MOXEE, Wash. (AP) — A farmworker who says he learned how to lasso 30 years ago while working on a cattle ranch in Mexico still knows his ropes.
Jesus Villanueva was working Wednesday when he heard a disturbance along the Roza irrigation canal. A woman and her husband were trying to save their two dogs being swept away in the current. The dogs couldn't climb up the steep concrete sides of the canal.
A Yakima sheriff's deputy had a rope but was having no luck. It took Villanueva just one lasso for each dog to bring them ashore.
Noya Deats had run nearly three miles along the canal, trying to save her dogs while calling her husband and the sheriff's office for help, The Yakima Herald-Republic reported (http://bit.ly/qeSqju ).
Despite signs warning folks to stay out of the canal, Deats said she has let her dogs, Fawn and Nia, off their leash before without any problems. But when they decided to take a swim they were swept away.
Deats had run about two miles when her husband Matt arrived.
"I was almost throwing up at that time," she said. "I was running and talking on the phone at that time."
Matt Deats climbed down a canal ladder, his body half submerged in the water, and reached out to grab one of the dogs. He barely touched a collar as it passed by.
Fawn, a Labrador mix, seemed to be keeping her head above water. Nia, an Australian shepherd mix, was struggling, Matt Deats said.
"I was trying to figure out a safe way to try and jump in and grab them myself," he said. "You feel hopeless — you don't know what to do, how to handle it."
Villanueva was putting agricultural chemicals into a bin when he heard a noise and saw a deputy. He thought he heard someone say two cars were in the canal.
"I thought, two cars?" the 54-year-old farm laborer said through an interpreter.
He took a closer look after seeing a woman running frantically, and learned that her two dogs were in the water. After watching the deputy struggle to rope the dogs, he took the lasso and said: "Let me see."
Seconds later, he lassoed each dog in rapid succession, pulling them to safety.
"I was amazed," Noya Deats said. "He just kind of came out of nowhere. It was amazing how fast he lassoed them."
Villanueva was equally amazed. He said he learned to lasso in Jalisco, Mexico, where he worked on a cattle ranch, but it had been 30 years since he had roped anything.
The dogs are lucky Villanueva came along, because it's nearly impossible to make it out of the concrete-lined canal this time of year, Roza Irrigation District assistant manager Tim Collett said. There's nothing to grab onto and the sides are slippery.
"Follow the signs, that's what they're there for," he said. "Canals are very dangerous, especially if they are concrete lined like those up there. They're very swift, and if critters or animals get in them, they can't get out."