The sky was clear and sunny when 20-year-old Jon Lipinski and two of his friends spotted something disturbing in the water as they canoed on Lake Ontario Wednesday.
It was a golden retriever, swimming along the shoreline in Oakville, Ont. The dog had a leash trailing off his neck and appeared to be "tugging on something."
The canoeists paddled in for a closer look. It wasn't until they noticed two sneakers in the water that they realized something was terribly wrong.
A woman was floating facedown just feet away from the shore. The dog grasped her clothes with his teeth and appeared to be trying to drag her to safety.
"The dog was helpless ... it did not want to leave its owner at all," Mr. Lipinski said. "It was swimming back and forth around the body."
Another one of the canoeists, Jonathan Kuronen, 20, said the dog was shivering and trying to pull himself up the rocks. They tried lifting the dog from the water but he was reluctant to leave his owner's side.
"We had to physically pull it out. It could've drowned itself," Mr. Kuronen said. "It kept looking back and looking at the owner."
Halton police say the victim is a 66-year-old woman from Oakville who lives in the area where she was found. Police say their initial investigation suggests the woman was walking her dog when she slipped on some rocks and fell into the lake.
She was taken to Oakville Trafalgar Memorial hospital and pronounced dead at around 10 p.m. on Wednesday, said Detective Sergeant Kevin Maher. An autopsy was performed yesterday and foul play has been ruled out.
The family has requested that police not release the victim's name or any information about the dog.
"It's a tragic, sad family situation," said Det-Sgt. Maher. "It's just a very sad accident."
It is still unclear when the woman fell in the water, but the canoeists say they found her around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. At that time, the dog was already looking weak, as though he had "been in there for a while," Mr. Lipinski said.
Mr. Kuronen said the canoeists didn't touch the woman's body because she already appeared dead and they didn't want to disturb a potential crime scene.
They beached the canoe and brought the distraught dog to shore. No one had a cellphone so Mr. Lipinski went to a nearby house and the resident called police.
Mr. Lipinski said he wonders what might have happened had the three of them paddled by earlier.
"If we were 10 minutes earlier, maybe we would've seen her fall," he said.
As for the woman's dog, he is currently being cared for at the Oakville Humane Society, where he is "stressed" but "doing okay."
"There obviously was a strong bond between them," executive director Johanne Golder said of the dog and his owner. "That would be very stressful for an animal to be in that kind of situation."
She said the family is currently coping with the tragedy and has asked the humane society to look after the dog for a few days.
For Katie Gallaway with the Canadian Golden Rescue Adoption Service, it comes as no surprise that the golden retriever tried to rescue his owner.
"They have a very strong instinct towards interpreting the situation they're in and reacting on it," she said. "The golden has that reputation for being your fireside gentle companion but they will swim to their death to rescue you if they have to."