Bilbo, the lifeguard dog, in Sennen Cove, Cornwall. Photograph: Colin Shepherd/Rex Features
Celebrity has a habit of biting back hard. Just ask Bilbo, the UK's first and only lifeguard dog. Where there was once adoring schoolchildren, a book deal, a fan club, Japanese TV crews, photo shoots, dog food sponsorship deals, star turns at Crufts, even talk of a movie deal, there now lies shattered dreams, bitterness and even a hint of professional jealousy. And it appears to have all been snatched away by that most ubiquitous of killjoys - the faceless bureaucrat.
</IMG>Bilbo, a six-year-old, 14st chocolate-brown Newfoundland, has been pacing the sands of Sennen Cove in west Cornwall for two years, ever alert to the dangers of the popular beach's pounding Atlantic breakers. Last August, he made headlines for trying to stop a swimmer from entering the water by blocking her path. When she went in anyway, he swam in front of her to protect her from dangerous currents. He is said to have rescued three people.
Having passed rigorous safety and fitness tests under the guidance of his owner, 53-year-old Steve Jamieson, who has been a lifeguard at the beach for 32 years, Bilbo became an official member of the Penwith district council lifeguards in 2006. He is trained to paddle out to distressed swimmers and pull them back to shore using a lifebuoy. Try to think of a Hasselhoff-St Bernard cross.
But this summer, the RNLI takes over the lifeguarding responsibilities for the beach - and the council has served notice that Bilbo will be liable to a £75 fine, just like any other dog, if he sets paws on the sand again.
Bilbo has previously sidestepped this ruling by travelling around the beach on his owner's quad bike, but the RNLI said this presented a "health and safety" risk. However, facing a hostile reaction during a phone-in on BBC Radio Cornwall this week - and perhaps sensing a PR blunder - a RNLI spokesperson tried to shift the blame on to the council. The council responded that the RNLI need only register him as a working dog to qualify for an exemption.
Janeta Hevizi, the co-author of Bilbo's "autobiography", says the RNLI, one of the country's largest charities, is being a "little too pedantic and short-sighted" by "sacking" Bilbo. She suspects that some within the RNLI's top brass do not like a dog getting more public adoration than its "100% human" lifeguards. "Bilbo is a health and safety asset, not a liability," says Hevizi. Meanwhile, Jamieson - in the wake of a meeting with his RNLI bosses yesterday - says that Bilbo is oblivious to the fuss. The RNLI has agreed to let Bilbo work on the neighbouring beach, where dogs are allowed, and to continue doing "meet and greets" with beachgoers at the lifeguard cabin at Sennen. It seems there's life in this old sea dog yet.
Leo Hickman on the Cornish lifeguard dog who has been banned from the beach | Lifeandstyle | Life and Health