On the night of June 20, Jack Dougherty of Clearwater Beach went to bed early, figuring his beagle, Willie, would bed down under the deck as he usually did in the heat. The next morning, Willie did not turn up for breakfast.
Mr. Dougherty walked around his neighborhood on Ayrshire Place looking for the dog, but no one had seen him, not even the neighbors across the street whom Willie visits regularly.
When Mr. Dougherty checked his phone at 10 there was a message from a fellow volunteer fireman, Tim Taylor, a surveyor, saying that he and a colleague, Brian Pardini, had found Willie while they were on a job, but on Gerard Drive, at least a mile away, and would he come get him.
When Mr. Dougherty arrived he saw a wet mound on the ground, and feared for a moment that it was a dead Willie. Then he heard the story.
The surveyors had been working near a bulkhead when they heard baying and scratching. Thinking it might be a seal, they investigated and quickly realized it was a dog they knew, who was “swimming for his life.”
They hauled him out. His hind legs were limp and he appeared dead.
Apparently, Willie does in fact somewhat resemble a seal. He is long and big, weighing in at 40 pounds — and he turns 12 next week. Even though he had learned to swim from Randy Handwerger at age 8 and, said Mr. Dougherty, is a good swimmer, he doesn’t really like the water.
“The only way lately to get him in the water is if I throw a ball,” his owner said, adding that Willie is not a dog who wanders, and he still can’t figure out where the dog went after he had supper or if he was in the water the whole night.
“I’ve learned from this,” he said. “I feel humbled by the experience and realize that accidents can happen unexpectedly.”
Mr. Dougherty plans to install an electric fence that Willie can’t dig himself out from.