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Friday morning should have been a time of total celebration for Carrie Tilton Norris and her family. Her daughter Amber had just given birth to a son, Abel, two days earlier and was due to leave Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center that day.
But the heavy windstorm that blew into Maine on Halloween night ensured that Friday morning was anything but easy for Carrie and her husband, Jason.
At some point late in the morning, the wind twisted an opening in the wooden fence behind their Bangor home, so when Carrie let her two dogs out into the backyard around 10:30 a.m., both managed to escape.
Carrie and Jason were quickly able to locate Ladybug, their terrier-pitbull-Labrador mix, and get her back into their house on East Summer Street, which happens to be less than a half mile from the hospital that Amber, her husband and their son were soon planning to leave.
But their other pooch, a nearly 6-year-old yellow Labrador-German shepherd mix named Reilly, was harder to corral. Perhaps spooked by the wind or the cars driving on nearby Hancock Street, she bolted away and disappeared behind some homes that overlook the Penobscot River.
It’s unclear exactly what happened to Reilly for the next hour or so.
Jason began making his way up the railroad tracks that follow the river, heading toward EMMC, but he couldn’t spot the dog. Carrie initially tried to follow her down to the river, but almost fell down an embankment. She also posted on Facebook that Reilly was missing.
“Please don’t let her get hurt,” Carrie recalled thinking. “I just wanted her home and was terrified she was going to be hit by a car and that any number of things could have happened.”
Fortunately for them, other people did happen to catch glimpses of the blond retriever.
At some point that morning, Amber’s husband also happened to be outside EMMC, retrieving a car seat so that their newborn could leave the hospital, when he saw Reilly running along Hancock Street, according to Norris.
Even better, a patient on the third floor of the Bangor hospital also happened to be looking out a window when she saw what appeared to be a yellow Lab in the river. The patient then informed a group of staff — two nurses and two certified nursing assistants — that the dog was in danger.
That group left the hospital and walked down a path to the river, where Reilly was struggling to climb up a riverbank that was covered in rocks, according to two of the providers, registered nurse Shauna Young and certified nursing assistant Payton Lozier. They initially tried to approach the dog slowly, but she retreated toward the river.
Soon, they realized that the dog had gotten her head stuck between two rocks and submerged underwater. Even worse, the tide seemed to be rising. Standing on the bank, Young and Lozier reached down and helped free Reilly and remove her from the water.
Bangor’s animal control officer was called to come take care of Reilly, and they returned to their shifts in the hospital.
Young said that they were acting safely the whole time and that they had also ensured that other staff were covering their patients during the time it took them to rescue Reilly. She urged anyone who may see an animal in a similar situation to call 911 and avoid putting themselves in danger by trying to make a rescue.
“When we got down there and saw the dog was becoming more and more submerged, we knew we had to either act or the dog was not going to make it,” Young said.
Carrie received the good news early Friday afternoon. After the animal control officer brought Reilly home, she took her dog to a veterinarian. The retriever had a puncture wound on her chest along with cuts, bruises and a sprained shoulder but otherwise was healthy.
Carrie didn’t learn the whole story about Reilly’s rescue until later on Friday. She thinks her dog may have suffered some of the injuries while falling down an embankment toward the river.
Now, Carrie said, the “terror” that she felt about Reilly’s disappearance has given way to “relief and just immense gratitude to those nurses, and that patient who cared enough to let them know: ‘There is a dog in trouble. Please help.’”