38 dogs were close to drowning on a Mississippi lake. But some fishermen had quite a catch

CORRECTS NAME OF LAKE: Fisherman Brad Carlisle, left, and fishing guide Jordan Chrestman bring one of three boatloads of dogs back to shore after they were found struggling to stay above water far out in Mississippi's Grenada Lake. (Bob Gist via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) — By the time fishermen spotted the first head bobbing above the water, the 38 dogs were exhausted and struggling to stay alive.

The hound dogs had plunged into a large Mississippi lake while chasing a deer, a diversion during a fox hunt. Bob Gist, who was fishing on the lake, knew they had no chance.

“A deer can swim the Mississippi River, and those dogs are not going to catch a deer in the water,” he recalled Friday.

They weren't going to survive, either, Gist and the others realized — unless someone acted right away. The insurance agent from Jonesboro, Arkansas, along with friend Brad Carlisle and guide Jordan Chrestman, headed over in their small boat.

“There were dogs everywhere,” Gist said. “They were kind of swimming in circles and didn’t know which direction to go."

As the dogs' frantic owners watched from the shore, the three men started grabbing whatever dogs they could. There were too many to all fit on the bass boat, so three trips to shore were needed.

A photo Gist took during the rescue shows Carlisle standing and grinning in mirrored sunglasses, with more than a half-dozen of the hound dogs perched on the bow. Numbers from the fox hunt are painted on their sides.

Other dogs are standing behind the seats — two of them calmly looking ahead as Chrestman, beside them, steers.

"The hero here is Jordan," Gist said, as the guide had recognized the danger and sped the boat over. “If it wasn’t for Jordan, there would have been 38 dead dogs."

The dogs had probably been in the water for about 15 or 20 minutes by then, Gist said. Some of them were so worn out that the men had to reach into the water and lift their heads out. Each dog was then heaved aboard.

By the time the last were rescued, they had been in the water for 45 minutes to an hour, Gist said.

Dogs, especially when hunting, can “follow game relentlessly, as in this case,” said Chris Gurner, a natural resource specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which patrols Grenada Lake — but he called it rare for them to go that far from shore. Even though they were on a fox hunt, it’s not unusual for the dogs to go after any animal that startled them, he said.

“Opportunities to help somebody are in front of us all the time,” Gist said. “Sometimes if you see something, do something.”