the ladder to check it out, and Larry looked in a corner and said, ‘Charlie there’s a golden lab in the corner almost drowned.’”

Fishways – also known as counting pins or ladders – are made up of multiple holding pins made up of concrete and metal. They are designed to hold salmon until released, but secured in a fashion to prevent poaching. However there’s a locked viewing hatch that can be accessed.

They called their employer – Charile Pickett – who informed them to do whatever was necessary to retrieve the dog.

According to Bungay, there was a young man who carries out the count on site when the dog was spotted, and was retrieved so the hatch could be accessed.

He said the employee was able to get down and make the rescue.

“He opened the gate to let the salmon through, and as the water come rushing down (we seen that) there were two other dogs there as well and they went on down to the very end of the salmon ladder,” he said. “And at the bottom is all steel bars, almost like in a jail… and it looked liked they were pinned up against the steel.”

The crew again called their boss to explain the situation; the only way to retrieve the other two animals was cut their way in, as the grate that needed accessing was welded shut.

And once again, the response was the same, Pickett said, as told by Bungay, “‘Do what it takes to save the dogs. I don’t care what the cost is, if you’ve got to cut the grates, do whatever you’ve got to do.’”

So Wells fitted a gas saw with a blade, and hole was sawed into the platform grate, and Bungay waded into the water below where he got a clearer indication of what was happening.

“The current had one pushed half way through the bars,” he said. “The poor dogs were in distress and if we didn’t get them when we did they would have drowned. They couldn’t touch bottom where they were.”

He was able to get his hands around the second dog and handed it up to Wells who pulled it to safety.

The third one being pinned was a little more challenging.

“The young guy that was there went around to the other side (of the bars) and kept the dog’s head up, because it was starting to go into the water. I was up to my armpits in water with the gas saw and sawed off a big steel bar above its head,” he recalled. “Then I had to pry the bars open and push the dog back through.”

Eventually all three dogs were out of the fishway, exhausted but safe.

As for how the dogs ended up there in the first place, Bungay assumes it was through the fishway’s exit, where salmon continue on their path up stream.

“At the base of the ladder there’s a steel grid so people can’t get in, but there’s a little hole there and if the dogs were swimming along the shoreline the current probably sucked them in.”

Family connection

When the rescue began, unknown to him, Bungay was assisting in the rescue of the three golden Labradors that belonged to his sister-in-law.

He had seen a Facebook post from his niece about the missing dogs, but never imagined it would be the ones he rescued.

“When I looked down the hole the first time and only saw one dog, I figured it was someone else’s. But then there were three and I realized who’s dogs it were,” he said.

“But that wouldn’t have mattered to me, whether it was the sister-in-laws or not, I still would have done what I could to save the dogs.

And being an animal lover himself, he was more than happy to have played a part in the rescue.

“I’m a dog owner as well, I have a golden lab, and when I saw the first one in the corner, you could see the stress in its eyes,” Bungay said.

So to assist in the rescue of three dogs, “I feel great. I would have done it for not only my dog but anybody’s dog or any other animal for that matter.”

High praise

Bungay had high praise for his employer Charlie Pickett, calling him the real hero of this story for allowing him and Wells to do what they had to do.

“He could have said call the fire department and not worry about it, but he’s not that type of guy, he’s an animal lover,” said Bungay. “The first words he said were, ‘Do whatever it takes, don’t worry about the cost to me, just save the dogs’ so that was pretty good of him.”

He also noted that Pickett provided locks and chains to secure the fishway grate until it can be repaired.

The praises of the entire company, both employer and employees, are being sung by Ackerman.

“They really went above and beyond to save my dogs,” said Ackerman. “Most owners of a company, if it’s going to cost them money, they wouldn’t really go through that kind of expense, but he freed all three dogs.”