Many dogs like water but hardly any can claim to be competitive swimmers.
However, that’s the case with Chica. Kelly Reineking is the proud owner of the mixed breed dog or ‘royal Cayman brown hound’ as she is affectionately called.
Chica and her master recently swam in the Butterfield Sea Swim. The open water race took place on Seven Mile Beach and saw some 136 competitors.
Amazingly the brown coat-wonder finished 100th out of the crowd and beat out some 36 human swimmers, including her master.
Reineking said many contestants were amused by the dog’s performance.
‘Chica got major recognition at the swim, earning a medal for being the first and only dog [to compete].
‘I was told that everyone was judging their performance by whether or not they got beat by the dog!’
Like all good dogs, Chica does not stray far away from her master.
‘She will swim with me for over a mile. The only thing slowing her down is my shoulder injury. She will not leave me behind.’
Chica has been by her master’s side for some three years now. She was adopted when she was eight weeks old from the local Humane Society.
She had been found on the streets of Grand Cayman at seven weeks old by herself without her mother or litter mates.
Chica was shortly introduced to swimming at 12 weeks old. Reineking said Chica’s love for swimming grew in no time.
‘I began taking her on the snorkel boat at Don Foster’s Dive where I worked. Her first introduction to the water was falling off of the boat. She surfaced and thought it was just the coolest thing. I’ve been taking her to the beach with me and playing in the water ever since. She is my best swimming partner.
‘It took me awhile to teach her that it is not appropriate to crawl on top of me when we’re swimming but now she does great. She stays just in front of me, turning to be sure I’m okay when she notices I have changed my stroke or dived underwater to check something out.’
Though dogs are smart, most might think competitive swimming is a step. However, Chica’s master knows different.
‘When Chica was about a year old, I began teaching her to swim with me and my friends when we trained. In the beginning, she always wanted to climb on top of me when I swam. I would use the commands “no scratching”, “just swim” and nudge her away and then praise her every stroke that she swam either beside or in front of me. After a couple months, she got it and then we trained together several times a week.
‘I think she understands the whole concept of a race. In the Butterfield race, she saw the buoys marking the chute for the finish line and she absolutely poured it on. I could hardly keep up and she did beat me by a second.’
Looking back, Reineking says Chica got her name long before she was able to find a home.
‘I had a dog named “Amiga” that I found nearly dead when I was on vacation in Mexico. I nursed her back to health, and she was the smartest dog I’d ever seen. She passed away after I came to Cayman.
‘I chose the name “Chica” due to its similarity to “Amiga.” In Spanish, Amiga is “friend” in the feminine and Chica means little girl. So I had the name before I had the dog.’
Without the presence of the local Humane Society, Reineking feels Chica’s story would have never been told.
‘Without the Humane Society all of this would not have been possible. They do a fantastic job of rescuing animals, as Chica was found wandering alone at just seven and a half weeks, and arranging adoptions within the community and even abroad.’
In many ways, Reineking’s love for swimming has rubbed off on Chica. She says she has always loved the water and she prefers to teach swimming.
‘I’ve always been a water rat but I have never been on a swim team. Before coming to Cayman, I taught scuba diving to juvenile offenders in Florida with the Associated Marine Institutes.
‘I transferred out here when they opened the Cayman Islands Marine Institute. I taught swimming, life-guarding and scuba diving to the kids at the Marine Institute.
‘I swim for enjoyment and exercise and participated in nearly every sea swim since I arrived in Cayman in 1994.’
In spite of the laid-back approach she takes to swimming, Reineking has faced some setbacks.
‘Unfortunately I injured my rotator cuff last September. I really didn’t swim at all until Chica and I did a test run the day before the Butterfield Bank Sea Swim. The other shoulder was hurt too, as I realized I’d injured that rotator cuff, but we swam anyway.
‘My physiotherapist expects a recovery in four to six weeks. I think I’ll give it a bit more time before I start swimming again.’
When she does, Reineking will be on her own at the next big sea swim.
‘I plan to do the Flowers swim, kicking only, on Saturday. I’m afraid that the rules for that race state “no animals on course” so Chica won’t be doing that one. That’s totally understandable since Frankie draws over 500 swimmers for his race and it might be a little crazy to have a bunch of dogs swimming in a mob.’
At the end of the day Reineking intends to become a staple of the local swim scene and have the talents of her ‘royal Cayman brown hound’ fully on display once again.
‘I definitely plan to do more races with Chica once my shoulder recovers. I normally do the 800 meter races and I’d also like to do one of the longer races, like the 2 mile, next year. The next time we do a race there will likely be more than 36 people saying they got beat by a dog.’