As the sun went down on the Peninsula on Monday, Aug. 6, a large search was underway for Riley on both land and water.
The 10-year-old black labrador-border collie cross was spending an average evening on Island View Beach with his owner Christal Hazard, her friend Keri Ward and their children. That is, until he went missing.
But Riley hadn’t just gotten lost. Instead, he wound up nearly two kilometres away after a swim uncharacteristic of a canine of his age.
His disappearance was the subject of a large and panicked search involving Good Samaritans, firefighters, police and Saanich Marine Rescue volunteers.
As midnight came and passed and the search was called off, Hazard returned home feeling hopeless and defeated.
“At that point I figured we were basically going to be searching for his body [the next day],” she said.
The night at Island View began normally with Hazard’s children and the dog playing nearby, something they do often.
“The kids were playing in the grassy area and there were some other people down on the beach as well, including some people who were shooting off a potato gun. I didn’t think too much of it at first, but I realized after a few minutes that Riley wasn’t hanging out with the kids where he had been a couple of minutes before. When I called for him, he came running back and that was when I realized he had been spooked by the sound of the gun.”
Hazard said the group had only been there about 15 minutes when she noticed Riley was once again missing.
“I called for him again, but this time he didn’t come running,” she said. “As I walked down I met a few people who said they had just seen him go by so I continued down looking for him. The next people I met down the beach said they had seen a dog in the water, but I didn’t think much of it because Riley has never been much of a swimmer, he usually only goes in up to his chest.”
Hazard and a friend spent the next hour or so looking for him and after a few more comments from people on the beach about seeing Riley in the water, she realized the witnesses might have been right.
“When I finally realized that he must have taken off into the water I just didn’t even know what to do. One couple who saw him told me they thought he was a seal because they saw him way out and all they could see was his head bobbing in the water. When they last saw him they said he was [just off] James Island,” Hazard explained.
Island View Beach and James Island sit about two kilometres apart, separated by Cordova Channel which has a strong current and can be very choppy depending on the weather.
Hazard and her friend drummed up up any help they could get to find the missing dog.
“I didn’t have a clue who to call, I mean who do you call in that situation? I called the police and I called the Coast Guard and finally we were able to get some people from James Island to go out and tour around the island on their boats,” Hazard said. “There were a lot of people looking for Riley.”
Along with the police and the Saanich Marine Rescue volunteers, members from the Central Saanich fire department were also looking for the missing dog, at times even using an infrared heat detector to try to find the canine. But as the sky grew darker and the tide got higher, Hazard began to lose hope that they would find Riley.
The last time Riley had been spotted by someone on the beach with binoculars they estimated he was just shy of James Island swimming back and forth. Hazard didn’t have much hope he would be found.
“The search was finally called off around midnight and I went home around 12:30,” Hazard said. “It was a terrible feeling [not knowing where he was],” she said.
As the sun rose the next day, Hazard was already awake.
“I was already up, I hadn’t slept well and I was kind of anticipating what our next move was going to be to find [his body],” she said.
Around 6 a.m. Hazard’s cellphone rang. She answered it, discovering it was Jason Thrupp, the general manager of James Island. Thrupp had been involved in the search the night before and Hazard feared what he might be calling to tell her. Thankfully, he had good news.
“Jason heard his dogs barking early in the morning and he went out to look. He found Riley sitting in his driveway and he said to him, ‘Well, I know who you are,’ called him by his name and Riley went running to him,” Hazard explained. “He called me right away just after 6 a.m. and told me the good news. I was so relieved and so thankful for everyone that had helped out in looking for him. I really expected the worst in the situation.”
Thrupp took Riley on his boat over to the James Island Pier where he was met by a very happy Hazard who was elated to see her dog.
“He came down the pier looking really tired, but not too worse for wear considering what he’d been through,” she said.
She took the canine adventurer to the vet to see if he’d sustained any injuries during his ordeal.
“The vet said that one of his hips was a little out of line, so he adjusted him and gave him some painkillers for the stiffness, but that was it,” Hazard said.
The most amazing part of the story, noted Hazard, was that just six weeks prior to Riley’s big adventure, he’d had surgery to remove a suspected cancerous lump from his belly.
“Not too long before his adventure he’d had the surgery to remove a mass from inside his [stomach] that had been bothering him. So I’m not sure if he has a new lease on life or thinks now he’s a puppy again, but I’m just glad he’s safe back at home,” Hazard laughed, noting she won’t be letting Riley take any more big adventures anytime soon.
“He’ll be 11 on Sept. 5,” she laughed. “You’d think he’d be slowing down.”