What started as a casual Presidents Day stroll took a dark turn when a large, brown retriever mix belonging to a 67-year-old Daly City man fell off the cliff’s edge near Thornton Beach. In spite of it being a brisk morning, its owner tried to follow. The man fell nearly 500 feet, and perished on the beach below.
It was far from the first time emergency teams have been called to our coastline this year — and not even the only one that day. Just a few hours later, rescue teams rappelled down to save a man stuck on a rocky part of the cliff near Mile High Rock in Lands End. In the past week, 14 members of San Francisco’s Fire Department rescued two dogs from a cliff at Fort Funston, and teams were deployed to rescue three people stranded between the Cliff House and Baker Beach.
And the problem is getting worse.
“Every year, we do see a gradual rise in our search and cliff rescues,” SFFD spokesperson Jonathan Baxter tells SF Weekly.
With the growing numbers come some patterns. Baxter says there are two types of situations people repeatedly find themselves in: attempting to rescue a dog who’s fallen off a cliff, or ignoring signs and leaving trails or climbing past barriers. In the best-case scenario, they get stuck. Worst case, they fall, and get critically injured or killed.
And every emergency call deploys either a team of local firefighters, the Coast Guard, or Golden Gate National Recreation Area park rangers — depending on if the rescue involves cliffs, the ocean, or the beach below.
Sending our hardworking emergency personnel to rescue a chihuahua who’s run off the precipice may seem like overkill, but Baxter tells us that by stepping in, emergency workers can prevent dog owners (who are frequently less agile than their canine companions) from attempting the rescue solo.
“We’ve been doing heavy education on social media about how if your dog goes over a cliff, call 911,” he says. “Don’t attempt to rescue the dog yourself.”
Location also plays a role, with rescues happening most frequently at veritable dog paradise Fort Funston, and at Lands End — a touristy but wild stretch of San Francisco’s coastline.
With unusually warm temperatures, a rising influx of tourists and residents, and a growing cultural tend of taking selfies wherever and whenever possible, it might not be surprising that cliff rescues are becoming more prevalent. But they don’t always end with a happy reunion between a dog and a human.