Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. But here in Miami you would never know it. Dark and very threatening outside, we are under an urban flood advisory and on our beaches the rip current flags are flying. There really is water, water everywhere today. This is the time of year when lakes and rivers and canals and swimming pools and hot tubs and the ocean (and even the bathtub) offer the promise of fun and relief from the oppressive summer heat. But for us and our animals, all that water can also spell disaster. All too often the stories on the evening news or in our local paper deal with accidental drownings: children in swimming pools, tourists in rip currents, occupants of cars that have gone off the highways and into canals. But it’s not just the humans that can become victims, animals are in very real danger as well. Drownings can and do happen very quickly. And contrary to popular belief, people and animals do not cry out when they are drowning, it tends to be a fairly silent death. So I would like to offer a few suggestions as to how you can keep yourself and your pets safe and happy this summer:
1. Never leave your animal unattended around an unfenced outdoor pool. Although most healthy dogs and cats are able to swim short distances, pools can quickly become death traps. Unless your animals have been trained to swim to the shallow end of the pool, most will head for the edge of the pool and attempt to claw their way out, to no avail. For smaller animals it may be impossible to use the steps. Pools with vinyl liners offer nothing for the animal to grip onto and vertical ladders are unclimbable for most small animals. For a dog, barking is difficult; and if the dog is alone outside, the barking will not be heard. Panic will ensue and they will quickly become exhausted .
2. Pool and hot tub covers can offer a false sense of security. Should an animal fall into the pool between the cover and the gutter of the pool, the animal may become completely disoriented and escape may be impossible. And an animal who manages to get under a hot tub cover may panic in the darkness and drown.
3. Lakes and canals offer their own set of problems for animals. Because they can initially walk into the water, your animals may become overconfident in their abilities. Keep your eyes on your pets lest they swim into deep water and become tired and unable to return to shore. And where I live in South Florida, we don’t let our pets swim in canals or some of our inland lakes unless we know for sure that those waters are not concealing some of our other local residents: alligators.
4. Rivers are wonderful places to escape from the heat of summer. But make sure that the current isn’t flowing too fast for your animal to comfortably return to shore when he or she tires. And always be careful when entering a river as there can be hidden objects in the mud or between the rocks that might injure the feet of you or your pet.
5. And should you find yourself lucky enough to be spending some time at the ocean on your vacation, there is one more precaution you should take for your pet. Make sure that you are carrying an adequate supply of fresh water for your animal. If you or your pet drink saltwater you will quickly become dehydrated as your kidneys attempt to remove the excess salt through urination. A small bowl of fresh water can make all the difference.
6. And if you have a boat, you should always have a plan in place for what to do if your pet accidentally goes overboard. Emergency equipment to get the animal back on the boat should be readily available, and everyone on the boat should know where this equipment is located. As with a “person overboard” situation, the same rules should apply for an “animal overboard” situation: one person should be designated to keep an eye on the animal in the water until that animal is safely back on the boat.
7. And finally, as you are traveling to all of the wonderful places that your are going to go on your vacation, and you are doing this traveling by car, I hope that you are not the only occupant of that car who is wearing a seat belt. And I hope that you are not the only person who gets an opportunity to stretch your legs along the way. A restrained animal is a safe animal when it comes to car travel. These restraints do not have to be terribly restrictive. What you are trying to accomplish is the prevention of your pet becoming a projectile in the unlikely event of an accident along the way. And, when it comes time for a bite to eat or a bathroom break, please, please, please, don’t leave your pet behind in the car unless you are also leaving another human in the car with the air conditioning running. Putting the windows down does not count. Cars can heat up very, very quickly and are a virtual death chamber for any animal that is left in them in the heat. And, if that previous sentence didn’t scare you enough, in many states it is also a crime to leave an unattended animal in a car. And wouldn’t that be a memorable ending to your vacation?
But don’t cancel your summer vacation plans just yet. There are lots and lots of products that you can purchase that will help ensure your pet’s safety. There are pool monitors that make a noise when an object over a certain weight hits the water. And there are floating ramps that can be tethered to the edges of your pool to provide a gradual slope that your pet can crawl onto to get out of the water. There are “doggy docks” that can attach to your boat’s swim step or to the boat dock itself. And, with the addition of treats or toys, training your pet to use these lifesaving devices can easily be accomplished. Specially designed pet life jackets are available from a number of manufacturers, as well as specialty cooling jackets to make your animals more comfortable in the heat and humidity of summertime. And it’s always a good idea to carry a portable water container, as well as plenty of fresh water, for both you and your pet. This can be such a fun and rewarding time of year to be outside with your pet. And with just a little bit of planning, it will be a safe time for you all as well.
I think it’s time for some lemonade for us and some treats for our pets, don’t you?