BY GAIL WHITE
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
DEERFIELD -- On Aug. 7, Andy Henkel of Akron was on his boat, fishing in Berlin Reservoir. Shortly after 11 p.m., Andy approached a bridge in the reservoir. As he stopped to fish, he heard a strange noise.
"It sounded like a fish with a tongue, drinking water," he recalled.
Unsure of what he was hearing, Henkel continued fishing. He stayed out on the lake all night.
"I was having a bad night," he confessed. "But I was holding out. I was determined to catch some fish."
Instead of bass or trout, Henkel's catch of the day turned out to be of the canine variety.
Around 9 a.m., it was finally light enough for Henkel to see what was causing the strange noise he had heard the night before.
"It was hard to tell what it was," Henkel said of his struggle to determine the figure in the water. "It was the same color as the water. I couldn't believe it was a dog."
Henkel beached his boat and hopped into the water. He dragged the exhausted animal to shore and laid its head on a rock.
"I could tell something was wrong with its hind leg," Henkel said. Minnows were biting the dog's back end where there was an open wound.
"He was exhausted to the point that when I laid him down, I thought he might die," Henkel said, remembering. "He wanted to fall asleep and I kept trying to keep him awake. He was shaking really bad."
Henkel called the Portage County Sheriff Department who, in turn, called the Portage Animal Protective League.
"I got the page about 9:45 a.m.," said Humane Officer Marie Bennett. "I grabbed some blankets and headed out there."
Bennett laughed as she recalled how they got the dog out of the water. "We slid a soft gurney underneath his belly, carried him up a steep embankment, over a guardrail, and into the van." Her voice turning serious, she said, "If he [Andy] wouldn't have found him, he would have drowned."
The dog was taken to the Stow Kent Animal Hospital where the doctors were amazed that the animal hadn't died in the water.
"Judging by what the skin looked like -- it had a grayish appearance," explained Dr. Todd East of the animal hospital. "We can assume that the accident took place sometime Sunday evening."
The 11/2-to-2-year old chocolate lab had been in the water for more than 12 hours. He had a fractured left femur, a compound fracture of the right femur and multiple abrasions to the underside and pelvic area.
While his injuries were assessed, determining how the dog ended up in the water may never be known.
"Labs love water," Dr. East suggested. "He may have jumped out of a boat or went swimming and was hit."
Another mystery about "Bernie the Boat Dog," as he has become known, is his owner.
"He has no collar, no tags," said Barbara Kornuc, executive director of PAPL. "We are trying to find his owner."
Finding a family
After nearly a week, no one has claimed the labrador.
So, when "Bernie the Boat Dog" is released from the Stow Kent Animal Hospital next week, he will be leaving with Henkel.
"I thought someone would be looking for him," Henkel admitted. "He's a really nice dog."
While "Bernie" recovers from surgery at the hospital, Henkel has spent the week preparing his home for his new friend.
"I bought dog bowls and a leash," he said. "I put a ramp on the back steps. Bernie won't have to go up steps."
Bennett added, "Andy promises if he takes Bernie fishing he will put a life jacket on him."
Henkel laughed at the irony of it all.
"That was probably my worst day fishing," he said, "and I end up catching a dog!"