A Dangerous Winter for Beachgoers in Northern California

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A Dangerous Winter for Beachgoers in Northern California
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High surf at Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands. (Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/taylar.)

California is known for sun, sand, and surf in summer and winter. The mild climates make the beach a habitable place nearly 365 days a year. While the water may be too cold to swim for extended periods in winter, long walks on the beach are usually a solid proposition. Unfortunately, this winter has had a more somber tone about it.

So far this winter, at least seven people have perished as a result of water conditions on Northern California beaches, reports SFGate. The old adage "Never turn your back on the water" is chillingly clear this season, when several separate incidents have resulted in the deaths of humans and their canine companions.

The first tragic event of the winter occurred shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday near Eureka, California. A family of three was relaxing with their dog at a beach. Their dog was paddling in the surf, and an undertow began to drag the canine out to sea. The entire family tried to rescue their pet but drowned after their efforts to return to shore proved futile.

December 29, 2012, saw the sea strike again, this time in Marin County. A father and son hoped to spend an enjoyable day fishing from a rock above Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands when a wave knocked the young boy into the water. The father jumped in to save his son but was also swept out by the current and perished.

Just three days after the Headlands incident, a couple walking their dog on a Point Reyes beach battled the ocean once again. A mere 8-inch high wave dragged the couple and their dog out to sea. While the wife and their pit bull survived, the husband drowned on New Year's Day.

On January 29, a Humboldt County resident was swept away by a rogue wave on a Northern California shoreline. The woman was enjoying a stroll on the beach with her dog and boyfriend when the wave pulled her and her dog into the ocean. Her boyfriend was thrown against a rock but wasn't pulled into the water. The dog managed to swim safely ashore.

A recent campaign has begun urging beach visitors and their pets to stay safe. The campaign implores people to not pursue dogs in the water, despite their apparent danger. Coast Guard Official Pamela Boehland said her dog Rascal would "do much better in the water than I would." Most of these incidents have been caused by families attempting to rescue their animals from the surf. As sad as it might sound, if the dog can't make it back, a person certainly won't.

Rescue swimmer Gabe Pulliam provides a similar message: Despite pulling people out of the water for a living, his Labrador retriever Peach is a much stronger swimmer. "If you see a dog struggling in the water, don't panic. Don't rush in after them," said Pulliam. Five of the deaths in the last few months have been the result of humans attempting to rescue animals from the water.

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