Home Animals Onlooking man jumps into an NYC river to rescue drowning dog

Onlooking man jumps into an NYC river to rescue drowning dog

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Image via Erin O'Donnell

Since being adopted from North Shore Animal League back in March of 2017 — Harper has been in love with her mom, Erin O’Donnell.

That being said, she does get a bit nervous when it comes to new situations and it takes a bit for her to warm up to others.

“She is a sweetheart but very anxious outside and around strangers,” O’Donnell told The Dodo.

O’Donnell was performing with the Brooklyn Irish Dance Company in Manhattan while leaving Harper in Brooklyn with friends and a trusted dog walker.

Harper and her dog walker were out taking a stroll when a cab ran a stop sign and hit the dog walker and Harper.

And though both were okay and only sustained minor injuries — Harper was so shaken that she ran until she reached the East River and jumped right in.

While still in a panic — Harper swam fervently.

Image via Lorenzo Fonda

And most onlookers believed she was just a dog going for a swim.

“I was at the Brooklyn Barge celebrating my Bday when we saw a dog ‘going for a swim,’” Gabe Castellanos posted on Instagram. “The day grew hot and we all figured a nice swim could do us all a service. We assumed the owner was on shore keeping a watchful eye until a patron ran up to the north side of the Barge with a panicked voice saying that the dog, Harper, had run away.” 

It was around that time that everyone started to notice Harper losing speed as the river was very cold.

Paired with the amount of energy Harper was exerting in her panicked state — it was likely she would not be able to keep herself a float for very much longer.

Castellanos knew he had to act immediately.

Catellanos is a graduate of SUNY Maritime College and has extensive water survival skills knowledge — and so he decided to go in.

Image via Lorenzo Fonda

“Since there was no sign of her making an attempt to swim back to shore, I knew something had to be done,” Castellanos told The Dodo. “I looked on the barge for any type of floating device to use if I were to jump from the end, but then I noticed there was a life vest, so I grabbed it.” 

A crowd of around 300 people had gathered to watch over Harper.



It was then that everyone began to realize what Castellanos was about to do — and they all broke out into cheers of encouragment.

A Brooklyn-based filmmaker and artist, Lorenzo Fonda, was hanging out at the Brooklyn Barge when he began to realized what was happening and quickly filmed the whole ordeal.

And knowing the water was going to be both cold and the conditions less than ideal — Castellanos quickly strategized with those around him as he prepared to jump into the water.

He stripped down to his underwear and climbed over the rails — then lowering himself as close to the water as he possibly could before he let go and dove in.

Image via Lorenzo Fonda

“There was a grand cheer when I entered the water,” Castellanos said. “After that, I was no longer focused on the crowds and my surroundings but focused on my breathing and swimming over to Harper. The crowds went mute during my swim. I’m sure they were still cheering, but I could not hear anything other than the water.” 

Harper continued to swim at a steady pace while Castellanos worked hard to catch up with her.

As soon as she realized someone was swimming towards her, she became more panicked and tried her best to swim away from him.

Castellanos did not give up despite Harper struggling and lashing out a bit in fear.

Finally — he reached her and was finally able to secure her.

When Castellanos had Harper safely in his arms, cheers erupted and the pair were able to get to shore.

Image via Lorenzo Fonda

Both were exhausted and in need of medical attention — but thankfully, they were both fine and recovering at their homes.

O’Donnell was in the middle of a performance and did not discover Harper’s river adventure along with the man who saved Harper’s life until much later.

“Her paws are in rough shape, so she will need some trendy boots for a few weeks, but otherwise she’s in great spirits,” O’Donnell said. “It is definitely so refreshing to see the positive responses from people at the Brooklyn Barge and on social media expressing their sympathy for Harper and praising Gabe, who definitely saved the day.” 

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