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Auburn woman dies in attempt to save dog from drowning

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A dangerous stretch of Bodega Bay shoreline has claimed the life of an Auburn woman who went into the ocean to save her pet pug from being swept out to sea. Cindy Becker-Watkins, 51, was pronounced dead Friday morning after being pulled from the water at Portuguese Beach, a sandy stretch of coastline bordered by rocky headlands north of Bodega Bay. Becker-Watkins went into the surf after the dog at about 8 a.m. and spent several minutes in the icy ocean before being washed back to the shore and dragged by her husband and a State Parks ranger farther up onto the beach, State Parks Russian River sector superintendent Linda Rath said Monday. Attempts by emergency personnel at the scene to revive here were unsuccessful and she was pronounced dead at 8:43 a.m., Rath said. “The beach is very steep and if waves come in, they can knock you down and then you can’t get out,” Rath said. “That’s very typical of beaches on this part of the coast.” Adding to the danger of a steep drop into deep water is the freezing water that can quickly physically incapacitate a victim who has been swept in, Rath said. Becker-Watkins was on a weekend vacation with her husband, Paul Becker, and walking with their two pugs on the beach when the tragedy occurred. Becker-Watkins and Becker had been married in July after 18 years together, said her niece, Tera Morgan of Rocklin. “She was caring and would help anybody,” Morgan said. “She loved animals and absolutely loved birds, dogs and cats. And she loved the ocean and the mountains.” Morgan said part of the reason her aunt was attempting to save the pug was that members of the breed aren’t strong swimmers. Sgt. David Thompson, of the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office helicopter search and rescue unit, said Monday that Becker-Watkins was caught by a wave and went as she tried to reach the dog. She yelled for help and her husband went into the water but was unable to get her out. The victim was in the water for 15 to 20 minutes, he said. Thompson said one similar dog-rescue-related drowning took place along the Sonoma County coastline in 2009 and two occurred in 2004. “The incident Friday was really unfortunate and unfortunately, the dog perished as well,” Thompson said. “A lot of times the dogs get out on their own but the owners are not there. With the waves and cold water, it’s a setup for disaster.” Becker-Watkins grew up in Auburn and worked as a certified nursing assistant at Foothill Oaks Care Center. She was the mother of three –Crystal Mosbly, Travis Watkins and Becky Smith – and grandmother of six. Becker-Watkins had worked at Foothill Oaks on Bell Road for 10 years. Dan Niccum, spokesman for Foothill Oaks owner Horizon West Healthcare, said word of her death was devastating and grief counseling for staff members was taking place. “She was an exceptional person,” Niccum said. “The facility and the company are in shock trying to deal with the grief.” Last November, Becker-Watkins was named the second recipient of a newly instituted employee of the month program at Foothill Oaks, which employs a little over 100 people. “She’s going to be missed tremendously,” Niccum said. As well as her children and husband, Becker-Watkins is survived by three brothers – John Watkins Jr. of Auburn and Dwayne and Billy Watkins, both of Grass Valley – and her parents, John and Delaine Watkins of Grass Valley. A memorial service is planned, with a date and location yet to be determined by Monday afternoon. Foothill Oaks has established a fund for the family to help defray costs and is accepting donations at its 3400 Bell Road location.