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Bailey, the Wonder Dog, and the Merpeople

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Bailey, the Wonder Dog, and the Merpeople – it sounds like the title of a fairy tale, but Bailey is real and so are the Merpeople. 

As legends have it, Merpeople are a species of sentient magical beasts that are half-human and half-fish and live underwater. Females are referred to as mermaids, while males are called mermen. 

Of course, it makes sense then that Merdogs are half-mermaid, half-dog. 

According to folklore, Merpeople and Merdogs are found all over the world, and coincidentally, on Mondays, both can be seen swimming right here in Laguna waters. 

Organized by triathlete Katherine Horvath, the Merpeople – an open water swim group that swims various Orange County beaches every day – are magic. 

And so is Bailey, a one-and-a-half-year-old Shepherd Lab mix, who swims with them on Mondays alongside her owner, Lori Hoolihan. 

Bailey the Lori and Bailey

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Lori and Bailey

“Each Monday Lori joins us for the mile-and-a-half long swim with her puppy Bailey,” says Katherine. “Bailey expertly manages the surf and the waves and keeps up with the fastest swimmers in the group, many whom are Ironman triathletes and nationally ranked swimmers! We always have fun and Mondays are extra special with Bailey the Wonder Dog joining!”

Lori rescued Bailey from German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County (GSROC), a nonprofit 501(c)(3) charity organization – when Bailey was a puppy (well technically, she still is a puppy). 

Strangely, Lori and Bailey found the Merpeople because of COVID-19.

Lori, a professor at Saddleback College and a triathlete – who loves to run, bike, and swim – didn’t know where she was going to swim when the pandemic hit.

Bailey and Merpeople

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(L-R) Bailey with Merpeople Ray Meltvedt and Chris Wilson, getting ready to head out for a swim!

“I met Katherine through Chris Wilson, another teammate. He knew I was going bonkers with all the pools being closed and suggested I reach out to her. She was forming this new group ‘Merpeople’ in March,” says Lori. “The timing was perfect.

“I just started swimming with Bailey about three months ago. She’s always loved the water and one day I jumped in and she followed me. Every time after that we swam farther and farther. We started slow and then built it up to one-and-a-half miles. We’ve been swimming with the Merpeople about two months now. 

“I got her a vest – so I could see her better in the water. And now she knows when I get the vest out that we’re going swimming, and she gets excited.” 

Bailey the cap

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Official Merpeople swimming caps

Chris praises Bailey’s skills, “Besides being a great swimmer, Bailey has hiked with the Merpeople to the top of Mt. Sifton, and she plays fetch like a pro.”

Dog owners know that it’s not easy tiring out a puppy, but after swimming, Lori thankfully says, “Bailey sleeps on the sofa while I conduct my Zoom classes. We’re always running or swimming or hiking. It just depends on the day. The swimming is good exercise for her and helps avoid problems like dysplasia.” 

Lori is currently the Chair of the Nutrition Department as well as the Family and Consumer Sciences Department at Saddleback. She has three daughters and lives in Laguna Niguel.

Bailey the swimming out

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Swimming out 

“The Merpeople group is truly a unique group,” says Lori. “Katherine is adept at making everyone (including dogs) feel included and makes every adventure a positive experience. The energy we get with and from each other continues throughout the rest of the day!”

Katherine’s fiancé Ray (Meltvedt), who she met during an open water swim before Merpeople was formed, says, “There’s no more beautiful coastline then Laguna Beach. And there is no better place to explore and experience it than from above and below the clean, clear water of its many unique coves.” 

Bailey the catching wave

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Catching a wave at the end of the swim

“We have so much fun with the group – we love mixing it up – swimming out of different beaches and doing adventure swims, yoga, group hikes, beach runs, sunset picnics, and more,” says Katherine. “The camaraderie is wonderful –people come to swim, enjoy nature, and a healthy social place. It is a safe place for everyone where all are accepted and included. We love having Lori and her puppy Bailey – each Monday is ‘Swim with Bailey’ and we go out as a group and enjoy swimming together. This connection with nature is both uplifting and grounding and starts the day off in a wonderful way! I feel so blessed to have met all of the Merpeople –  it is typically my favorite part of every day.”

So, for anyone who doesn’t believe in folklore, Merpeople and Merdogs do exist, I have seen them. 

For a video of Bailey swimming photographed by Steve Sponagle, click here.

For those interested in joining the Merpeople, email Katherine Horvath at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..