Tragic ending could lead to improvements

It’s a cliche, but we hope we all learn from a recent situation that resulted in the death of a dog and some criticism of emergency responders.

This story, published in TGI Tuesday, has stirred emotion on both sides. Some say a lifeguard at Kealia Beach should have gone to the aid of the ailing service dog on a hot and sunny Friday afternoon, as it was just a mile away. Others disagree and say lifeguards are there to watch after swimmers, and say they can’t be leaving their posts to try and save a canine elsewhere.

Both have a point.

There is no doubt the woman walking her 6-year-old, 115-pound Great Dane/Mastiff mix, Thanka, loved her dog. He meant the world to her and helped her through difficult times. It was, unfortunately, probably a mistake to walk the dog a mile out from Kealia Beach on the path on a hot, sunny afternoon. There is little shade in the area, it’s the warmest time of the day and she didn’t have enough water, so when the dog injured its paw and couldn’t walk out on its own, it created a dangerous situation.

The woman requested assistance from lifeguards and 911. Both declined, citing they could only respond to help human lives. Now, that is certainly understandable. A lifeguard’s responsibility is to watch after people on the beach and in the water. We don’t expect 911 to come to the aid of a canine. In this case, after about an hour had passed from the initial cry for help, a lifeguard did use an ATV to drive the mile to where the dog was and carry it and its owner back to her car. It was, sadly, too late to save the overheated animal, in shock, and it passed away on the way to the veterinarian.

Here’s what we think. The lifeguards are dedicated and passionate about their profession. They are committed to the task at hand. But by initially refusing to assist a dog in trouble, it made it seem they were uncaring, like they don’t care about a suffering dog, which is wrong. They do care. But their responsibility was to the people at the beach.

In that situation, however, one of the lifeguards could have taken the ATV, driven the mile to the dog, picked it up and been back in about 10 minutes. One lifeguard would have still been on duty. Yes, there is a chance something could have happened in those 10 minutes that would have required both lifeguards, but that’s a small chance. A quick response may have saved the dog and we all know, people are passionate about protecting animals. Rescuing an animal, for some, elicits more emotions than saving a person. And how often, really, does someone seek emergency help for their dog?

The owner could have done things differently that day that might have avoided this situation. A shorter walk, or just down Kealia Beach, where many people walk their dogs. Brought more water. Or the owners could have raced back to retrieve their vehicle, parked at Kealia and driven it down the path to get the dog. Likely this is hefty fine/penalty, perhaps even considered reckless, but to save one’s dog, it would be worth it.

That said, it’s easy to second guess what happened. The owners did their best that day to save their beloved service dog Thanka. We are sorry for what happened.

Fire chief Robert Westerman said the county was also sorry for the death of Thanka, but the top priority of the water safety officers is to protect the health and safety of beachgoers inside their response area.

He added, however, “Nevertheless, we are looking into the events of that day for any improvements that may be needed.”

That’s good to hear. As long as we are always willing to consider change for the better, to learn from experience, we will continue to create the best outcomes possible in emergencies.

It’s when people make mistakes and get in trouble that they most need emergency responders. We encourage the county to consider a policy that allows lifeguards to leave their assigned posts and respond to assist pets, if it is reasonable to do so without endangering the lives of those they are there to protect.

8 Comments
  1. ruthann jones June 22, 2018 5:24 am Reply

    Sad….I just went through the security at airport, where a beefy young man was trying to get his ‘service dog’, a huge pit bull with a shock collar through the security w-ray machine. He could barely control this ‘service dog’ that was being zapped by his collar! This is the sad state of our real need for ‘seeing eye’ dogs.
    One can get those vests online with no documentation…that is a huge problem for those with real need.


  2. gordon oswald June 22, 2018 8:19 am Reply

    What a bunch of bologna! Government has no business giving medical care to your dog, cat, or canary! Lifeguards and firemen are not trained to resuscitate animals, nor are they schooled in the fine art of responding to an injured dog who just may decide to attack and take a pound of the lifeguard’s flesh with their two inch incisors (think Pitbull!!)! If you want free medical services for your animals try contacting your church, neighborhood, and family. Leave our government and it’s resources alone! It’s having insurmountable problems just trying to take care of you!


  3. LMat June 22, 2018 8:22 am Reply

    To Whoever at TGI that wrote this:
    Uhh, no. We DO NOT want the county to consider a policy where first responders are able to leave their post and attend to animals!!!! I mean, are you even serious?!! My tax dollars DO NOT pay for other people’s pet emergencies, especially those where the owners are solely at fault!!!
    There are no two sides to this story. Period. THE OWNERS WERE AT FAULT. I mean, your original article said one of the owners bicycled back to the lifeguard post three times in the span of an hour!! He should have picked up the dog, or dragged it if he had to, (by the look of the pictures posted, that dog was not 115 lbs) and got it to the car.
    This is the kind of entitled, privileged mentality that seems so prevalent within certain demographics on this island… Exhibited by both the dog owners and TGI for entertaining this ridiculous notion that maybe tax payers should foot the bill (and compromise the safety of ourselves and our children) for incompetent pet owners.


  4. PauloT June 22, 2018 9:09 am Reply

    I am glad this will be looked into. There are many times when police and fire companies go out of their way to rescue animals. Since there are 2 lifeguards at the tower, your idea of one taking the ATV to bring back the dog was a good one. Probably the lifeguards would have agreed but didn’t feel authorized to do that. Possibly now they can be, if a similar situation comes up.


  5. Midge Swanson June 22, 2018 10:57 am Reply

    I’ve been a dog lover all my life & have had dogs as part of my family since childhood. I agree with the potential solutions offered in the article, but 1 fact was totally ignored or overlooked. This wasn’t just a pet, it was a service animal. Hours of time, expertise & plenty of money go into the preparation of these animals to ready them for their years of work to ease the difficulties of living as a disabled person. As one who is disabled, even though I don’t yet require the assistance of a service animal, I feel that a greater amount of effort should go into their rescue, when needed, than into the rescue of a simple family pet. I’ve had to endure the loss of many pets over the last 75 years, and I know the pain that accompanies each loss. But to lose a service animal who provides so much for his/her owner, the sense of loss must be so much worse. I think the service animals who give up so much in order to assist their people need to be placed into a special category higher than just “pets”.


  6. Joe Public June 22, 2018 11:41 am Reply

    Agree with Gordon and LMAT, This was negligent on the DOG OWNER, NOT the COK. I pay taxes so that the COK and State can support PEOPLE.

    The owner of the dog should be charged with cruelty to animals…if this was a person, instead of a dog, it would have been manslaughter. See the difference?


  7. lumahai tim June 22, 2018 3:45 pm Reply

    sorry for the dog but can you imagine the lawsuit against the county if there was a situation that required a second lifeguard and someone was badly injured or died? the owner was an idiot


  8. Just Saying June 23, 2018 2:01 pm Reply

    Having known people (lifeguards actually), grudge fired and reinstated after many years by petty county management, it’s hard to fault the lifeguards in this event. “Policy” is the magic bullet that prevents people “on the spot” from using their best judgement whether it’s a paramedic or a 7-11 clerk. It’s good that adjustments are being promised.
    As for those writing with no empathy, it’s sad to consider that they probably live on Kauai and attack the aloha spirit on a daily basis. For these pathetic individuals, their entire worldview is based on: “No, you don’t get your ball back, you kicked it in my yard, now it’s mine, rule of law, kid!”


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