Coastal Safety for Dog Walkers – a cautionary tale


What could be more satisfying than a stroll along the cliff top with your dog, enjoying the view and the fresh air of a crisp autumnal morning?

Well, not much really… except…

Every year, Coastguard stations across the UK take numerous frantic and often hysterical calls from desperate dog owners calling for help after their beloved pets have fallen or run off the edge of a cliff.

As a Coastguard – and a dog owner – who has been on the receiving end of such calls, I can’t begin to tell you how distressing it is listening to the sound of a heart breaking on the end of the line and knowing that, let’s be honest, there’s really nothing I can do.

Two incidents immediately spring to mind. Be warned, you may find them distressing. I certainly did:

Whilst walking along the beach in Margate, Kent, a member of the public found an injured dog lying whimpering at the foot of the cliff. Coastguard Rescue Officers attended and stayed to comfort the dog whilst a vet was called. The dog was still conscious, having spent all night lying on the beach with a broken back. It had plummeted off the cliff during its walk the evening before. The devastated owner had reported the dog missing, but it hadn’t even occurred to them that the dog might have gone over the cliff. They simply assumed it had run off somewhere. When the vet arrived, the dog had to be put to sleep.

An hysterical owner dialled 999 to report to the Coastguard that her dog had fallen from the cliff at Dover, having chased a rabbit over the edge. She could see the dog lying on the beach 60ft below and could see it was still moving. The tide was coming in and there was no way to access that stretch of the beach on foot. The sea conditions were too rough to safely get to the dog by lifeboat, so the dog had to remain where it was. When rescue attempts were made again once the tide had receded, the dog had gone, presumably washed away by the incoming tide.

As an owner, you can stop such a nightmare from happening to you. Don’t let your dog off the lead by the edge of a cliff. Ever.

No matter how well trained he or she may be, how intelligent, how docile, how obedient, there is always the chance that something will catch it’s eye, spook it, excite it or make it fall.

Why risk it? Why put your dog or yourself through such a terrifying ordeal?

I would never, ever, ever let my dogs wander off the lead anywhere near a drop like that. In fact, one of them now remains firmly attached to me even along the promenade. She just has no concept of the dangers associated with jumping off the edge. She’s done it twice and got away with it. Next time we might not be so lucky.
If that edge happened to be a cliff, luck wouldn’t even be a factor.

Julia Fuller
Watch Officer, UK Coastguard