A Vancouver woman who swam her unconscious dog back to shore in English Bay last week is thanking bystanders who helped rescue her beloved pet.
Gryphon the nine-year-old dog is recovering at home after being revived with canine CPR on the rocks near Second Beach on Thursday.
“She’s like our child, I love her more than anything,” Lisa Solberg said of the pup. “I feel like [the people who helped] were just angels. Absolute heroes.”
The West End resident took Gryphon to play at the beach Thursday, where one of her dog friends was chasing a large stick.
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Gryphon brought the stick back once, but on the second throw, she couldn’t quite turn it around and kept swimming further out trying to maneuver it. Solberg called Gryphon, but she was stubbornly set on getting the stick.
Solberg, who is a triathlete, left her shoes and jacket on the beach and dove in after her dog. When Solberg was about 10 metres from Gryphon, she finally released the stick and turned around to find her owner.
But Gryphon began to struggle before she reached Solberg, and slipped below the surface.
“Seeing her swim towards me I had this moment of ‘good girl, come on baby’ and then she’s gone underwater. It’s the most terrifying image of my life.”
Solberg grabbed Gryphon’s collar and dragged her to the surface, supporting her head while tugging the 60-pound dog back to shore.
“I’m a confident swimmer, but it’s so cold and I’m so panicked,” she said. “I’m alone, out in the ocean, and she’s feeling heavy. I’m starting to wheeze a little bit.”
She began calling for help to the small crowd that assembled on the beach, having been in the water for at least 10 minutes already. Someone jumped in and began swimming out, but stopped when they realized the cold and the current were too much.
Solberg wondered if she’d need to make a choice between herself and Gryphon, when a man named John swam up to her.
Together, Solberg and John brought Gryphon to shore.
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As luck would have it, a woman named Marlo Panucci who knew canine CPR was walking on the seawall at the time. She ran to help, instructing the swimmers to hold Gryphon upside-down to drain the water from her mouth before laying her on her side to start compressions.
Solberg was too exhausted to give any breath, so Panucci and John teamed up to hold Gryphon’s snout and breathe into her nose while stimulating her heart.
Soon, Gryphon began breathing on her own again.
“I was down at her head telling her I love her and please come back,” Solberg said. “It was the best sound in the world to hear her breath again.”
Once she was revived, Gryphon was loaded into a police cruiser and rushed to the emergency vet on Burrard Street. A bystander lent the dog their Adidas jacket for the journey.
But Gryphon wasn’t out of the woods yet. Her temperature was 32°C when she arrived at the vet — quite hypothermic since dogs’ bodies are supposed to stay between 38°C and 39°C.
The vet warmed Gryphon up while Solberg, who was also cold and in shock, sat wrapped in an emergency blanket in the cruiser. Halfway through, a woman who watched the beach rescue arrived at the clinic with a set of dry clothes for Solberg.
“A complete stranger,” Solberg said. “All these people, I wish I could thank them personally.”
When Gryphon’s temperature inched back up to 35 °C the vet knew she would make it.
After one night at the vet’s, Gryphon was allowed to return home to Solberg and her partner, Christian Bedard. She’s taking it easy and expected to be okay.
“It’s the humanity, people putting another life above their own,” Bedard said of those who jumped in to help.
He adopted Gryphon as a puppy almost a decade ago while living in Beijing. She only learned to swim this summer, after being scared of water for much of her life.
The couple will still let Gryphon go swimming, but not at the end of October when the tide is high like it was on Thursday afternoon. They’re also going to make her wear a dog lifejacket.
“Were really grateful to live in a city and community that when shit hits the fan, people step into action,” Bedard said.
Solberg and Bedard are asking those involved, particularly John who hauled Gryphon out of the water, to contact them so they can properly express their gratitude. The couple can be reached through Instagram or via email at [email protected].