It was a grey and blustery October morning, half term, and as a house parent I had decided to make the children go out with the dog for a walk along the beach. At Whitstable steep pebble beaches descend to greet the waves between high wooden breakwaters. On that day we were walking along the waterline with a sucking tide falling rapidly – the sea green and grey and a surf that was rough and bounding.
I saw a plank in the surf, a heavy one like might be used for floors or for roof beams. In a second I simply gave it a kick and it floated momentarily in the tide, before the rip of the outgoing wave took it. In the same moment the dog had grabbed it and was afloat, a corner gripped with grim determination to return it to the shore. It was his game after all. Jump in the sea and bring back things. A great game.
In a moment the plank was beyond the end of the breakwaters, rolling in the deep waves, already out of depth. The little dog holding tight of course. And after that the rip tide took the wood. It was out of my control anyway but not of the tides. I was in the ice cold sea up to my waist then my chest shouting. To no avail. The water took the plank and its passenger – heading out into the sea towards the distant Isle of Sheppey. All at once the waves intervened and the sodden head of the dog was disappearing at a fast pace on his doomed vessel.
All at once a man was by me shouting.
“ I have told the bloody coastguards – bloody idiots – I said there's a dog lost in the waves – they said we cant scramble a lifeboat for a dog, its only a dog” He paused, eyes angry. I remember he had white stubble on his chin, and some kind of hat. The sky was silver and grey behind him. “Only a dog– only a dog?” Her seemed lost for words. Catching in his throat.
I was strangely calm. Already ice cold with exposure. Imagining seeing my working wife !”How was the day – ok -went for a walk drowned the dog, came home....”
In the leaping waves the dog is almost lost – up to a mile out I later learnt.. “Only a dog?” My friend is muttering under his breath. And as I watch there's one final wave and the tiny almost invisible white spot which is all that's left of the dog is gone. And for an aching moment he is gone. Then suddenly – a little white spot reappears moving slowly on the water between the waves. Unbelievably his course is exactly a reverse of that which took him out into a busy shipping channel. Its much too far for him to see and the waves too high. He's following his own scent trail still hanging in the air. Now. Imagine the strength to fight a roaring Thames rip tide and the courage to even try. And then against all odds . He is getting closer – now the children were in hysterics. Crying and shouting – he's been gone thirty minutes easy. Its a long winding course and he keeps vanishing beneath the surf, for seconds at a time. He is close and I wade out out to meet him- waves breaking against me. And as his curve took him into the land he suddenly spotted me and his tail flew like a flag - one final wag.
And I had him suddenly, surprisingly in my arms. Safe.
And My God he puked. Great body wrenching shuddering. He had always known it was OK, he would be safe, just find his safety. Of course he couldn't stand up and I was ice cold, shivering. I would never see him in such a weak and damaged state again until his last few days. We staggered home thankfully only a few short yards and lit the gas fire and placed his little person like an offering. And roasted stewing steak to nourish him and booked one of his few vet visits to be diagnosed with salt poisoning. And of course he did get better. He ate his steak and gazed around with groggy eyes, but the next day rare autumn sun warmed the day and he was up and about as usual – though he eyed the sea with newly learnt respect