Shannon Bolithoe : A Writing Life

Swimming with dogs

Swimming (or should I say drowning) with dogs
If I’m ever stuck in a flooding river I hope I never have any dogs with me. I would have thought that millions of years of evolution would have taught them how to get into and out of the water with maximum efficiency. If so, it hasn’t works with my dogs.
The weather was pleasantly warm today so when I took the dogs for a walk I decided to go for a quick swim in the creek, at the back of my property. My daughter’s young dog Dexter was visiting as she was on holidays. Dexter is like my grandson (maybe the only one I’ll ever get) since he has been visiting us, having sleepovers and being babysat since he was a puppy. Nanuq loves it when they are together, as he continually wants to play, and keeps her young at heart, if not always in body. She is a short, fat, blonde and middle aged Labrador, a description that could equally well fit me. They take turns going to each others houses for play dates, although since the untimely death of one our ducks in Dexter’s mouth, he is always strictly supervised at our house. Nanuq lives in fear of the muscovy ducks and our other assorted birdlife, so she is not such a problem.
The creek is quite deep and wide in one spot, so that is my usual place to swim. My husband and I had cleared a path down to this spot through the bush (and what a job that was!) and after telling the dogs to stay, I plunged into the water. The water, as usual, was a lovely relief from the heat of the day. The temperature there varies from cold to warm, as the water passes down the creek. I didn’t have any goggles with me, so I shut my eyes and started a leisurely breaststroke through the water.
I was just starting to relax into the swim, when I heard panting behind me. I turned to see Nanuq, swimming doggedly (if you’ll excuse the expression) behind me. I don’t know how she manages to pant, even when swimming, but since being tick poisoned she pants just about every minute of the day, so I shouldn’t be too surprised.
Then from my left I heard a loud splash, and watched as my daughters young and enthusiastic dog Dexter struggled to join us in the water. I say struggled, since instead of entering the water in the most obvious place through the reeds he had decided to try to get into the water through the dead trees that lay partially in and out of side of the creek. I debated on whether he needed any help, but the thought of disentangling 50 kilos of Rhodesian ridgeback from a tree while standing in slippery mud didn’t exactly excite me. Luckily for both of us he eventually succeeded in climbing over the branches and into the water.

Meanwhile Nanuq had decided that Dexter needed help so she set off towards the branches as well. And so the swim continued. First one and then the other, and sometime both at once, would launch themselves headlong into the water after me, then back towards the worst sections of the bank – never the easily navigable banks, of course.
Why they seemed to be drawn continually like magnets to the areas of the bank with the most dead branches, remains outside my comprehension, but so it seemed to be. They also were not able to make up their minds whether to stay in the water, or on the bank.
At least Nanuq knows how to swim. Dexter on the other hand is more bred for the veldt of Africa, and did more splashing and floundering than swimming. His body was willing and strong, but the technique needed some improvement.
My lovely swim was quickly turning into a wrestling match with large squirming dogs. I’d let them go for awhile, hoping they could disentangle themselves, but whenever it became clear that they weren’t able to move, and/or were becoming distressed, I’d have to swim over and try to pull them back out to the water, then push them towards a better section of the bank.
After about an hour of this I decided we’d all had enough for the day. As we staggered back up the hill to home, I thought we’d all sleep well tonight.

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