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Doggone good deed by police
Ripon officers save 2 dogs from sure death in canal
Ripon Officer Mindy Morris places a snare over the head of Willow, a 2-year-old St. Bernard that fell into an irrigation canal sometime Thursday night or Friday morning with another dog; both frantically treading water. Willow is seen with locked front legs around a support beam. - photo by Photo courtesy Ripon Police Department

It was a dramatic lesson in the dangers of the fast moving irrigation canals that highlighted the threat to children and their pets as officers responded to a near drowning of two dogs Friday shortly before 8 a.m.

Two Ripon farm dogs were treading water in a fast moving irrigation canal until two officers arrived to pull them out to safety – one at a time.

Patrol officers Mario Ysit and Mindy Morris were dispatched to the canal just north of Vermeulen Park at the north end of Manley Road after public works staffer James Morad called dispatch supervisor Celeste Wilson and told of the dogs frantically treading water. 

 Police found a St. Bernard and its companion German shepherd fighting to stay above the surface and within 10 feet of being forced beneath a canal gate that would have submerged them under the water that was moving at 125 cubic feet per second.

Ysit said they had first intended to call for firefighters to handle the rescue, but he quickly realized they didn’t have time to waste. They took snare poles from their patrol units and attempted what ultimately became a successful rescue.

Morris said the German shepherd was continually attempting to climb up the angled concrete side of the ditch before falling back into the water and trying to swim against the current and then attempting to climb out again.  She said the dog had worn down the nails on its feet from the coarse walls.

Ysit reported that the St. Bernard had stayed afloat by wrapping its front legs around a steel support attached to the irrigation gate that crossed the ditch.  He added that they both worked with the shepherd first since it appeared to be in a more desperate state with the frightened animal snapping at officers as they attempted to pull it up onto the bank. 

“Once we got it out, it was very friendly,” the Ysit said.

Officers said saving the St. Bernard was a greater challenge, since it had locked itself behind the gate support and had its thick fur soaked through, adding to its weight.  Ysit got himself onto the gate with Morris on the bank and together leveraged the dog up to a point between them where they could pull it up to ground level.

Once both dogs were out of the water and on solid ground they stood with the officers at their sides.  The St. Bernard sat gazing at Officer Ysit with one paw held high in the air as if to say thank you for saving his life.

“I felt really bad for the dogs; I have dogs of my own,” Morris said.  “There was no way I was going to let either one of those dogs drown. It took us 30 to 40 seconds to get the shepherd out – with it digging, digging, trying to grab on with its claws into the ditch wall and then sliding back into the water.”

First Sgt. Steve Merchant, who arrived at the scene with Detective Sgt. Terri Jensen, said he felt Officer Morris was thinking about jumping into the water to get behind the one dog.  Asking her later if going into the ditch was in her mind when they thought they might lose the Shephard, she confirmed that, yes, she was ready to go the extra mile.

Sgt. Merchant said his observation was that the German shepherd was starting to go under and the St. Bernard was fading when he first saw them from the bank.

Animal Control Officer Liz Fork arrived on the scene and offered the dogs two bags of treats once they were safe – they ate both bags, she said, adding they wouldn’t touch the dog food she offered them.  Fork said she had been out on patrol looking for the dogs on Thursday after they apparently went through a fence at their home in the 1000 block of River Road to the north of the irrigation ditch.

Fork said the owners had found their collie that had gone missing at the same time as the other two, but couldn’t locate the St. Bernard and the German shepherd.  Both dogs were turned over to their owners after the rescue was completed about 9 a.m.

SSJID Assistant Water Supervisor Nick Fereira also responded to the scene Friday morning.