It would be easy to dismiss the story related here as just another Labrador story, one of many about the virtues of this wonderful breed of dogs. But for me, it is worth telling as a striking example of the remarkable instinct and courage of Labrador Retrievers to protect those they love.
Skipper was a Yellow Labrador. At the time of the events related here, he was about eight years old. Skipper, or Skip as we sometimes called him, was a big handsome light colored Yellow Lab; he had boundless energy, loved to retrieve, was unfailingly affectionate, and always up for making a new friend.
Curiously enough, even though Labs are bred to be water dogs, and have special coats and webbed paws that evolved over centuries for swimming and retrieving, Skipper had no interest in the water. We live in a community that has beachfront. Skipper would go to the beach with us and have a grand time running and dodging breaking waves and surf, but he had no interest in going in the water beyond splashing around in an occasional tidal pool. In the eight years Skipper had been with us, I had never seen him in the water over his paws and certainly had never seen him swim.
Until, that is, sixteen-year-old granddaughter Isabella came for a visit. A little context here. Just prior to Isabella’s visit, there had been reports of shark attacks off beaches near where we lived. So when Isabella announced she wanted to go to the beach, we cautioned her about the shark attacks, and told her not to stray too far from the shore, nothing past waist deep. Her response, typical for a sixteen-year-old, was one of unconcern. The shark attacks occurred in Delaware she explained, and we were in Virginia. Therefore, no worries. Sharks, of course, pay close attention to state lines!
Because of the shark scare, I went with Isabella, and Skipper came along. We got to the beach, and Isabella immediately waded into the surf and I walked up the beach with Skip. After a minute, I looked back and saw to my horror that Isabella had waded far offshore. It was low tide, and she was almost one hundred yards out, standing in water up to her neck.
I raced back, waving my arms and yelling at Isabella to come in. There was no chance she could hear me over the surf. Skipper sensed the danger to Isabella and, in a flash, plowed into the surf, only to be hit by a breaking wave which tumbled him over and washed him ashore. He got back up and plowed into the surf again. Another breaking wave and again Skipper was washed ashore. But he was back up and into the surf again. This time he got to the incoming wave before it broke, crested over it, and was on his way. He swam like an Olympian, making a beeline for Isabella. I watched all this in disbelief.
When Skipper reached Isabella, he swam in a circle around her, as a herd dog might do, as if to say, ‘come on, we’re going in now.’ They started for the beach, Skipper swimming at Isabella’s side, and shortly were on shore out of harm’s way. Isabella thought it was all great fun. I was profoundly relieved. Skipper was pleased with himself. Labs need jobs to do—retrieve, guard the home place, and look after the safety of their loved ones. So, for Skipper, on that brilliant August day, it was all in a day’s work.
Skipper was with us another four more years after his daring rescue of Isabella. He never went in the water again.