A SALTWATER DIP (Musings about Dogs and the Ocean)

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On a muddy shoreline in New Brunswick, Tessi and I struggled to reach the water so she could satisfy her thirst. Once there, she hesitated at the dingy expanse. A minute or so passed before I comprehended her resistance wasn’t due to the water’s dirtiness, but to its saltiness. Population Having always lived near the Great Lakes, this was my first journey to the ocean with a canine companion. I’d never thought about the undrinkable aspect of the water. When I’d relate my experience to others, the reaction was generally similar. I figure since many of my fellow Canadians also live far from the coast, they may not consider its distinctive characteristics. Though Tessi showed no interest in the seawater, some dogs will drink it anyway or accidently ingest some while playing fetch. Dr. Julie Weste of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) in Nova Scotia, states that dogs licking it off themselves can lead to vomiting and adds too much intake can be fatal. Short saltwater dips, however, can be beneficial to a dog’s skin and add sheen to his coat. Beyond the topic of salt, the ocean has other aspects to consider. Rip Currents Rip currents, or riptides, are powerful currents that pull away from shore. Anyone with an understanding of a rip current’s characteristics will know to swim parallel to shore to escape its motion. An animal, like an uninformed person, is more apt to fight the strong current in an attempt to swim straight to land, resulting in serious trouble. Where these currents exist, waves distort the water, which becomes sandy and discoloured, making them easy to see. I have an aunt, also named Cheryl, who lives on Vancouver Island. She often takes her bull mastiff, Charlie, to the beach. Cheryl says she doesn’t encounter rip currents in her area, but adds warnings are posted where they take place. Wave Action Powerful waves occur on our coastlines. One type, for instance, called plunging can thrust you to the bottom and cause serious injury. Check out Types of Waves for more thorough info. Be aware when in the water or onshore that each potential wave is unpredictable. Tides Tides fascinate me. When you’re used to water levels that don’t necessarily vary much, maybe up and down a few feet over a season depending on the amount rainfall or lack of, it’s interesting to see such drastic changes in one day. I’ve done double takes when first spotting anchored boats sitting way below the exposed pier they’re tied to, instead of beside it, and catching glimpses of other boats that look as though they’ve been stranded on land, but are in fact in intertidal zones. Always keep in mind how the water level will change during time spent at your destination. Tide tables are widely available for planning. Some places, like the Hopewell Rocks in New Brunswick , where the water rises about 14 m (40 ft) or more twice a day, have advisories posted with clocks indicating times of high tides. Algae Cheryl told me about red tides—an occurrence I had never heard of. This is the name given to harmful algae that sometimes bloom from the summer’s heat. People and animals become seriously ill from ingesting food from the area around the bloom, though Dr. Weste states illnesses are rare. Signs are routinely posted. Jellyfish I’m always amazed at the array of sea life in the ocean. They differ greatly from the creatures indigenous to our lakes. For example, jellyfish are common in our northern oceans. They inflict a nasty sting—alive or dead, yet the wounds are mild compared to their southern counterparts. Dogs are less likely to be stung because of the protection of their fur. Noses, however, are vulnerable spots. Be Prepared and Have a Good Time Always be mindful of posted warning signs and any indications the ocean offers. Keep your dog under your control, and on leash if needed. After his play, a freshwater rinse rids him of the saltwater drenching his fur. (I remember how itchy my skin became because I didn’t rinse after my salty dip.) Many people and their canine pals live near the ocean or visit it. They enjoy the shoreline without encountering problems. We never ran into any issues, other than the saltwater one. I made sure to carry fresh drinking water as we stopped at seaside destinations often on our journey. For Further Info   

 (c) Cheryl Smyth, 2014

To note: Lakes and ponds have their own algae issues called blue-green algae. Read about it in A Deadly Bloom


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