OAKLAND -- Gabe Pulliam has saved a single dog in the 12 years he's been a rescue swimmer for the U.S. Coast Guard, and he was rewarded by being bitten.
A dog owner himself, Pulliam said he'd risk his own safety again to try and save a canine. But that's only if he is on the job and decked out in a dry suit and other rescue gear.
For everyone else whose noble impulse is to go into Northern California's rugged surf after a pet in distress, Pulliam's message basically boils down to a single word:
The Coast Guard on Friday hosted a media event at the East Bay SPCA in Oakland to highlight that message amid a particularly deadly winter in which four beachgoers have perished in Northern California during events triggered by efforts to save dogs from drowning.
Since 2008, at least seven people have drowned off the coast while making such an attempt. Others have had near misses or been killed after they and their dogs were swept away by a wave, as was the case last Sunday at Shelter Cove in Humboldt County, where officials said a 32-year-old woman drowned after she, her boyfriend and their dog were overcome by a large wave.
The sad irony is that the dogs in all of these cases survived the ordeal save for one, a pug that in 2008 drowned off Portuguese Beach in Sonoma County.
Troubled by the trend, the Coast Guard has launched a public awareness campaign aimed at getting people to reconsider their own natural impulses to rescue their pets.
The campaign features a poster depicting Pulliam wearing his rescue gear and next to him his dog, Peaches, beneath the headline: "Naturally speaking, who is the better swimmer?"
Without the protective gear, the award goes to the dog, which because of its anatomy is more naturally buoyant and better able to withstand the ocean's frigid temperatures.
"We get in the water and we're in deeper," said Allison Lindquist, executive director of the East Bay SPCA. "A dog will bob along."