Bilbo is a gorgeous Newfoundland dog who is currently caught in the middle of a mess through no fault of his own. Bilbo’s story first hit the headlines in 2008 when he was banned from the beach on which he was performing life guard duties. Up until the ban, Bilbo had been assisting his owner and then head lifeguard, Steve Jamieson, helping keep bathers safe at Sennen Cove beach in Cornwall. However the beach is a no-go area for dogs in the daytime, and since Bilbo is not classed as a working dog, he found himself falling foul of the ban.
A petition to Gordon Brown was organised, which ten thousand people signed, but before the petition was submitted a press release came out saying that Bilbo had been reinstated. All was right again – Bilbo was back on the beach. So when we were planning a family holiday in Cornwall I decided it would be the ideal time to meet Steve and Bilbo and get an interview with them.
I visited Bilbo’s website and contacted Steve, saying I’d love to see Bilbo in action at the beach, get some pictures and video, and an interview. Steve said that that would be impossible as they would not be on the beach. Though he was friendly, he said that it was impossible for him to make any further comments at the moment.
My curiosity was piqued. Why wouldn’t Bilbo be on the beach? He had been reinstated so what was the problem? Since Steve couldn’t talk to me, I spoke to some of his friends in Sennen Cove.
It turns out that the reinstatement was not all it seemed. There were conditions attached, like Bilbo could only be on the beach with Steve for beach safety talks/demonstrations, and only as long as Steve was employed by the RNLI lifeguard service. However, after Bilbo’s return to duty, things had not been going smoothly for Steve.
He had been forced to make the several hours round trip to Dorset more than once for “disciplinary” meetings. The stress got to Steve. Constantly under pressure and finding himself under a competency review, he was made to retake fitness tests, during which he failed timed swims by a matter of seconds. Steve couldn’t take any more and is currently signed off work by his G.P.
Steve is probably the longest serving beach lifeguard in the U.K. and he has the best possible publicity and educational aid in the form of Bilbo. There is strong local feeling that Bilbo is singularly the biggest thing in beach/sea safety education this country has ever seen. As well as raising awareness on the beach, Bilbo visits schools and various events educating children and adults alike about water safety.
We were fortunate enough to see Bilbo and Steve swim (in the evening when dogs are allowed on the beach) while we were in Sennen Cove, and that dog is amazing. He was so eager to get in the sea that he could hardly wait for Steve to zip his wet suit and catch him up. He swam with no splash, accompanying Steve on a very long swim.
After the swim Bilbo clambered out onto the rocks and shook himself happily. A crowd of happy, curious children descended on him, dragging their parents over to find out more about the huge dog who had just emerged from the sea. Bilbo lay calmly in the middle of the crowd that gathered around him, accepting pats from little hands and admiration from all, while Steve talked about his dog.
If you’ve ever had the good luck to see a Newfoundland in the water, you’ll know how powerful and graceful these big dogs are when they swim. They have webbed feet and they don’t doggy paddle, they actually swim – watch a video taken under water and you’ll see what I mean. I’ve seen them pull a motor boat with two people on board through the water with ease, and I know that if I were ever in trouble in the sea I know I’d be overjoyed to see a big strong friendly dog like Bilbo powering towards me.
So what does the future hold for Bilbo and Steve? Will Bilbo ever really be allowed to patrol his beach, helping to keep bathers safe? Will the RNLI lifeguard service realise what an incredible asset they have in Bilbo? Perhaps one day Steve will be able to tell me his story – and it’s one I would be eager to hear and to share.
Until then all we can do is help spread the word that all is not as it seems down near Lands End, and support Steve and Bilbo in their time of need. Bilbo has a website - http://www.bilbosays.com/ and you can sign up to the Keep Bilbo on the Beach group on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=14796504162 .