PEPPER is a ten-year-old black Labrador from Lynchmere who has always hated hang-gliders – but none of her family thought one would almost cause her death.
On holiday on the south coast of the Isle of Wight with Eleonara Tibbs and her family, Pepper was so frightened by one she rushed into the sea to escape and ignored all calls to come back as she headed straight towards France.
But 24 hours later she was found alive by walkers.
Desperate searching by the teenagers she was with included them trying helplessly to swim after her, but fortunately they came back safely.
A neighbour set out in his boat and the Freshwater Inshore Rescue boat searched until dark.
“A Labrador’s head is very small and dark in the swell of the English Channel,” said Eleonora, “and as dark came the search was inevitably called off.”
The family resigned themselves to the fact Pepper would probably have drowned off Atherfield Point.
“But 24 hours later Andrew Tapp and his wife were out walking and spotted an exhausted Labrador asleep, stranded on rocks at the bottom of cliffs about five-and-a-half kilometres from where she had plunged into the sea,” said Eleonora.
“They managed to get down to her and help her up the cliff despite her sore paws, probably hurt when she had to scrabble out on the rocks to get above the sea at high tide.”
It is thought Pepper was caught up in the tide, pushing her westward for an hour before it turned and then pushing her back for several hours until she headed back for shore after some six hours’ swimming.
Webbed feet, a water-resistant coat with extra insulation, and years of breeding as water dogs for hunting and retrieving enabled Pepper to stay alive in an area renowned for shipwrecks.
Eleonora said her family and friends want to thank all those who had helped in the search, especially Dick Downes of Atherfield, the Freshwater Lifeboat and Mr Tapp and his wife, who found their much-loved family pet.