If anyone should have known the hazards of a dog drowning, it was me. The risk was instilled into me as a young child. Yet for all this insight, decades later and as a parent myself, there was something I knew but overlooked and … the unthinkable happened.And as a result my young family was left to grieve our much loved Rose.
This story begins in 1970 when I was 7 years old. Amid much excitement my family had an inground pool installed at our suburban family home. Our solitary family pet, aged five, was a scruffy looking little Yorkshire terrier I adored, called Bimbo.
I make note that this was well before the time of pool fencing, but Bimbo was so small pool fencing laws wouldn’t have been of any help anyway.
One sunny afternoon, my Mum, three year old sister and I were in the garden around the pool area. My little sister seemed fascinated by something near the filter box. She kept saying, ‘Oh…poor Bimby, poor Bimby’.
With that Mum went over and to her shock she saw that our tiny wet skinny scruff of a dog had managed to wedge himself into the filter inlet! He had thereby averted certain death through drowning in the pool, with its vertical sides and no way out. Happily, Bimbo would live out his days without an untimely end.
My childhood family learned well from this close escape. When we got our second family pet, in 1975, we made a point of training him to the pool. We tied a plank of wood to the ladder (the only exit) so that a dog could struggle onto this platform and then get out of the pool if need be.
For many a week, one of us would toss the hapless dog in at all manner of orientations, with another person stationed at the ladder imploring him to swim to them – and with much fuss, praise and hoopla when he succeeded.
In no time this worked, as evidenced by our occasional ‘pool drill’ which without exception (and with no coaching by now) would see our adult dog Rasmus re-orientate himself and head directly to the ladder and make good his escape.
Twenty years would pass before I would find myself once again faced with a family dog and water. My husband and I installed a small fish pond by the front door to our new home. It was just 1.2m by 1.2m and the recommended depth, my husband assured me, of 50cm. This is the depth necessary for fish to live and grow.
I repeatedly expressed my concern that our dog could drown. For those family members (two kids aged 10 and 12 and hubby himself) who had not experienced the Bimbo incident, emblazoned in my memory, it seemed like I was overly fussing.
Despite this being 2004, there were still no laws concerning fishponds. Accordingly, our small pond met legal requirements and Mum (me) was simply ‘fussing unnecessarily’.
Such was my concern that I set about constructing an exit route from one corner of the small pond. I found sizable pieces of stone slate and layered a biggish ramp all the way up one corner.
There: dealt with. I was finally quietened. Should our lovely Pomeranian, Rosie, slip in, she will be able to walk right out again.
Two months passed. The fish pond was a great source of pleasure, with goldfish growing and pond plants thriving. There was a Japanese-garden feel to the whole display surrounded, as it was, by pebbles and pavers; it gave us a lot of joy.
One afternoon we went to school to collect our elder daughter (12 years) as we had planned that morning. She, however, had forgotten and took the bus home.
Realising she had forgotten our plans, my husband and I went home, only to our horror to see a police car in the driveway and our wonderful neighbour approaching us; John.
John said, “Claire is fine, but Rose has drowned. Claire found her. We’ve wrapped Rose in a blanket and she’s in the shed. Claire’s inside our place with Barb.’
That wall of ‘no comprehension’ hit us. Words made little sense, save the fact that ‘daughter is safe’.
I doubt my daughter – who is now an adult – will ever forget the pain of the day she came home from school to an empty house to find our beloved Rosie dead. Time won’t erase that.
For what seemed like many months (but possibly weeks) our family was in turmoil, overwhelmed by grief and – for us adults- riddled with guilt.
What I did wrong –please read
In the following hours and days we did away with the pond; the site of such sadness. The fish we gave to a pet store.
Soul searching followed where I tried to work out what I had done wrong. Such a small pond: just over a metre square. And with one corner piled with flat slate-like stone to allow a dog to walk out!
And then it hit me. Memories from my childhood with Bimbo and Rusmus fully resurfaced this time. I had forgotten the training bit! Yes, I had constructed an exit route for Rose, but we never trained her to re-orientate and go there! Despite the pond being so small, training was still needed. And now I see that training is as much to do with helping the dog not to panic as much as it is to do with finding the all-important escape route. For this pond was so so small; had Rose not panicked she could well have encountered it.
And as a direct result of overlooking this, our much loved family member unnecessarily died. A young girl was scarred with a memory that will never leave her and a whole family was plunged into sadness, remorse and guilt.
Eight years have passed since Rose left us. Yet still I feel the pain. I sincerely hope this story will avert other wonderful family members from needlessly dying.
Yes, built the escape route, but please train them to go there! And in so doing you will be training them to the unexpected-plunge too. This teaches them not to panic upon hitting the water unexpectedly.