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Accident with family dog shows hazards of shallow Lanier
Low lake levels causing stumps, other objects to be exposed
Scott Harris’ dog, Bailey, has to wear a special cone to keep it from chewing on stitches from the injury sustained when the dog jumped into the lake. - photo by Tom Reed

FLOWERY BRANCH — Lake Lanier's dropping water level turned into near tragedy for a South Hall man training his Labrador retriever in late October.

Scott Harris was throwing the hard plastic dummy into the shallow water in the cove near his Loch Harbor Drive home, with 3-year-old Bailey, a black Lab, following in hot pursuit.

Jumping into the water, Bailey landed on a metal dock anchor or wooden stump just under the water, opening up a large gash in the dog's stomach.

"She started screaming bloody murder," Scott Harris said. "I picked her up and carried her up to the house, then rushed her to the animal hospital."

Bailey is still going through treatments and wearing a protective cone around her head to prevent her from licking her wounds.

But the memory still lingers for Scott and his wife, Susan, who was in the garage at the time of the accident. He recalled being soaked in blood and making the prayer-filled journey to An-Emerg animal hospital in Gainesville.

Lake Lanier has been a growing threat to recreational users as the lake has continued to drop this fall.

The lake stood Sunday at 1,057.93 feet above sea level, or nearly 13 feet below full pool of 1,071 feet. With each foot, more of the man-made lake's shoreline is becoming exposed, and sandbars that used to be safely submerged are thwarting passageways for boaters.

Tree stumps are particularly showing themselves.

"The advice I would give (to boaters) is if you're unfamiliar with the lake, don't go faster than you're willing to hit something," said Sgt. Mike Burgamy, Lake Lanier supervisor with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Some heavy rainfall this week could slow the lake's downward trend. Otherwise, Lanier has less than 8 feet to go before it reaches its historic low of 1,050.79 feet, set on Dec. 26, 2007.

"We are definitely concerned about the lower lake levels in terms of boating safety and recreational use," said Joanna Cloud, executive director for the Lake Lanier Association.

Last week, the Harrises talked about their nightmarish episode, walking along the shoreline where it all took place.

Scott said the couple normally trains Bailey in another shoreline area, "but there were so many docks that had been moved and all the cables that hold the docks in place were in the way."

He walked to the scene of the accident.

"She hit the water just like a linebacker," Harris said, recalling Bailey's dive. "Water goes 10 feet to the left, 10 feet to the right."

After getting Bailey to the house, the Harrises' youngest son, Greg, accompanied Scott to the animal hospital. Their daughter and her husband later helped clean out the bloody backseat of Greg's car.

On the way to the hospital, "we were worried about her bleeding out," Scott Harris said. "She was fixing to go into shock (at one point)."

Bailey underwent a four-hour surgery. The veterinarian who worked on the dog said the anchor or stump — or maybe both, as they were so close to each other — nicked an artery that goes through Bailey's leg.

"He said if it had severed the artery, she wouldn't have made it out of the water," he said.

The dock anchor had been abandoned from when the lake was last so low, or during the 2007-09 drought, Scott Harris said.

"I had the dock people come pull that pipe out first thing," he said.

As for Bailey, her prognosis is a good one.

"I think we're going to have a full recovery," Harris said. "She is doing so well. We're walking her and she's been going through some therapy, but things are looking really good."

Thanksgiving, as a result, took on an especially heightened meaning for the Harrises.

"If you have to look for a positive in this (accident), it really made an impact on our family," Susan said. "Everybody had a part in helping."