Californai Duke and the River of Doom
This is an adventure that took place in August of 2002. While I make it sound amusing, at the time it was not so much fun. This illustrates that dogs don't seem to realize that a steep bank that they can easily descend may not be so easy to re-ascend. Duke could have been in very serious danger.
I wrote this the day it happened, sending it to our Bouvier e-mail list. I present it here with only a few additions.
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Duke and I had something of an adventure this morning. (7/08/2002). An adventure that could have ended very badly. "But since it came to good, I shall recount all that there befell me by Dog's grace" (as Dante Aligheri once said, though he spelled Dog backwards.)
We went out for a morning walk, Duke , Pix, Ham , and I (Chris stayed home crated to rest a sore paw), to our very favorite route alongside the creek -- south fork of Putah Creek ("putah" is spanish for "prostitute", a bit of trivia that will probably interst no one other than Dave Letterman, since I don't think it is likely to appear as one of the high value questions on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire"). A couple hundred yards downsteam from where we hit the creekside path, all three dogs went down the bank to wade and drink. A common occurance, something they will usually do several times during a walk, more often if weather is hot. Not normally a problem. But some of the banks leading from the trail down to the creek are rather steep. Lately Duke has been feeling the steepness more and more. Today they unfortunately chose a route that was unusually steep and the last 6 or 8 feet damn near a straight down drop. Even the younger dogs had to make quite an effort to get back out of the water and start up the bank. Duke couldnt do it. He tried and couldn't make it. Tried several times and couldnt make it. So he stood in the shallow water next to the bank and barked. He's always tended to bark when he is excited or frustrated, and up to now it's been a bit of a nuisance , something I which annoys me and which I sometimes scold him for. Today it proved very helpful.
I tried first to get myself down the bank and into the creek to give him a boost up. Left my hat and the remeote collar transmitter (Ham still needs a remote at times to help to recall him from squirrel holes and other roadside attractions) up on the path, and slid down the bank on my butt, collecting a pantsful of foxtails enroute. The last 6 or 8 feet would have been a dead drop off into the water. Really didn't want to do it and definately could not have gotten myself or Duke out again at that spot. Now understand that if he had been in immediate peril, eg treading water too deep for him to stand in or had his collar caught on a branch (unlikely -- all the branches are so water-soaked that they break under a few pounds of pressure so wouldnt hold a struggling dog) or whatever, I would have made the drop and counted on landing with at least one foot and leg still weight bearing, able to let me get to him and get hands under his chest for support to keep him afloat. It's pretty shallow close to the banks and the bottom is soft and squishy, so the chances of serious injury are slight. But he was standing on a spot high enough that his head and neck and top of his back were above water, so I knew he could stay there for a long time safely, even though he was under some emotional stress about it. So I had time to try less drastic alternatives. Time to think before acting --a great luxury.
I thought about walking home to get strong climbing rope so I could tie to a tree and climb down. But I didn't want to desert Duke for that long as I was afraid he might try something desperate like trying again and again to climb out at that unclimbable spot and get exhausted and maybe wind up drowning. Besides, I didn't have any long strong climbing rope at the house. Thought about waiiting at the top and keep telling him that it would be OK and waiting for some farmworker to come by that I could flag down and hope that he might have climbing rope in his truck -- and that my half dozen words of Spanish plus my considerable pantomime skills would be able to convey to him what kind of help I needed. I don't carry (or own) a cell phone, so no way to cell call anyone for help. No, I was gonna have to solve the problem myself. Time to make like a self-reliant hero type. Like Indianna Jones. (too bad my precious Arab stallion, "Tambu", was long dead; he could have helped. Even my lazy old Thourghbred stallion, "Sunny". might have helped. It's hard to be Indy without a horse. ah well, I dont have a bull whip either.)
I needed to get him to go upsteam or down to any of the many places where the banks are much more gradual and he could climb out easily. At worst I knew there was such a spot a few hundred yards upstream. First I tried to walk along the bank and get him to wade along below me. Started at mid-bank and tried to fight my way through the brush and the spider-webs. This time of year, there are a multitude of huge spider-webs spun by magnificent huge garden spiders - some damn near a handspan accross. Quite harmless to humans or dogs, and fortunately I had long since gotten over my childhood terror of spiders (I do of course put on gloves when I go to the woodshed, as there is no point in risking a Black Widow bite unnescessarily). Trying to go along the midbank prooved too difficult -- and he was not willing to follow me down below. And unfortuantely just ahead of him was a stretch he'd have had to swim and he didn't really have the confidence for that. I had to climb back up to the above bank path. Had to go up on all fours digging fingers into the ground for traction. Don't know how the dogs scamper up and down so easily.
