Thursday, February 4, 2016

Dark Waters: One dog's great escape!

Fergus:The dog with the pine earring.
It's pretty well known amongst those outdoor folk familiar with those everyday dangers that wait like a baited mousetrap for the unwary and inexperienced, that crossing a fast flowing river-even one not more than knee deep-can have possible fatal consequences. A river that is in spate after a period of heavy weather can easily take your legs away from under you and send you spluttering and bouncing into possible deeper waters. If you have a heavy rucksack on your back to boot, then arresting your descent and getting back on your feet can be next to impossible. 

Teaching students how to safely cross a fast flowing river is part and parcel of all outdoor courses for those seeking qualifications or just experience. Another fairly common accident which quite often sees fatal consequences is when a dog owner gets into the water to effect a rescue when their animal gets into difficulty.

Despite my own experience in the great outdoors which includes a session on a mountain leaders course which involved the safety elements surrounding river crossing, and despite being more than wary of getting into a situation in which I might find myself getting in over my head--quite literally!- Probably less than an hour ago I found myself involved in an incident which could have had fatal consequences. The act of writing it down now will I hope prove cathartic.

I had taken my 8 year old Springer Spaniel, Fergus on one of his local walks which passes a fast flowing river. A broad sweep of water very quickly funnels into a gorge which is a grade 3/4 stretch of foaming white water.

As I scrambled down the bank I saw that Gus was in the river up to his chest waiting for a stick. Absent mindedly I chucked one into a fairly shallow stretch close to the bank before the river gains momentum before the gorge. However, the stick was very quickly swept down river at a rate of knots,and as he followed it he was swept into faster waters, heading towards a bay which had collected a fair amount of driftwood of all shapes and sizes.

All too quickly I realised that he was fighting the current and not making any progress. In fact he was getting deeper in the water with only his head showing and getting gradually washed under a branch. Then he was gone. I jumped in the cold water up to my waist and the current pinned me to the stack of driftwood. However, by pulling myself along a branch which appeared fairly well wedged in the pile, I made it to the edge of the bay where the river begins to narrow before the gorge. Suddenly, Fergus's head popped up. He was wide eyed and still fighting the river but alive at least.

At full stretch I reached out and tried to grab what I could of his head.I put my hand around his muzzle but he was immediately swept away and shot off down river,disappearing and reappearing several times before he managed to fight his way to the opposite bank just before the rapids. Pulling himself out onto the bank he appeared shattered.
He was well enough though to trot upstream to a wider section and ferry glide across to his shocked owner. I just kissed him on the head and pulled him out. By now I was gasping and shivering.More with shock than cold.My left leg was aching. It had caught under a submerged branch and the shin was skinned and bruised but all that was of no concern. Fergus was still alive!

There was a terrible moment when he slipped from my despairing grasp when I thought 'he's finished'. After he had already been under water and fighting to get out for what seemed like several minutes-it might have been less than 60 seconds?- I couldn't see him having the strength left nor the luck,to survive the maelstrom just around the bend.

In hindsight I can see that by jumping in and fighting to reach him, I didn't actually achieve anything. He survived through those innate instincts which characterise the Springer. A supreme confidence and ability in water. After my experience would I jump into a fast flowing river to save my dog again?.......Probably!


1 comment:

  1. Similar experiences with my Springer Benji on at least 2 occasions when i thought i had lost him. the first when in a shallow but fast flowing stream he was swept away to become entangled in branches. i jumped in to release him and couldn't feel the bottom but somehow untangled himand he managed to make the bank. i myself has quite a difficult time trying to gain some purchace on the bank and although quite cold by now eventually managed to claw myself out. My wife look at me strange when I arrived home for the dog-walk as it is usually thre dog that is soaking wet!
    Another occasion he chased a sheep over the ice on Llyn Mymbyr and went through. Fortunately me managed to get out with his built in crampons!