Lifeguard unpunished after dog drama

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Gavin and Sharyn Gow with their dogs Amber (left) and Tintin. Witnesses say they saw a Durban lifesaver try to drown Amber when she was left tied to a swimming beacon on the beach last week. Picture: Marilyn Bernard

Durban - The Morningside owners of a 14-year-old fox terrier that was allegedly almost drowned by a Durban lifeguard last week are sticking to their guns even as the city denies any wrongdoing by the lifeguard.

Reports that the lifeguard dragged a swimming beacon – to which the dog was leashed – into the water in an apparent attempt to drown her, have caused a public outcry.

But the city’s version of events differs from that of the dog’s owners and onlookers.

On Friday, city spokesman Thabo Mofokeng said the lifeguard was taking the dog to the SPCA and that as he was preparing to leave, a woman who was exercising on the beach approached him and accused him of abusing the animal.

“Her high tone attracted attention,” he said.

Amber, the pooch at the centre of the controversy, seemed sprightly and not too fazed when The Mercury visited her at the weekend.

“She’s used to the sea and I think she’s all right, she’s not too traumatised,” said her owner, Sharyn Gow, 60.

Gow maintains that Amber was almost drowned and claims she saw the drama unfold. She and her husband, Gavin, 60, visit the beach with their dogs, Amber and Jack Russell Tintin, several times a week.

The pair went to Durban’s Pirates Beach on Wednesday morning.

Due to her old age and partial deafness, Amber sometimes becomes disoriented and wanders off, so Gavin tied her to the swimming beacon while he and Sharyn went for a swim.

Gow said she was in the water when the lifeguard started dragging the beacon, with Amber still attached, towards the water’s edge. She thought he would stop before reaching the water.

“But he just kept going,” she said.

Soon the beacon was in knee-deep water, said Sharyn, and Amber was paddling furiously to keep her head up.

As Sharyn made her way to the shore, Amber was freed by concerned onlookers, she said.

Sharyn said that later, when she confronted the lifeguard, he was rude and showed no remorse.

She called the incident “disgusting and shocking”, and said her animals were part of her family.

Gavin said it was “unbelievably cruel”. “Amber has loved her trips to the beach with me over the full 14 years of her life,” he said.

“In her fading years she loves sitting on the beach after some exercise and watching the activities. These beach trips are the highlight of her life.”

Gavin was fined for having his dogs in a prohibited area and for leaving Tintin off his leash, but said he would gladly pay these fines.

He would not let the matter rest, though, and laid charges of animal cruelty against the lifesaver at the weekend.

Police spokesman Thulani Zwane confirmed a case had been opened, but by Sunday, no arrests had been made.

Mofokeng said the city would not take any action against the lifeguard, but called on residents to come forward if they had additional information.

bernadette.wolhuter@inl.co.za

The Mercury


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