MANATEE — Deputy LeAna Cudzilo didn’t expect to be swimming with sharks in the dark of the night when responding to a call of a dog in distress.
However, that’s what it took to save one lucky dog, Fern, the night of Aug. 31.
“You could hear the dog howling but it was sounding farther and farther away,” Cudzilo said. “She was swimming out toward the ocean.”
Fern’s owner had recently installed an invisible electric fence, which so startled the coon hound dog it ran right into the canal.
“The canal was completely dark. The homes weren’t lit up,” Cudzilo said. “By looking with a flashlight, I could see the seawall was so high the dog had no way of getting out of it.”
Acting quickly, the 6-year veteran deputy jumped into the dog’s owner boat to continue the search. “We finally found it as it was making it out to the (Gulf),” Cudzilo said. “Every time we got close, the engine scared her, and she ended up swimming up to the tip of the Anna Maria fishing pier.”
The deputy realized time was of the essence as the boat neared the pier where people were shark fishing. She could see Fern struggling and starting to go under.
Cudzilo decided to jump into water estimated at about 25 feet deep, setting aside any fear of sharks, getting caught on pilings or a fishing hook. She was just worried about reaching the dog in time. So the deputy removed her utility belt and vest and jumped in.
“It took me a while to get to her,” Cudzilo said.
Meanwhile, Fern’s owner was panicked.
“My dog is going to drown right in front of me and I’m going to be able to do anything,” she recalls him saying.
Cudzilo finally reached Fern and helped her onto the boat.
“Her actions went beyond the call of duty and averted the tragic loss of a pet, for which Deputy LeAna Cudzilo is awarded Deputy of the Month for December,” Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said in a statement.