Paddling With Pups

By: Mike Hammond

While hanging out by the pool with my one of our dogs, my wife asked why I don’t write an article about paddling with pets.  As much as I enjoy our dogs and paddling, I almost never combine the two.  However, if I were to do so, there are several factors to consider when deciding where to go that I thought I’d share in this article.

It is always a good idea to research whether the launches and paddle destinations you’d like to visit are pet friendly.  On a few occasions, members of my former paddle club would show up with a furry paddling partner and then find out their pet was not allowed on the beach or in the park at all.  It wasn’t much fun for them or their dog.  Fortunately, we have many launches and parks that allow pets.  Some outfitters even have special pet-friendly tours to Dog Beach in south Lee County.

Another element to take into consideration is alligators.  Under normal circumstances, a gator’s natural instinct is to avoid people.  Our four-legged friends are not as lucky.  They resemble prey.  Personally, if there is freshwater, I always assume there are alligators present.  It may not be true, but it is safer to assume so.  If it is brackish water, there is still a fair chance a gator or two may be around.  The interior of Lover’s Key State Park, Cayo Costa State Park and the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge all have brackish water and are frequented by gators.  For the safety of my pet, myself, those I paddle with and the alligators, I choose not to paddle with my dogs in these environments.

Alligators aren’t the only wildlife I worry about.  I’m concerned about shorebirds.  No, a plover won’t ambush and eat my golden-doodle.  Without a doubt, my dog would be the one doing the chasing.  And since we’re fortunate enough to be on the Atlantic Flyway migration path, birds on our beaches and flats may be packing on calories and storing energy for an open flight to South America.  Being chased by pets — or even children — forces them to waste valuable energy needed for the long crossing.  Between the possibility of being eaten and / or attempting to eat a protected species, I almost always choose to leave the dogs at home.

On Sanibel where leashed dogs are allowed, we have had beach days and let the pups hop on a board.  We soon realized they did not enjoy the experience.  They seemed much more content to bury themselves in the sand under the beach chairs.

Maybe your dog is a much better paddling companion than ours and it won’t chase birds and enjoys the ride.  I’m not trying to discourage you.  I just ask that before choosing a paddling location with your pet, you consider all the wildlife you may encounter on the water, big and small.