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Sydney’s Scary River (mis)Adventure

Sydney got swept away in a river recently and it was very scary.

We wrote about this location in A Romp in the River and The Shaved Australian Shepherd.  It has been a lot of fun for us because the water is deep enough for the dogs to swim and the terrain is varied enough that it provides a great hike for us all.  We took a different path this time, heading away from the parking lot and following the river downstream.

I never thought we would need a dog life jacket but now I think it might be a good idea for trips to turbulent or deep water. Several Australian Shepherd owners report being pleased with this one.

We came across this GIANT tree that had fallen and fully spanned the Gila from bank to bank.  Where the roots were, dirt had naturally settled into various nooks and crannies, creating tiny but workable steps down to the log.  On the opposite side, the tree had a big ‘Y’ fork with both sides resting on the ground; this prevented the log from rocking.

During our trek downstream, Brian climbed down to it, crossed it and came back.  Because the distance from the bank down to where the tree was resting in the water was about a 7-10 foot drop, I did not attempt it.  Anything I do both dogs will try to do.  I did not want them trying to use the human foot/hand holds to access the log.

We continued on, hit the terrible goat heads, dealt with them and then headed back upstream.  When we were passing the log again, Brian again crossed the river.  This time, Sydney decided to try and follow.  But because she could not figure out how to get on the log, she jumped in the river and tried to swim across.

I knew she would be successful in crossing the river, but the current was going to pull her wayyyyyy beyond where Brian was waiting.  So I called her and we went further upstream to where a gravel beach allowed access to the water.  Here, I sent her in and Brian called her.  She swam across (and got pulled downstream) and where she hit the bank was pretty much exactly where Brian was waiting.  Perfect!

Trooper took to his own devices and continued walking upriver.

While I was admiring Sydney from afar, she got it in her head that she needed to swim back to me, even though I was way UPriver.  There was no way she was going to make it.  Brian did not realize what was happening until she was halfway across.  He called her back and she came ashore.

Brian, not paying attention, allowed this dance to unfold a second time.

The third time that she did it (BRIAN!), she refused to turn around and continued across.  She was getting tired at this point because she had crossed the river one full time and two half attempts.

She was fighting to get across and was more or less heading for the dangerous log.  It was halfway submerged which caused the water to become super turbulent right before it and rush under it.  Right before the situation became really bad, she made it….but she wasn’t on a shore.  She was scrambling onto a very narrow ledge of dirt/mud at the bottom of the bank, where numerous tree branches were dangling.

Sydney has made it across but cannot climb the step bank.  Based on my body language, I am at a loss as to how to proceed.

You can kind of see the big tree here – it is in the river where the water looks white and turbulent.  Note all the branches and chaos right before the mega log.

I had sprinted downriver the moment she did not respond to Brian so I was above her on the bank by this point.  While she struggled to get a foothold and rest, she looked up at me with fear in her eyes and all-out panic.  I used soft encouraging words to talk her down but there wasn’t much I could do.

I was trying to figure out how to scramble down and get ahold of her (remember I’m 7-10 feet above her, separated by a vertical mud wall) when she lost her footing and fell into the water again.  She was now heading straight for the log.

I did not pause to think but instead tarzan-ed my way through the roots on the upended tree (the bridge) and got myself as close to the water as I could.  By the time I had gotten down, she had already been sucked under one giant branch that had been invisible and had reemerged on the surface.  Two seconds later, she got pulled under the mega log.

I was prepared to get on the log and dangle over, feeling for wherever she was stuck, and yank her out.  But I waited for a few seconds to give her a chance to pop out the other side.  I did not want to move away from where she would potentially emerge because if she came through, she was likely going to need help.  Who knows what was under there, knocking her around, when she was already exhausted and out of breath.

It was a good call.  She came to the surface about 5 (insanely long) seconds after being sucked under.  I called her desperately to me, hoping she had enough energy left to get herself out of the high current zone and near enough that I could scoop her up.  The water was only 3-4 deep in the center so I could have gone after her if she did not respond.

Her body language was pretty pathetic.  Her eyes were open and she was maintaining her dog paddle position in the water but she was not moving strongly.  She managed to get her two front paws hooked over a dangling branch.  I spread my legs wide to create a stable base, walked my hands out along a branch, doing a huge super-stretch, and then grabbed the scruff of her neck.  I dragged her over the branch she was on and over to the shore.

She walked around kind of slow and stunned for awhile.  After she shook off, I picked her up and chucked her up the bank, pushing her bum until she got all four feet up.  Trooper, who had been somewhere way upstream, upon hearing my frantic calls (wait a second, I thought they had been encouraging?), had raced downstream to the zone of chaos.  At some point after I scrambled down the bank to get ready to save Sydney, he must have followed me.  When I hauled her to shore and turned around, he was right next to me with this big goofy grin on his face.  “Hi Mom!  I thought you might need me!”

So after getting Sydney situated on the bank, I hoisted Trooper up near her.  About 3 minutes after we were all together on the top of the bank, Sydney was trotting ahead of us again, acting like she had completely forgotten what had just happened.

She just LOVES the water.

We headed back upstream, in the direction of the car and stopped for a few minutes when we hit the gravel beach she had initially departed from.  I wanted to give her the chance to get in again and make sure she did not develop a phobia about the water.  She went right in.

It was a scary day!  We had to continue our hike for anther 30 minutes past the car so I could work off my adrenaline.

If you read the post about Why a Shaved Australian Shepherd is Okay, it probably makes it clear why we have decided to go ahead and shave them.  I do not want to deal with that volume of goat heads again and I do not want Sydney to be compromised in fast-moving water.

Lessons of the day – Don’t swim near submerged logs that have intense current hitting them.  Oh and also, it turns out I’m pretty much willing to do anything to save my pups.  Sometimes it takes a difficult situation for the realty of that to sink in.  Love you Sydney!