Passerby helps rescue dog in surf

Hero Clayton Knipe downplays effort to pull animal from ocean
By Terri Morgan, Santa Cruz Sentinel

Clayton Knipe rescued Heather Swallow’s dog from a high tide pounding surf off Pleasure Point after hearing Heather’s screams for help. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

PLEASURE POINT >> A full-moon beach walk nearly turned into a tragedy in early September for a Pleasure Point woman’s best friend.

Heather Swallow was walking on the sand below 38th Avenue when the high tide and surf chased her up onto the rocks. Her dog Magnolia, a 3-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, followed her and slipped into the water.

“The waves were crashing, and she disappeared,” Swallow said. “She either got swept off the rocks or slid in.”

Magnolia was washed into a cove near 38th Avenue. With the water surging up against the cliff the dog was unable to climb to safety. Panicked, Swallow began screaming for help.

“She got stuck in a cove and kept getting hit by wave after wave after wave,” Swallow recalled. “I was frantic and I knew she was going to drown.”

Fortunately for Swallow and Magnolia, Clayton Knipe heard her cries for help.

Knipe was riding his bike home from a nearby coffee shop, where he had been playing his guitar during an open mic session. As he stopped to look at the waves, the 20-year-old admired the view and heard Swallow screaming. Realizing someone was in danger, he put down his bike and his backpack, and went to investigate.

“I started shuffling down the cliff side, and I fell right in the water,” said Knipe, who was fully clothed in jeans, a sweatshirt and his desert boots.

While Knipe was startled by his unexpected dousing, Magnolia knew just what to do. She swam up to Knipe.

“She knew she needed help,” Knipe recalled, who was able to shove the dog onto a rock ledge.

But Knipe discovered he couldn’t get himself out of the water. He made his way up to another cove and grabbed onto the rocks. Even then, he had a hard time getting out of the water.

“The waves were bashing like crazy,” he said. “I let out a little prayer and managed to pull myself up.”

Exhausted from her ordeal, Magnolia could barely move, and Swallow was not able to get the dog off the rocky shelf. Knipe came to the rescue once again, and was able to grab Magnolia’s collar and haul her up to safer ground.

Swallow was extremely grateful.

“My dog means the world to me,” said Swallow, a naturopathic physician who practices in Monterey. “She’s a therapy dog and she comes to work with me. She’s such an important part of my life.”

Knipe, who escaped with just a bruised hand, was humble about the incident when asked about it later. He refused any offers for a reward, other than accepting a cup of hot tea from Swallow, and the use of a towel.

“I don’t need a gold medal or anything,” Knipe said. “Magnolia is a really sweet dog.”

Instead, he told Swallow that he hoped the incident would inspire others to help their neighbors and others in need. And, although it took all three at least three days to recover physically from the incident, Knipe earned something even more valuable than a traditional reward. He came away with two new friends and the satisfaction of knowing he had saved the life of Swallow’s best friend.

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