June 23, 2012, was a foggy windless morning. I was returning from a morning of fishing at some of my favorite spots around Fishers Island, and steered a course for the Mystic River for breakfast at one of my favorite spots, Kitchen Little.
I was just entering the river west of the stone marker when I noticed something swimming on the surface in the mooring fields. At first glance I thought it was a cormorant (a native waterbird species very abundant in this area), but the object appeared too low in the water and was swimming much too fast. I altered course to get a closer look. As I got closer, the fog moved in once again to the point where I had to anchor — I knew I was getting close to Ram Island and the rip current that runs just north of the island.
A half hour passed, and finally the fog lifted enough for me to get my bearings. The tide had been running out pretty hard due to the moon phase, and I realized whatever I saw had probably gotten swept around Ram Island and west toward Gates Island. I headed off in that direction, and as I rounded the green can at the northern tip of Ram Island, I spotted what I realized was a dog swimming for its life. The dog was small, and as I pulled up alongside it, he tried to climb the gunnel of the boat in a desperate attempt to get aboard. I reached over and grabbed him, and as he collapsed on the deck, I ran to grab a blanket and some bottled water.
After about 20 minutes, the dog was lying in the stern of the boat sound asleep still wrapped up in the blanket. I thought, “Now what?” I turned the boat around and did the only thing I could do: Head back up tide into the mooring field and hope to get lucky and find the owner. By this time it was around 10 a.m. and there were some people coming topside on their boats in the mooring field after spending the night “on the hook.” I started asking if anyone knew to whom this dog belonged. No luck.
As I headed up river toward Ram Island Yacht Club, I noticed a 30-35-foot Ketch sailboat with a woman with her head in her hands sitting at the stern of the boat. As I pulled up, I could tell she was distressed and I asked her if her dog was missing. She replied that their dog had been missing since she awoke some two hours earlier and that they had tried to find the dog in their inflatable, but they had been unsuccessful. I reached down in the stern of the boat and picked up the dog and asked her if this was her dog. Her face lit up and soon the dog was back “home” on board. As I pulled away, I could see what that dog meant to her and her husband, and I have to say I felt pretty satisfied about the way things turned out.
I wish I could say all pets lost overboard had a happy ending like that. But, unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most pets lost overboard are either lost in transit or when the vessel is on mooring or anchor overnight.
There are a few precautions you can take to make sure your pet has the best chance to survive if lost overboard. The first and most important is making sure your pet is wearing a life preserver. West Marine sells preservers for all types of pets, including cats and dogs. They are easy to put on and also provide warmth in cold-weather conditions. A life leash is also available that can be attached to the pet’s collar and then attached to a railing system on the boat, allowing your pet to roam around the deck.
The other safety tip is when traveling or in transit, always make sure your pet is below deck. Since I have a center console, I now make sure my dog (a black Lab named Buckle) is wearing his life preserver and is on a short leash attached to my leaning post.
So please pay attention to our furry friends when you are out on the water, and take the necessary precautions to ensure their safety. If you lose a pet or find a missing pet either on land or at sea, you can contact petamberalert.com to notify them of the situation.
Captain Fred DeGrooth, a native to the area, has more than 30 years’ experience navigating and fishing the waters off our coast, and is a local charter captain. He is a master rod builder, owned and operated one of the few United States-based fishing rod manufacturing facilities, and started Watch Hill Outfitters in 2005. Captain Fred can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.