A pit bull saves a toddler from drowning in the surf on the Oregon Coast. It should have made front-page headlines.
But those involved didn’t blast what happened on social media, and no bystanders captured video of the dog sprinting across a Lincoln City beach, dunking his head in the ocean, grabbing the child’s shirt with his teeth, and dragging her to safety.
It happened in the blink of an eye on a Saturday afternoon in August, the day a shy but lovable rescue dog named Rocky became an unsung hero.
Heather Howard remembers the dramatic rescue like it was yesterday.
She never saw the child when Rocky, adopted by her family a month before, made a beeline to the water from where he had been frolicking in the sand with a corgi he had just met.
Howard ran after him and saw two women running in the same direction. Next, she saw Rocky pull “a little human” out of the ocean.
When they all arrived at the water’s edge, the girl was coughing and laughing as Rocky licked her face. She was uninjured, with only a hole in her shirt from the dog’s grip.
The women seemed shaken, realizing what had happened and wondering how the child had slipped out of sight and into the water. Rocky distracted them by rolling over, and they rubbed his belly with gratitude.
Then everyone went their separate ways. Heather didn’t catch anyone’s name. She doesn’t know where the family was visiting from. She guesses the girl was 1-2 years old.
Shelter staff and volunteers were attached to Rocky
The magnitude of what happened didn’t sink in until Heather went back to the hotel room and told her husband, Rich. They both thought, “Wow, he just did that.”
They finished their weekend at the beach, returned home to Keizer, and went about their busy lives. Rich and Heather own and operate Willow Lake Golf Center and Driving Range, and they coach 12-year-old daughter Raegan’s traveling softball team.
They did share the story with the Oregon Humane Society, where they adopted Rocky last July. Rich thought they would want to know because Rocky was a staff and volunteer favorite on the Salem campus.
Many of them grew attached, checking in often with the Howards to see how he was doing. They knew Rocky deserved to be rescued, describing him as calm and easygoing and watching him get along well with everyone.
Rocky was at the shelter for 60 days. A family surrendered him when they were moving and unable to take their two dogs. Another family adopted him, only to return him three days later.
The Howards believe Rocky was mistreated early in his life. Someone filed his canine teeth down. Information they received from the Humane Society indicated he was an outdoor-only dog, with food and water left in large buckets.
Many pit bulls wind up at animal shelters, some under worse circumstances. Six of the 16 available dogs on the adoptable page for the Salem campus this past week were pit bulls.
Pit bulls have a reputation for being aggressive by nature. But not Rocky, who has a black coat with white on his chin and chest. He is sweet and gentle. He likes people and animals.
The Howards have two cats at home and one at the golf center. They all get along, although Rocky did have a recent run-in with Thor, the cat at the golf center.
Watchful instinct comes naturally for Rocky’s breed
It was love at first sight for Rocky and the Howards. They went to meet him after seeing his profile online. He immediately went up to Rich and Raegan and rolled over for them to rub his belly.
Heather called it a magical meeting.
Rocky was timid when the Howards brought him home, especially around men and whenever Rich wore a hat, but quickly came out of his shell.
They took him everywhere, to work, softball games, even kayaking. But he did not like water.
He was not a big fan of sand, either. He held up his front paw and hesitated to go further the same day he later saved the child from drowning. Rich and Heather figure it was his first time on a beach.
Only after he saw the corgi playing in the sand off leash did he get more comfortable. Then their playtime was interrupted when Rocky bolted to save the little girl.
The more research the Howards have done, the more they are not surprised by his heroic actions.
Rocky is an American Staffordshire Terrier, one of four pit-bull breeds classified by the American Kennel Club. Known to their fans as AmStaffs, they have been called the “nanny dog” in England for their attentive and caring nature, watching over children.
Rocky’s nurturing instinct has been seen around adults, too, including him watching over a man in a wheelchair they met that weekend at the beach.
The Oregon Humane Society used Rocky as a poster boy last fall for its annual Bowser’s Boo Bash fundraiser, producing a video and sharing his story with the crowd. Rocky wore a Batman cape in the video.
“From what they said, after they played that video, there was not a dry eye in the house, and the checkbooks started coming out,” Rich said.
Oregon Humane Society raised more than $100,000 at the event.
Capi Lynn is the Statesman Journal’s news columnist. Send comments, questions and tips to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-399-6710. Follow her work on Twitter @CapiLynn and Facebook @CapiLynnSJ.