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Beach, Surf Caution Advised For Dog Owners, Public

Seven casualties in NorCal beaches have made authorities begin education campaign about ocean hazards.

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 human intervention. Their human companions perished.

In an effort to raise beach safety awareness, the East Bay SPCA has teamed up with the Coast Guard and the National Park Service to help educate dog owners and beach goers about the hazards they face on Northern California beaches.

Winter is a particularly dangerous time to be on the beaches of Northern California, authorities said this week in a news conference.

Tragically, every year, people and their pets fall victim to sneaker waves, they said.

A sneaker wave is a large wave in a series of coastal waves. They frequently catch beach goers, dog walkers, and dogs off guard and wash them out to sea, authorities explained.

Those who fallen victims of such waves include a 32-year-old woman who was walking with her dog and boyfriend on a beach near Shelter Cove in Humboldt County on Sunday when giant waves toppled her, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The boyfriend and dog survived. 

A Richmond man, 59, died on New Year's Day while trying to save his dog after a "sneaker wave" swallowed up the animal near the Point Reyes Lighthouse. His wife and dog survived. 

“We love our dogs and will do anything to save them – but we must guard against the instinct to jump into the surf,” said Allison Lindquist, executive director of the East Bay SPCA.

The simple truth is that most dogs are better swimmers than their two-legged masters, authorities said in a press release.

Army veterinarian Capt. Lynn Miller said, "Compared to their human counterparts, many dog breeds have a compact center of mass in relation to their long limbs and an elevated head and neck, which makes them good swimmers in calm water.”

However, the Northern California coast isn’t often described as calm at any time of year. Vigilance and prevention needs to be on every beach goers’ mind to protect themselves and their dog from the frigid Pacific Ocean, the release stated.

If you take your four-legged buddy to the beach, you must keep a few safety tips in mind.

Dogs that weigh less than 40 pounds should not be allowed to run off leash near the surf zone, according to Miller.

She also warns that even though larger breed dogs like Labradors and setters that are naturally strong swimmers, need to be protected from the ocean.

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

She also advises not to throw toys into active waves, as some dogs can become so focused on a ball or Frisbee that they will miss hazards under the water they would have caught otherwise.

If your dog is swept away, give him or her 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 said. She advises, “Should your dog end up in the surf or rip current, stay safely on the shore.”

Lindquist said dog owners should also, “Be aware that the current may move the dog down the beach, and they may come ashore a distance from where you are located. Ensure that your dog has a microchip and a collar with ID, as this will make reuniting you both much quicker,” she added.

If, however, you find yourself pulled into the water, it is important to remain calm and swim parallel to the shore. If you are not a strong swimmer, try to get the attention of those on shore and tread water and float calmly until help arrives, the release stated.

Other safety tips from Dr. Miller:

  • Make sure your dog has plenty of fresh water to drink—salt water is poisonous to a dog's stomach and intestines.
  • Rinse your dog's coat off to remove the saltwater and prevent skin irritation.
  • Cold water can shock even mildly arthritic joints and turn a pleasant day at the beach into a nightmare that can last for days or lead to drowning.
  • Also, as a safety precaution, any dog that is entering open water (beach, bay, or riding on a boat) should be fitted with a life vest, regardless of the dog's size.

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