Even though retrievers such as the lab, golden and Chesapeake swim like fish and Newfoundlands are almost as much at home in lakes and Long Island Sound as on land, a life jacket benefits Fido on a boat. Or, for that matter, in any water situation.
"Life jackets are important even for man's best friend," advises the Boat Owners Association of the United States (BoatUS), which recently tested several makes of doggie life jackets.
It may seem overly cautious to strap a life jacket on a dog, particularly if it is a breed bred for the water. Even strong water dogs, however, can tire if they are dumped into the drink and remain there unduly long. In case of a violent accident, injury or going overboard in rough seas, a life jacket can give a dog the edge it needs to survive. This goes double if the dog is aged or infirm.
Some breeds, moreover, are ill-adapted to the water, notes the June/July issue of BoatUS Magazine. Breeds such as the greyhound, with a short coat and lean in body fat, are poorly insulated against cold. Small dogs may struggle in water that is cold or rough because they lack sufficient strength and stamina.
"No matter water dog or lap dog," says BoatUS, "the life jacket has to be right sized."
A good fit was one of the key requirements for life jackets tested by the boating group on eight dogs, ranging in size from a 12-pound rat terrier to a 130-pound Newfoundland. Another was straps and buckles that are comfortable and designed not to chafe a dog's body. Testers also found that, whatever the size or shape of the jacket and the dog, foam floatation in the jacket must be situated on the dog's body so the animal can swim easily in the water and comfortably lie down on deck or on the dock.
The type of jacket chosen also depends on its intended use. Is the jacket's primary role an emergency safety device in case the dog falls overboard? Or is it to be worn by a dog that will be playing in the water or swimming for exercise? "Think minimal and comfortable," say the testers, if the jacket is to be worn all day aboard a vessel. A larger jacket does well as an aid in swimming.
Boaters are apparently opting for canine life jackets with increasing frequency, says BoatUS, because the selection found in stores is increasing. The group suggests West Marine and big box stores as a source for the jackets.
Bad News Bowfin
With 70-plus trophy fish award pins from the State Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to his credit, Harry Barber of Middlefield's Lake Beseck neighborhood ranks as one of Connecticut's top anglers. Barber, who admits to being "in my mid eighties" agewise, has hooked about every fish that bites bait or lure in our waters. At least he thought he had until last week when he caught two individuals of a species he had never landed before.
"They are bad news fish," says Barber of the two bowfin, each more than two feet long, he caught in the Connecticut River off Chester. "When they started chopping my big shiners [his bait] in half, I thought it was a snapping turtle." Both fish put up a battle, worthy of the 50-pound test Barber was using.
Barber took the fish home alive and was keeping them in a water-filled old refrigerator in his back yard. "They are a tough fish," he said admiringly.
The bowfin is a rugged, primitive fish, little changed from ancestors that lived along with the dinosaurs. Like several other primitive fish it has organs that allow it to breathe air gulped into its swim bladder, an adaptation for oxygen-poor water. It is also able to deliver a particularly nasty bite with sharp canine teeth. Bowfins can get up to about 20 pounds.
The bowfin is not native to Connecticut. It is most common in the Mississippi Basin and in the southeastern part of the country, as well as along the Gulf Coast. Bowfin live in the Mid-Atlantic states as well as in the Delaware River, the Great Lakes region and St. Lawrence River and western New York and Pennsylvania. They are native to Lake Champlain but not the rest of New England.
Many years, ago, however, bowfin were introduced in Connecticut. Most were exterminated, although a population thrives in Wolcott's Scovill Reservoir. More recently, bowfin were introduced into the Connecticut River in Massachusetts. Several catches like Berber's have been reported from the river but the species remains uncommon there.