Meet the Lifeguard Dogs Watching Over Beachgoers in Maine

Buoy and Beacon are trained to help human lifeguards rescue swimmers at Scarborough Beach State Park

Newfoundland dog wearing red life jacket and lifeguard running into the water
The dogs receive training that helps enhance their natural swimming abilities and rescue instincts. Scarborough Beach State Park

A state park in Maine is welcoming a new lifeguard to its roster this summer. But unlike his fellow employees, the park’s newest hire doesn’t need to wear sunscreen—or a swimsuit, for that matter.

Meet Buoy, an 11-month-old Newfoundland hired to help keep swimmers safe at Scarborough Beach State Park in southwest Maine. Now that he’s officially on the payroll for the summer, he’ll follow human lifeguards into the Atlantic Ocean whenever there’s an emergency. It’s his job to help tug both guards and victims to safety.

Buoy is the park’s second canine lifeguard on duty. Last summer, the park, which is situated about ten miles south of Portland, hired its first dog to help patrol the beach: a Newfoundland named Beacon, who is now 2 years old.

According to WGME’s Alison Murtagh, the two talented pups are the only ocean lifeguard dogs in the nation. The park’s leaders hope Buoy and Beacon will set an example for other beaches and communities.

“People respect them,” Greg Wilfert, the park’s manager, tells WGME. “They come up and ask if they can pat them and we let them, and they're very affectionate dogs.”

So far, the dogs are serving as “second responders.” When someone in the water needs help, a first responder—a human lifeguard—springs into action. Then, a second human lifeguard and one of the dogs follow close behind with a piece of floating rescue equipment. After the human lifeguards get the victim onto the device, the dog helps pull the entire group back to the beach.

The dogs are so strong that they can easily pull three or four people to shore, as Wilfert told News Center Maine’s Jackie Mundry last year.

“They can tow a boat—they're very strong swimmers," he added.

The dogs are training with the American Academy of Canine Water Rescue, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that helps water-loving dog breeds, like Newfoundlands and Labrador retrievers, enhance their natural instincts to rescue people. Trainers with the academy have been certified by the Italian School of Rescue Dogs (SICS), a longstanding organization that’s been training nautical rescue dogs and their human handlers in Italy for more than 30 years.

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Rescue dogs are a common sight on Italy’s beaches—and they even learn how to leap out of helicopters to save lives, per the organization’s website. Around 300 SICS dogs and their human handlers patrol roughly 30 Italian beaches, reported CNN’s Nicola Ruotolo and Amy Woodyatt in 2021. Three SICS dogs—Eros, Mya and Mira—made headlines that year when they helped bring a group of 14 swimmers safely to shore amid high winds at a beach in Sperlonga.

In Maine, where beachgoers are still getting used to the idea, rescue dogs are “just another tool to use with the lifeguards,” as Wilfert told the Portland Press Herald in 2021.

“It’s inherent in them to help when they see someone in trouble,” he added.

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