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Why you should never follow your dog over that cliff edge

The last thing you should do is go after your beloved pet, according to the RNLI.
The last thing you should do is go after your beloved pet, according to the RNLI.

By Linda Stewart

It’s a horror scenario — you’re out for a seaside walk with your dog when it plummets over the edge of a cliff or plunges off rocks into the water.

But the last thing you should do is go after your beloved pet, according to the RNLI.

“Everybody’s natural instinct is to go down after them,” says the charity’s Community Safety Partner, Kevin Rahill.

“These kind of incidents crop up now and again and we don’t always hear about them. But the worst scenario is when somebody goes down after a pet and they themselves get injured.”

For one thing, the dog can often get out of the situation without any help, he says.

“A dog would be fairly surefooted. We’ve had incidents where the owner went down after the dog and the dog got back up and the person didn’t. They had to be lifted out by the lifeboat.

“Our advice would be in terms of walking along the coast with a dog or any kind of animal — if the dog gets into trouble, call the coastguard and they will generally task one of our own teams and send our lifeboat.

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“It’s easier to go and pick up the dog, rather than go down after someone who has fallen and broken a leg. I’d rather pick up a dog than somebody with an injury.”

Kevin says the RNLI encounters this kind of situation quite frequently, usually a couple each summer, although it’s often a sheep or cow.

“I do remember an incident where we got a message that it was a sheepdog and when we got there it was a sheep,” he says. “The farmer had gone down and twisted his ankle and come back up, but he was all for going back down again.

“But I’d encourage people not to go down themselves. It does happen and it’s not any problem at all for the RNLI.”

Kevin says people are generally aware of local hazards, but the problem often crops up when the dog runs after something. “The last one I was involved in, the dog chased a seagull over the top, but the people did the right thing and called for help. Most people have a mobile phone in their pockets now, so as soon as it happens, call for help,” he says.

He insists it’s not a problem for the lifeboat crew — in fact, it can be a valuable experience for them.

“It can be good training for the guys on the crew, going onto marine rocks — we see these kind of things as an opportunity for training, apart from anything else,” he says.

“We had one incident where the boat went to pick up a dog and it was in a place where you wouldn’t generally go. Then a week later another person went down and broke a leg there, so having been on the beach the week before, the crew were familiar with the terrain.”

Kevin also issued a warning about coastal walks during bad weather, even on the beach.

“If the wind is strong, dogs can get blown in and people get blown in. If there are strong waves, people or dogs can get washed into the water,” he says.

“If the weather is bad, stay back from the water. Be conscious of the waves and the conditions and be conscious of the water. Keep off the beach and go for your walk inland somewhere else.”

The RNLI will be offering advice at its stall at Pet Expo NI this November. For more advice, visit rnli.org.

To get your tickets to the Belfast Telegraph Pet Expo, click here. Tickets will also be available to purchase at the door.

To exhibit and for more information on exhibiting at the Belfast Telegraph Pet Expo, click here.

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