FORT MYERS BEACH, Fla. -- It wasn’t the first time Cash the dog had run off in search of birds. But it could have been the last, if not for the heroic efforts of the United States Coast Guard.

Cash, whose full name is Cash Register, belongs to Keith and Maria Johanneson of Bemidji, who spend winters in Florida. The 13-year-old Red Setter is a professionally trained bird hunter. He has escaped his owners’ fenced-in yard a half a dozen times. Last Thursday, Keith figures that Cash climbed onto a sofa in the swimming enclosure, jumped over the fence and headed about a mile down the beach to a park.

“He has a nose for birds,” Keith said. “We use him out at our hunting lodge (north of Bemidji). Unfortunately down here in Florida he decided he was going to chase birds, so this was about the fifth or sixth time he’s gotten out and we’ve had to go rescue him. He’s kind of like the Houdini of dogs.”

They needed help with the rescue this time. Keith believes Cash chased a bird from the beach into the Gulf of Mexico, and the tides were going out, sweeping the old dog away from shore.

A boater saw the dog and alerted the Coast Guard, which dispatched a boat to the area. According to an ABC-TV news report, Cash had been swimming for about 30 minutes when the Coast Guard boat found him. Two crew members were able to lure Cash to the side of boat and pull him on board to safety. The ABC video shows Cash licking the face of one of his rescuers, then shaking off water and looking quite relieved.

“You’re the best person I’ve ever rescued,” one of the Guardsmen could be heard saying to Cash.

The Guardsmen called Bemidji Veterinary Clinic, whose number was on Cash’s tag, and the clinic in turn called the Johanneson’s to let them know their dog was safe.

“If they hadn't rescued him we would not have a dog today, so we're very grateful,” Keith Johanneson said in the television report. He told the Pioneer, “If they hadn’t been there, he probably would have been swept out into the Gulf of Mexico and that would have been the end of him.”

Keith is president of Johanneson’s, Inc., based on Bemidji. Maria is director and operator of the Bear’s Lair Lodge & Game Farm in the Puposky area.

Since the ABC story was broadcast, the couple has received messages from friends and family around the country.

Meanwhile, the Johanneson's plan to install an electric fence around their property, while Cash sleeps off his latest encounter with birds and water.