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.