The Strongest Swimmer


There’s been a few heartbreaking stories in the news   lately about humans attempting to rescue their dogs from turbulent ocean waves only to be swept away and drowned. Shortly after Thanksgiving a family and their dog were walking along a beach up in Eureka when a wave suddenly swept their dog out to sea. Their 16-year-old son went into the breaking surf to attempt to rescue the dog. When he got in trouble both parents rushed into the water to save him. The dog made it safely back to shore unharmed. The mother, father and son did not.

A month later, a Bay Area man died attempting to save his dog from the surf at Point Reyes National Seashore. Two weeks later a 32 -year old woman was walking her dog along the coast at Shelter Cove, when a sneaker wave carried her out to sea.

At least seven people have died in northern California since 2008 while attempting to rescue their dogs from the ocean. In all but one case, the dogs made it safely back to shore without any human intervention.

The simple truth is that dogs are better swimmers than their two-legged masters. According to army veterinarian Capt Lynn Miller, “Compared to their human counterparts, many dog breeds have a compact center of mass in relation to their long d limbs and an elevated head and neck, which makes them good swimmers in calm water.”

If you take your four-legged buddy to the beach, keep a few safety tips in mind. Vigilance and prevention needs to be foremost on all dog owners’ mind to protect themselves. Dogs that weigh less than 40 pounds should not be allowed to run off leash near the surf zone.

“Even the fittest canine athlete isn’t made for pounding surf. And dogs should be discouraged from going near rough water and rocky areas. Remember a small wave that comes up to your dogs elbow is equivalent to a bigger wave that comes up to a human’s knee.

If your dog is swept away, simply give him or her an opportunity to swim back to shore. “Dogs are far better equipped to “go with the flow” and get themselves to shore than are humans.”

Lindquist also advises that dog owners make sure their pets have microchips and wears a collar with ID tags. This will help you and your dog be reunited more quickly if he comes ashore a long distance from where you are.

Having lived in Northern California I can attest to the dangerous ocean surf. But even in Southern California the ocean can be a dangerous place. Once when I was swimming and body surfing in Laguna Beach I got caught in an undertow and was dragged out into the ocean. Luckily, I didn’t panic and swam parallel to the shore. For the last few years I’ve gone to the dog beach in Malibu and there have been some days when the crashing surf was so big and so loud that I kept my dog safely onshore. Here’s how I see it – dogs are like kids. You wouldn’t let your kids close to the roaring, crashing surf so don’t let your dogs.

Always make sure you and your dog have plenty of fresh drinking water. Salt water is not good for a dog’s intestines and stomach. After his swim, rinse off your dog’s coat with fresh water to remove salt and prevent skin irritation. And also so your house won’t get sand in it.

Finally, as a sensible safety precaution, any dog that enters open water. Whether beach or riding on a boat) should be fitted with a life vest, regardless of his size.

Remaining onshore when you think your best friend is in trouble is not an easy thing to do.

Though this article focuses on the ocean, any body of water, be it a river, a lake, or a back yard pool, do not leave your pet unattended for even a moment. Like children, a dog can drown in a pool. A river can have unexpected rapids.

I was walking along the bank of the Russian River once in the winter time. It’s the rainy season and the river was high and flowing strongly. I had no intention of letting Willy into it. As we walked along, the bank curved and there was an unexpected trail leading right down to the water. Willy, off leash, bolted. He leaped into the water and began to be carried down stream. I ran along the edge coaxing him toward shore. Little by little he got closer until he was against the bank of the river and I helped him out. I learned my lesson that day that even well-trained dogs can suddenly do unexpected things.

Here’s another safety tip – don’t talk on your cell phone when you’re walking at the beach. It only takes a second for a dog or human to get into trouble. That extra minute on the cell phone can mean the difference between a fun day and a catastrophe.


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