Woods, Waters and Wildlife

Life-saving memories

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Your dogs can give you lasting memories. Mine all have.

Although it had nothing to do with dogs, last Saturday, we watched “The Guardian,” a Kevin Costner movie about U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmers. It brought back memories of my own life saving course.

Thankfully, I never had to save a human life by swimming. I did once pluck a toddler out of the Guadalupe River after the tike fell off a walkway, but I was never in danger.

In the life saving course, I was in plenty of danger. I was a skinny, 14-year old, 120-pounder. The instructor was several years older and was built like an NFL defensive back. And he didn’t seem to like me.

He tried to drown me during the final exam when he over-played the part of a drowning man who tries to grab hold of the would-be life saver trying to help him and pulls him under. I was surprised I passed.

The only application of my training came years later, on the first day on a new deer lease. After the morning hunt, we decided to move a stand. My Labrador, Piloncillo, rode with us.

As we were moving the stand near the lake, I heard barking. It sounded more like baying. I looked toward the sound, and spied Pilo chasing one of the rancher’s young goats. Pilo was baying. They were closing on the lake. I yelled, “STOP!” to no avail.

The chase ended at the water as the goat jumped in, frantically trying to swim away. Pilo turned and looked at me as if to say, “Does that critter think it can outswim a Lab?” Then she launched in.

I got her back, and watched. The goat, with un-webbed, cloven hoofs, was having a hard time – about to go under. We had to help. The ranch owner, a woman in her 70s, had never leased before, and was dubious about us. We were on our best behavior, and surely didn’t want to drown one of her goats.

One of the younger hunters said he’d go after the goat. My dog had caused it, so I said I would go, and began stripping down to my underwear. The others seemed relieved. As I waded out into the November-chilled water, the goat moved further away. My swim got longer. I remembered the instructor had told me life-saving was never easy. I finally caught up with it, grabbing the hair on the back of its neck just as it started sinking, and began side-stroking the 30 yards to shore.

My hunting buddies were literally rolling on the ground laughing at my life-saving a stupid goat!

I was afraid to tell the rancher about it, and didn’t for ten years. When I finally did, she laughed as hard as the hunters had, and said I needed to write about it. Just did.

I wonder if the Boy Scouts give a merit badge for that kind of life-saving … and what it would look like!

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