Dog owners warned about dangers of drowning

February 2, 2013 12:44:41 PM PST
Unseasonably warm weather means a lot of people will be hitting the beaches. That has the Coast Guard on high alert following a rash of drownings involving people walking their dogs. Friday, federal officials launched a campaign to keep people and their pets safe at the beach.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Pamela Boehland and her dog Rascal enjoy time at the beach. Despite Boehland's Coast Guard credentials, she knows who the better swimmer is. "He'll do much better in the water than I would," she said.

Rescue swimmer Gabe Pulliam jumps out of helicopters to save people for a living. He knows without all the special gear he wears, his Labrador retriever would be swimming laps around him. And that's the focus of a new publicity campaign.

"Peach here a much better swimmer than I am," Pulliam says in a new Coast Guard PSA. "If you see a dog struggling in the water, don't panic. Don't rush in after them."

The Coast Guard and the National Park Service launched the campaign at Oakland's animal shelter in the hopes of saving lives.

Allison Lindquist, Executive Director of the East Bay SPCA agrees. "This year in particular, we've seen so many pet owners going in after their pets," she said. "Which as pet lovers we understand, but seeing all these people losing their lives is just tragic."

Since November, five people have drowned on Northern California shorelines while walking their dogs. Four of the deaths have been in Humboldt County. The other was in Marin, off Point Reyes. Often, they're attributed to sneaker waves, a big wave that sneaks up on you during a set of smaller ones.

A sneaker wave was blamed for sending three people to the hospital during 2010's Mavericks surf contest. The timing wasn't just a coincidence, winter is prime time for sneaker waves in California and for icy cold water.

"Without the right equipment, it's almost, it's a losing battle very quick," Pulliam said. "So as soon as you hit the water, your natural reaction's just to take a big gasp of air."

It's an ugly situation with a tragic outcome. "Sadly, the most common outcome of someone going in to save their dog is that the dog gets out just fine but the person does not." Lindquist said.

Remember -- dogs are natural born swimmers. So if yours gets swept up by a sneaker wave, it's best to take Lindquist's advice. "Stay on the shore, the dog is gonna be fine."


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