The dark brown, mixed breed, 50-pound dog with a bad hip has severe storm anxiety and when a brief afternoon squall hit the Gulfport area quickly on Monday, October 8, she broke through a secured cabin on her owner’s boat and jumped overboard, said Lithia Castillo, a neighboring liveaboard who anchors her craft in Boca Ciega Bay just off the municipal beach.
In addition to owning four cocker spaniels of her own, Castillo works with dogs everyday as part of her job and often provides them with training. She is a retired physical therapist and has been rescuing dogs for about 15 years.
“When dogs have storm anxiety, they get strength from I don’t know where,” said Castillo. “They can tear up anything like a door or hatch. They can jump over anything.”
Faith has jumped ship about three times before, said Melissa Branham, another local liveaboard.
And, though she was successfully rescued, it was not until after she had done her doggie paddle for at least a mile and over the timespan of about an hour, said Castillo.
Faith’s owner used to anchor his crawler, a type of motor cruiser, next to the other boats and when she would jump overboard, she would swim to the other boats, said Castillo. “Now, he’s [anchored] at least a mile out away from the other boats.”
When she jumped ship on Monday, “luckily, she went towards shore,” said Castillo. “The rescue had a happy ending but it could have been a lot worse. It took shear willpower on her part” to survive.
According to an assistant at the Gulfport Municipal Marina, at around 4:30 p.m. on Monday, a man from the Diplomat building in Town Shores called to report that a dog was swimming at some distance from the seawall of the condominium complex. The caller said that a man was also in the water attempting to rescue the animal.
At that same moment, Gulfport Police Officers Cory Smith and Tim Carter were in the marina’s office preparing to take the police boat out into the bay to address a different situation relating to a boat with an anchoring issue.
All because of the short, intense weather event.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather reports for Monday afternoon document that winds in the area were measured out of the east at 14 to 15 mph with gusts from 21 to 23 mph.
There was wave action in the bay that Faith had to swim through in order to get close to shore, said Castillo.
When Faith managed to swim near to the seawall of Town Shores, numerous people attempted to assist one man in the water with her rescue, said Rosa Carlisle, a resident in the Diplomat building who witnessed most of the action.
“I was watching TV and I turned around and saw this man swimming pretty far out with a black object behind him. When he got close to it, it would swim away from him,” said Carlisle. “I got my binoculars and saw it was a dog.”
One person on the shore tried to coax the dog toward the seawall by talking to it, said Carlisle. A second person tried to use a net and a third lowered a ladder into the water.
Faith is fearful of people she does not know and therefore would not allow herself to be rescued, said Castillo.
“We found the dog about 30 feet from the seawall,” said Officer Carter. “We just had a catch pole and were trying to get it around the dog’s neck to pull it into the [police] boat. A man who knew the owner of the dog came over and helped us in his dinghy.”
That was Marcus Mendez, said Branham. Mendez, a local liveaboard, also knows Faith. And, that was the key to her rescue.
“He grabbed the dog by its collar and abdomen and pulled it into his boat,” said Carter.
Once the police arrived on scene, Faith was rescued in about 10 minutes, said Carter.
Castillo babysat the rescued dog until the owner returned.
No charges were filed in the incident, said Gulfport Police Sergeant Thomas Woodman on Tuesday.
Woodman talked to the owner by phone and said he does not want to be identified and does not want to talk to the press.
“I’ve told [the owner] not to leave her on his boat” when he goes to shore, said Castillo.
When Castillo texted the owner on Monday, she found out he was in Tampa and was trying to find a ride back to Gulfport.
“I told him to not leave her alone,” said Castillo. “Bring her to one of us and anchor closer in so that we can keep an eye on her. She’s an extraordinary dog. Very nice.”