Remembering Marcel: Preventing Pet Drowning Deaths Through Pool Safety

Dr. Patty Khuly

It’s that time of year again. Every summer, usually mid-sizzle, I write an article about my first adopted French bulldog, Marcel, and his accidental death in a swimming pool.

I really don’t need to say much beyond the basic facts of his death (at a barbecue with more than ten people celebrating poolside) to hammer home the point that dogs die in pools every day. It happens even when people are watching the dogs, playing with them, and enjoying themselves. Even a veterinarian’s dog can drown in a pool in a minute.

It’s been over 10 years since Marcel drowned and, by now, I’m pretty sure that I’ll never manage to completely forgive myself for putting him in harm’s way like that, for ignoring him when he needed me most, for failing to prevent his death.

Terrifying, right? It was. In fact, it’s why I hate pool parties. It’s why I don’t drink alcohol anymore. It’s why I don’t allow my dogs near any body of water without taking a zillion precautions.

So take this to heart, all of you with older pets, pets with limited vision, pets who don’t swim well, pets who suffer seizures, and pets who can be confused by pool lights at night. Indeed, all pets are at some risk around a pool. Make sure you know what your pet’s special needs are and —please, whatever you do— see to them!

With this in mind, I offer you the following tips to help you prevent pet drowning:

  1. Be aware of your dog’s swimming proficiency. Realize that this ability will diminish dramatically at night, with advancing age, and with the fear associated with accidental falls. Even excellent swimmers may panic in the dark or after slipping and falling into the water.
  2. Some dogs will never swim. Don’t be lulled into thinking there is no risk by a dog’s unwillingness to approach bodies of water. Falling in by accident happens more frequently than you’d think. Disorientation can overwhelm an animal’s sense of caution in some cases.
  3. Dogs with seizure disorders are never safe around water when unsupervised!
  4. Consider purchasing pool safety products such as baby fences, pool and collar alarms (which sound when an animal or human falls in), and electrified underground pool fences (the dog wears a collar to keep him away from the pool’s perimeter). I like the Safety Turtle the best.
  5. Life vests and pool ramps (to help dogs get up from the side of the pool) are great but they’re not guaranteed to work. Monitoring tools like the alarms listed above are only as effective as the person listening for them. Avoidance of the pool area through secure fencing is the only way to ensure poolside safety.

If you have a pool or allow your dog to play unsupervised near water, please heed my advice. Marcel’s suffering was brief but severe. Mine will last forever. Arm yourself with knowledge, vigilance, and maybe a few choice products so you and your pets don’t suffer the same.

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