Wound up going about a hundred yards upstream to find a spot where I could slide down into the creek and where a stiff old dog would be able to get out and back up the bank. Left the hat and transmitter at the top. slid down on my butt again. by pure luck there was a cardboard from a Bud 6 pack right next to the spot where I entered the creek, so no worries about finding the spot again to re-exit. Got into the water and started wading towards Duke, from time to time calling out to him not to worry and hoping that he could realize that I was getting nearer. His occasional bark was now very reassuring to me. Swimming dogs probably don't bark, drowning dogs probably don't bark, and dead ones certainly don't bark. I could tell he was still more or less where I'd left him, showing some stress in the pitch of his bark, but not extreme stress. The water immediately adjacent to the bank was mostly dog wading deep, but I was wading a bit further out and mostly hip to waist deep. Had to wade thru a lot of water plants and scramble through and over fallen tree branches and driftwood. The bottom was very squishy and sucked at my sandels -- two strap open backed Birkenstocks of course, so they kept getting sucked off and stuck in the mud. Finally I took my sandels off and threaded one of my over-the-shoulder leashes through the straps to carry them. Kept reminding myself that there probably were no critters underfoot to bite my naked feet, and that any broken glass or rusty nails would probably just sink further into the squish rather than lacertae or puncture my feet. The water I sholuld add is anything but clear -- rather like Kipling's "greasy grey-green Limpopo" but , as I kept reminding myself , without any poisonous serpents , pirahnnas, or crocodiles. The whole scene looked and felt like something out of an Indianna Jones flick -- and I kept expecting blowgun bearing pygmies, evile enemy archiologists, or, of course, gun toting Nazies to appear.
Eventually I waded around a final bend and could see Duke, standing just where I'd left him. Once he caught sight of me , he seemed much relieved and he actually gathered courage and started to wade and swim towards me. So far as I know he had never really had enough experience swimming to be confident about it. I got up to him and got my hands under his chest to give him support to the next area where his feet could reach bottom. From there on we went back upstream, mostly with him wading but with me helping him on the few spots where he had to swim around obstacles or otherwise surmount difficulties. Finally we were back at the spot where I'd entered. I pushed Duke a bit to help him up onto the lower bank and he was able to keep going. Good thing, as I had to use fingers , toes and knees to dig in and clamber my own way up. I don't think I could have helped him much. (We'd have had to continue wading another two hunderd yards upstream to a wide shallow place where I know we could have gotten out easily. Used to invite UCD Art Dept figure Painting classes to come there to do painitng in natural setting many years back when the creek was much clearer and prettier. I had even brought my old horse to be another nude model.)
Once up on the above bank path again, my legs felt like weak rubber. Duke seemed to be in better shape than I was. He was steady on his legs and he had enough extra energy to make detours into the tomato fields to scout for the few early ripened ones. Since the water in the creek is only mildly cool and the day was fairly warm, I knew I didn't have to worry about hypothermia nor about over-heating problems. We walked home.
Took all the dogs out onto the lawn and hosed them off. Took them all into the bathroom and flushed ears with ear cleaner -- Pix and Ham had been splashing about quite a bit (they thought this was all wonderful fun and want to do it again tomorrow) so I did their ears too. Then I filled a bucket with soapy water with a dash of chlorine bleach and dropped my clothes in , then filled the bathtub with warm water and dropped myself in. Soaped and soaked thoroughly. Got out , hung my clothes on the solar dryer, and phoned Duke's internist to let him know what had happened and to tell him I would be watching Duke carefully for any ill effects. I'm fairly sure that while he would have swallowed some water (and he has been drinking out of the creek for the past two years so he is probably immune to anything in it, including giardia), I was hopeful that he had not aspireated any of it. I will take his temp tonight before going to bed. I would haul him in to the VMTH if there were any signs of trouble.
Went in to town and treated myself to a very nice lunch and enjoyed same thoroughly. I damn well earned it. (had to go in anyway to pay some bills). Came home and plopped down on the sofa in front of the evap cooler. Duke looks and acts just fine. My feet, especially the toes, feel a little funny. I'm pretty sure it's just from the different way one's foot muscles have to work to go thru all that squishy mud. I hope it''s not from the agri-cehemical run-off into the creek or the wastewater from the weapons-grade plutonium producing reactor that the Nazis have hidden a few miles upstream.
We didnt find a solid gold idol or the Lost Ark or the Holy Grail. But I did save my dog from a frightening and dangerous situation, possibly saved him from an unpleasant and unnescessary death. So I do damn well feel like a real hero. at least for today.
Update : I had two other occasions when I had to climb down into the creek to rescue a dog. Never quite so exciting as this time, though one time I damn near dislocated a hip joint and had to walk home a mile or so in considerable pain.return to top of page
The lesson of course is to keep dogs on leash, especially senior dogs, when walking along above any steep bank. (Not a great idea to let your dogs swim or drink from creeks anyway because they may catch Giardia.) This is just one instance of the general rule to keep dogs on leash whenever an off leash dog might get into danger. In this case I just didn't anticipate the danger.
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