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Heidi’s First Dog Paddle

Watch out, Missy Franklin: water-shy Heidi takes to the pool

Heidi was bored, bored, bored by the Olympic Games.  When her people spent too much time glued to the TV, she would try vainly to rouse the troops for a game of team squeaky toy, or plant herself upside down in front of the tube in her best belly rub position, kicking her heels in the air until somebody noticed she was much more talented than Misty May-Treanor and Gabby Douglas combined. 

But maybe it wasn’t just human attention Heidi craved. If dogs feel envy, she could have been just a little envious of all of those astonishing divers and swimmers navigating the waters with ease.  As mentioned before in this column, . If we happened to go to the beach together and I got swept away by the current, I had pretty much resigned myself to drowning instead of being dramatically rescued, Lassie-style, by the dog. 

But call it synchronicity, or maybe synchronized swimming: During the Olympic Games, Heidi had one of her occasional acupuncture appointments with in Northridge.  And through Dr. Parks, Heidi was offered a free swim lesson from Anne and Roger Mathys of Shadow Hills.

 Anne and Roger built a pool on their own property for their German shepherd Dana, now 6, who had a ruptured disc.  Instead of surgery, Dana's surgeon recommended water therapy.  So the couple built the pool, complete with an entrance ramp. Now all of their dogs take advantage, and they offered their dog-friendly pool to see if Heidi could benefit from swimming the way Dana did. (As an aside, if you haven’t seen this heart-tugging photo and story about a man and his elderly dog connecting in the water, you must). 

For years, Dr. Parks had been recommending water therapy for 10-year-old Heidi’s joint problems, but we’d never gotten around to it.  But, through her friends the Mathyses, here was a commitment-free chance to give it a shot.  I have to say for me this was less about future therapy and more about seeing whether canine instinct would take over and Heidi could swim if put to the test.

So, on Wednesday morning, Anne and Roger coaxed Heidi into the pool.  Actually, “lifted” is more accurate.  While Heidi adored Anne’s homemade chicken liver treats, she wasn’t willing to walk the ramp into the pool to get one.  Olympic gymnasts get extra points for sticking the landing – well, Heidi stuck to the landing, refusing to move her feet toward the pool, apparently thinking water is no place for a mountain dog. 

But once in the water, she paddled.  She’s not swimming on her own yet, but she got high marks from Anne and Roger for not panicking and kicking her back legs in the water instead of letting her hindquarters sink like some dogs do who are new to swimming.  She huffed and she puffed, but she paddled as Roger held her afloat. In fact, she went in the pool twice – although before the second round she did quietly head toward my car, like maybe nobody would notice a wet 70-pound German shepherd sidling away from the pool to catch a ride home, OK, that was fun, buh-bye now! 

After her own lessons, Heidi watched and whimpered softly when the water-happy Dana charged into the pool after her tennis ball, clearly loving every minute.  From a distance, the two dogs look so much alike that for our video I considered inserting Dana’s swim as the “after” footage for Heidi’s lesson, instant success!

 But then, stunt doubles only work in Hollywood, not for the Olympics. Heidi will need a little more practice before she medals in the dog paddle at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

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