As the Kuljian family of Eureka, Calif., took a Thanksgiving weekend stroll along a Northern California beach on Saturday, Howard Kuljian threw their dog, Fran, a stick. Fran chased it to the choppy water’s edge.
Suddenly, what is known as a “sneaker wave” – a 10-foot-high breaker that seems to appear out of nowhere – knocked Fran down. As the dog was swept into the surf, Howard’s 16-year-old son, Gregory, tried to grab her collar, but it fell off.
As Gregory was swept into the water, Howard ran in to help his son.
Gregory managed to pull himself onto the sand, but his dad got caught in the strong surf. Both Gregory and his mom, Mary, went into the water to try to save him.
Sean Ledwin, who was walking on the beach with his girlfriend and witnessed the tragedy, told the Times-Standard the dog and family members “were getting rolled in the ocean, in a circular motion.”
Ledwin had to hold back Howard’s 18-year-old daughter, Olivia, along with Gregory’s girlfriend, from running into the ocean.
Fran was able to make it safely out of the water. Howard, Mary and Gregory were not as fortunate.
Impeded by the rough surf, Ledwin and an arriving police officer were finally able to pull Mary from the water and perform CPR, but it was too late. Howard’s body was found on the beach a short distance away, but Gregory’s body has not been recovered.
Warning signs about sneaker waves are posted at Big Lagoon beach. “The way that beach is, with the way the swell breaks, is a recipe for disaster,” U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Bernie Garrigan told the Times-Standard.
Dana Jones, a state parks district superintendent, told the Associated Press, “When there is shorebreak like that, you don’t even have to go into the water to be pulled into the sea. It’s a reminder to be real careful around the ocean.”
Sadly, this was not an isolated case. Just this year, four other pet parents have drowned while trying to save their dogs.
During an August boat ride on Hampton Ponds in Massachusetts, Daniel and Patricia Cyr’s West Highland White Terrier, Sadie, jumped into the water. Daniel went in after her and apparently suffered a stroke or aneurism. Patricia jumped in to save her husband of 40 years, but both drowned. Sadie survived, according to the Boston Globe.
A month later, Alicia Williams and David Platta, of North Wales, were walking their five dogs along the banks of the swollen River Clywedog when at least one of the dogs was swept into the water. The young couple drowned while trying to save their pets. Sky News reported that all five dogs survived.
Just like all of these victims, in an emergency situation, most pet parents probably wouldn’t give a second thought about risking their lives to save their four-legged family members. But to prevent such tragedies from happening in the first place, it is important to be extra cautious with your dog around bodies of water.
Be sure to observe warning signs; avoid walking your dog in flooded areas and on the beach during high surf; have your dog wear a life jacket while boating; and always observe these water safety tips from the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA).