MANATEE -- When a black German shepherd went into a marsh Tuesday afternoon in Washington Park, Manatee County Animal Services officer Steve Bell went in after the dog.
Bell, along with Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputy Leana Cudzilo, went 40 yards into the marsh where the dog, whose name is unknown, had gotten into the reeds.
"We didn't want the dog to drown," said Bell, whose boots were filled with water as soon as he took the first step into the marsh. The water went up to just above Bell's waist.
Bell and Cudzilo were able to get the dog safely out of the marsh, but lost sight of it. Bell said he didn't know whether the dog was reunited with its owner.
"I'm going to do anything that is within my means to do," said Bell, who will celebrate 10 years with the division in November.
"If I can see a relatively low amount of risk, I'm going to try to do what I can do."
Bill Hutchison, interim director of animal services, said any one of the division's nine officers would probably have done the same.
"This is what they do," Hutchison said.
The county's animal services officers have been at the center of recent criticism -- most recently with the Padi case, where a dog bit off part of a child's ear and could still be put down per state law.
Critics have claimed the child provoked the dog and does not deserve to die.
Hutchison said this rescue "balances a lot of the unfounded criticism we get."
"It is more of a true reflection of what these guys are all about," Hutchison said.
Bell is the kind of officer who helps any animal in danger he sees, Hutchison said.
"He has a level of compassion and empathy that not all of the officers have," he said.
In the past, Bell has helped turtles, baby raccoons and baby coyotes.
"Anything that needs help," Bell said. "I'm not a control officer as much as I am an animal services officer."
Claire Aronson, Manatee County reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7024. Follow her on Twitter@Claire_Aronson.