Dog Saves Dad’s Life as He Begins to Drown in Front of Sons

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Patrick Mulligan was stuck in a current when his dog, Vader, came to his rescue. (Photo: Patrick Mulligan)

A father spending a day on the water with his family was saved by his dog after getting stuck in a current, with his two young sons watching.

Patrick Mulligan regularly goes sailing with sons Ryan, 12, and Lucas, 9, and their 22-month-old English lab, Vader. The Newburyport, Mass., family loves to explore nearby islands, and that’s what they were doing last Saturday when, after a few hours, Patrick swam out to bring their boat closer to shore. But while Ryan, Lucas, and Vader all had life jackets on, Patrick didn’t.

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“I got caught in the current, so I decided to swim back to the beach, but on my way, I started cramping up,” Patrick tells Yahoo Parenting. “I still had 20 or 30 yards to go before I got to the island. I was looking at my kids and I started getting scared because I wasn’t making much progress. I was thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I could drown, and my kids are standing here watching and they would be stranded on the island.’ It was terrifying, and of course would have been traumatizing for them.”


Ryan Mulligan, 12, (left) and Lucas Mulligan, 9, with Vader. When Ryan saw his dad struggling in the water, he sent Vader to save him. (Photo: Patrick Mulligan)

In order to relieve the cramp and make some progress toward the beach, Patrick says he started swimming the backstroke, then sidestroke. When Ryan saw his father switching between strokes, he knew there might be trouble, Patrick says. “Ryan had been holding onto the dog, but that’s when he let go and said ‘Go save Daddy,’” Patrick says. “At that point, I’d been out there for about 10 to 15 minutes.”

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As Vader came bounding toward him, Patrick says he was initially concerned that the dog could make things worse. “My first thought was that if he climbs on top of me and starts playing, I can’t defend myself,” he says. “But he didn’t. He swam right to me, pivoted, and let me grab the handle on his lifejacket.”

Patrick says he could hardly believe what was happening. “I was blown away by it,” he says. “It was like Vader did it every day, he calmly swam right in front of me and did a 180 so I could reach up and grab the handle. He didn’t even touch me. So I grabbed his lifejacket and he took me home. At first I thought I might be too heavy, but he didn’t hesitate. He didn’t even slow down.”

Once Vader swam Patrick to waist-deep water, he was able to let go and walk to the beach. “I felt such relief. The first thing I did was thank God,” Patrick says. “The boys came over and started hugging me.”

Patrick says that despite Ryan’s quick-thinking, his sons weren’t especially scared. “They’re young, and we have a great relationship and we’re always out doing things,” he says “They’ve never really seen me fail.”

Still, the family’s first order of business before heading out on the water the next day? Lifejackets. “I had lifejackets on board and there’s an offshore harness I wear, but I didn’t have the kind of lifejacket for myself that a kayaker would wear, which is what I needed,” Patrick says.

Now he’ll always wear one, he says, much to the satisfaction of his wife, who wasn’t onboard when the incident occurred. “The kids call her Captain Safety,” Patrick says. “She puts limits on our fun from an adventurous standpoint, but the boys kept saying, ‘This wouldn’t have happened if Captain Safety was here.’”

As for Vader? “He got a big steak bone when we got home,” Patrick says.

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