Revealed: Bilbo, Britain's only dog lifeguard

source: The Mirror
original article: The Mirror
author: Nicole Russell  date: 29/02/2008

Bilbo is the David Hasselhoff of the dog world.

Not only does he get to wear a snazzy swimsuit and lap up attention on the beach but he's a genuine life-saver, too.

A six-year-old chocolate-brown Newfoundland, 14st Bilbo has already saved three people's lives.

Patrolling the beach with the five lifeguards at Sennen Cove in West Cornwall, he perches on the back of a quad bike, ready to dive in if duty calls.

Trained to rescue stricken bathers, Bilbo swims in a loop around the victim allowing them to grab the float attached to his harness.

His owner head lifeguard Steve Jamieson explains: "Once Bilbo feels their weight tugging on the tube, he paddles them to safety."

Steve started bringing Bilbo to work with him to try and get tourists to pay attention to safety.

He says: "Penwith Council spent thousands on safety notices telling bathers where to swim but people just hung their towels on them.

"So we made Bilbo a vest from the yellow and red flags that mark out the swimming areas, with 'swim between the flags' written on it. It was an instant success.

"Kids love him so we hand out certificates with his paw print on." With his fan club of bathers at the beach, the canine crusader has become a local celebrity. He gets invited to Crufts every year and has become a school's mascot.

Bred as working dogs for fishermen, Newfoundlands are natural swimmers in rough, cold waters.

Steve, 54, says: "He always followed me around so I took him swimming with me. At first he was nervous around big waves, but he soon got used to them."

Bilbo trained for a year and passed his lifeguard exams with flying colours, even beating 70 human contestants in the mile-long Newlyn to Penzance open water swim.

But Bilbo doesn't always take orders, and on one occasion saved a woman from herself. Steve says: "One morning in a remote cove near Land's End, I warned a woman who wanted to swim that the sea was too choppy.

"She ignored me but Bilboplanted his paws on her feet, blocking her path, until she went home."

And Steve has now written a book about Bilbo. He says: "People always want to know more about Bilbo so I've written a book about his life. I'm very proud of him."

The True Story Of Bilbo The Surf Lifeguard Dog, £5.99, from bookshops from March 5, or www.bilbosays.com