Swollen creeks put dogs at drowning risk; owner of drowned pet urges dog owners to avoid swift waters

Published: Monday, May 9 2011 6:29 p.m. MDT

Sydney the dog was swept away by the swift water in Tanner Park, May 4, 2011.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — One minute, Mimi Hill's chocolate Labrador retriever Sydney was at the water's edge along Parleys Creek.

The next thing Hill knew, Sydney had been swept away by the swift current.

"She was 92 pounds and a big girl, and she just wasn't strong enough. It took 10 minutes for her to go from Tanner Park to that golf park," she said, referring to the Salt Lake Country Club.

That was last Wednesday, and the creek was rushing by at 125 cubic feet per second. Hill said she felt helpless as her dog was swept away by waters that had seemed deceptively calm. "To watch her leave, struggling to keep her head above water and to feel so helpless, so helpless," Hill said in an interview Monday.

Hill and Salt Lake County animal authorities say her experience is instructive. Dogs in swift, cold waters are at grave risk.

"The message for dog owners is to keep your dogs on a leash around these swollen rivers and creeks until the danger subsides later in June, or avoid it all together," said John Coulter, adoptions and outreach supervisor for Salt Lake County Animal Services.

"The dogs can't recognize the danger. They can't make decisions for themselves. It's up to us to do that."

Unlike the crashing creeks in Big and Little Cottonwood canyons, the waters in City Creek and Parleys Creek are deceptive, Coulter said. "The water is cold and fast moving but the danger is not as obvious," he said.

In recent days, two dogs have ended up in local waterways and were swept away. One dog was able to make its way out of the water. The second was Hill's dog, which drowned.

Under normal circumstances, creek flows and water temperatures are safe for dogs that play in the streams.

But in Parleys Creek, the stream flow has been as high as 400 cfs this year, which would put animals at extreme risk, Coulter said. The water is also very cold because it is melted snow.

Dr. Nathan Cox, a veterinarian with Cottonwood Animal Hospital, said while some breeds of dogs are more susceptible to hypothermia than others, the greater danger is being pulled under the swift waters of rushing creeks.

"Swift water pulls them under and they drown. They're just not strong enough to get out of the water," Cox said.

Hill said Sydney was adopted from Salt Lake County Animal Services. While she was a "Marley" when she and her husband first adopted her — referring to the motion picture about a loveable, troublemaking Labrador retriever — Sydney had become a joy to live with in recent years.

"She was with me all the time. She's my family. I know it might sound silly to some people but she was like a love child. I just can't explain how sweet she was," Hill said.

Hill said it is her hope that people who take their dogs to Parleys Historic Nature Park use extreme caution or avoid the area until stream flows subside.

"I just want to tell everyone, please don't there until it's all over and it's just a little stream again," Hill said.

Email: marjorie@desnews.com

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