Mike Gafa with his dog Ruby that was swept out to sea on Sunday after swimming at Tahunanui Beach. Photo: Charles Anderson

Terrier saved from sea


All Mike Gafa could think of when he saw his six-year-old border terrier being swept out to sea was to run down Tahunanui Beach and commandeer the nearest kayak he could find.

“Emotions just took over,” he says. “All I could see was our little dog going.”

On Sunday, Mike and his wife Michelle had been walking Ruby along the beach with their other dog Zach when Ruby decided to jump into the ocean for a swim. Then she just kept swimming.

“That’s just what she does,” Michelle says. “She is a really strong swimmer. But we knew early on that the water was just too strong.”

Before they knew it, Ruby was being pulled out to sea.

“I didn’t even say anything to Michelle,” Mike says. “I was off down the beach and asked a family ‘can borrow your kayak’.”

While Mike was paddling out to sea a passer-by suggested they call Port Nelson. Mike had fruitlessly been paddling against the tide when he gave up. He couldn’t see Ruby and was trying to come to terms with the loss.

But then Bryan Drummond on the Port Nelson gatehouse answered the phone.

“It was certainly a different sort of call but every day is different here,” he says.

He despatched Mark Howard and Justin McBride in the pilot boat, Waimea, to see if they could find Ruby.

The pair headed out to the green pylon markers in the harbour – about 200 metres from shore. Mark called Michelle back on the phone to say they hadn’t found anything. He was leaving a message for her when he started calling out “is that her? That’s her!”

Ruby was paddling for her life. The Port Nelson men scooped her out of the water and brought her back to dry land.

At that moment Mike was getting out of the water with the kayak. A friend of Michelle’s came running down the beach yelling “they found her!”

Mike and Michelle headed round the waterfront for a grand reunion.

“I went through 100 different emotions in two hours,” Mike says. “Everybody who says they aren’t part of your family haven’t got a dog for the right reason.”

Bryan from Port Nelson says it was a curious call, but they were happy to reunite the dog with its owners.

Michelle says Ruby bounced back and has even more of an attitude than before.
The dog was off to work as usual with Mike yesterday morning.

As for the Gafas: “On an outgoing tide we will probably get Ruby an extendible lead,” Mike says.