OAKLAND, Calif. — Over the last four years, at least seven people have died in Northern California while trying to save their dogs from the ocean.
The dogs lived.
In an effort to raise beach safety awareness, the East Bay SPCA has teamed up with the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Park Service to help educate dog owners and beachgoers about the hazards they face on the Northern California beaches. Agency representatives will speak to the media and the public Friday morning at the Oakland office of the SPCA.
The main message: Dogs are better swimmers than people, even a swimmer who has been trained by the Coast Guard, experts said. Dogs will almost always get out of the surf and back to the beach — by themselves.
"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," said U.S. Army veterinarian Capt. Lynn Miller, who is advising the groups speaking Friday.
Several Bay Area residents have died in recent weeks while walking with their dogs on area beaches.
A 32-year-old woman was walking on a beach near Shelter Cove in Humboldt County with her boyfriend and dog on Sunday when 10 to 15 foot "sneaker waves" pulled her out to sea, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The boyfriend climbed onto a rock to save himself; the dog was not injured. A sneaker wave is a large wave in a series of coastal waves.
On New Year's Day, a 59-year-old Richmond man, walking on the beach with his wife and dog, died after a wave near Point Reyes Lighthouse overtook his dog, and he went into the surf to try to save the animal. The woman and the dog were not injured.
In November, a couple drowned and their 16-year-old son disappeared while trying to save their dog, who ran into the surf after a thrown stick in Arcata, where wavers were 8 to 10 feet tall.
There are precautions dog owners can take to protect their pets at the beach.
Dogs that weigh less than 40 pounds should not be allowed to run off leash near the surf. Even larger breed dogs, like Labradors and setters, naturally strong swimmers, need to be protected from the ocean. A small wave that comes up to a dog's elbow is the equivalent of a bigger wave that comes up to a human's knee, experts said.
Experts also caution dog owners to not throw toys into active waves because some dogs become so focused on getting a ball or Frisbee that they miss hazards under the water. If your pet does get swept away, give the dog the chance to swim back to shore. He or she likely will.
"Dogs are far better equipped to 'go with the flow' and get themselves to shore than are humans," said Allison Lindquist, executive director of the East Bay SPCA. "Should your dog end up in the surf or rip current, stay safely on the shore."