I’ve mentioned before that Penny isn’t a swimming dog. In fact, my joke is that she’s part Labrador Explorer, part Border Cuddler. Ian and I wish she was into chasing down balls, or swimming for them like all the other dogs we see at Town Lake. But she’s her own thing. Like Kipling’s Cat who walks by himself, Penny is content to explore her own path. She plays with the other dogs when one of them seems friendly enough, or fast enough to entice her into a game of chase, but other than that, she’s much more interested in following her nose, and her own beat. She loves exploring her world, but until today, that world consisted exclusively of dry land, and water where she can touch the bottom. She loves plunging in and splashing about, but not swimming.
Last week when we went down to Town Lake there was a mostly completed triathlon set up for Labor Day. A long dock extended into the lake for the take off. Penny loved running up and down it and for a second I thought she might take a flying leap off. But instead, she waded into the water by the banks at the dock’s end and swam a little way until she found half of a long fish tail that was floating with the rest of the flotsam and jetsam the dock caught, and dragged it back to shore. There she proceeded to nibble on her prize until I could convince her to move on. But for the rest of our visit, she kept returning to the fish tail.
Apparently, she learned that tasty stuff can be found in the water, so today when we returned and the dock was still there, she plunged in to the deep in and guess what she found?
The same damn fish tail from the week before.
Penny dragged it back to the dock and growled at some other dog who sniffed at her prize, while she tried to climb back up. I had to help her and my cut offs were immediately soaked with dirty lake water. Quickly, I kicked the fish tail back into the water and pulled Penny back to the shore. She seemed to forget about it for a while, but later jumped back in to see if she could find it.
A bit later, she swam from the nearby shore to the center of the dammed up weeds and flotsam, maybe looking for the fish again. I almost had a panic attack because for about a minute she didn’t know which direction to go and seemed to be caught up by the underwater weeds. I dropped my bag and was waffling between going in after her and waiting a minute more to see if she was actually okay. Luckily, she slowly made her way back to me and proudly grinned when she climbed out. I praised her and scratched her ears and decided it was time to go home. But first, we took one more short jaunt down to the end of the off leash area.
At this end of the park is a shallow, sandy part of the lake with a bridge overhead and a little, overgrown island about fifty feet from the shore. A woman stood in the shallow water up to her waist and threw a toy for her chocolate lab. A man stood on the banks with his pretty Border Collie who, like Penny until this morning, didn’t like going in water where her feet couldn’t touch. We exchanged doggy stories and Penny splashed around in the shallow water, thrilled that she could run and play in water without having to swim. I wasn’t too worried until she realized that the shallow water extended almost all the way up to the little island. And the little island was full of new scents and new things to explore…
Yes, ladies and gentleman, AdventureDog found a new adventure thanks to her bravery and new swimming skills! I growled under my breath because when I saw her headed for the island’s banks I knew exactly what would happen next. I started whistling for her and calling her name while I kicked off my Tom’s and stepped into the water. No little black face appeared. I could just barely make out a curved tail as she trotted around the island, blissfully ignoring me.
Generally she will look up and grin when she hears my whistle, and then happily come back to check in. But when she has something else that is more fascinating than my love or treats, she will ignore me. Sometimes I can just turn and head in another direction and she’ll start to follow, but I knew I’d never get her off that island. She tried once, but wasn’t brave enough to get back into the water, since it would require jumping off of the bank into the water.
I kept calling for her and whistling as I picked my way through the warm, sandy water. The woman who stood in the water up to her waist pointed out a path that was mostly shallow all the way to the island and I gingerly went that way, getting my jeans soaked while I did. About five feet from the banks was a grove of underwater weeds and slippery rocks. I was close enough that I could see Penny as she happily ignored me, following her nose through the brush. I gritted my teeth and swore silently at her, making empty threats to send her back. I whimpered as my feet slipped off of submerged rocks and sunk into the mud. Small fish flitted madly about and I hoped I was loud enough to scare off any potential snakes (I’ve seen one water snake at the Lake but couldn’t tell how big, or what kind it might be).
Using an overhanging branch, I balanced on a rock and finally stepped onto the shore. By now, Penny was sniffing at the remains of someone’s crab dinner. Red claws and pieces of shell littered the sandy spot. I thought black thoughts at the former diner. After a minute or two, I was able to grab her by the collar and gently pull her to the water. She didn’t want to go at first, but at last I was able to guide her off the bank and she started swimming back.
I couldn’t get a handle of the branch again, and so I decided to plunge in and swim for it. The woman who stood in the water watched me with a look of surprise (why, I’m not quite sure) and Penny dashed through the shallow water ahead of me, happy at her exploration. When I trudged out of the water onto the dry bank and slipped my Tom’s back on the man with the pretty collie was still there. I made a face and sighed.
“Tune in next week when AdventureDog has a brand new adventure!” I joked.
“Be careful what you wish for, huh?” he laughed. With a resigned sigh I agreed. Penny waited for me at the top of the small hill and I quickly pulled out her leash. This time, we were definitely going home.
She sulked most of the way home. And then I gave her a bath. Her new nickname is Sacagawea.