SOUTH VALLEY--Bob Evans and I have been riding bikes together ever since we retired on the same day from Monte Vista Elementary School. Yesterday was our normal Monday morning bike ride. Bob and I were on our way back north on the south loop of the bosque trail. We had just passed the Solid Waste Treatment Plant and started making our way though the stretch of bumps and raised cracks in the bike path between the Plant and the foot bridge north of there. Suddenly Bob stopped and stood still.
"Did you hear something?" he asked. A dog cried and whimpered somewhere along the ditch bank. I saw a dog, a black labrador, lying in the dirt to the east of the bike path. He was wet, and looked hurt or worried. Eventually however, he got up and wandered off toward the bushes near the sewage plant.
Cries, Whimpers, Yelps
We heard a dog whimpering again…louder. It was not that black lab. It seemed to come from the ditch somewhere very close to us. We put our bikes down and went in opposite directions on the ditch bank. We heard it again: cries, whimpers, yelps. But we couldn't see anything in the thick grass and brush that covered the steep ditch bank. Then it got silent. We heard nothing at all. We saw no riffles in the water--no movement anywhere.
So we sat down where we were. Twenty minutes went by. Finally I suggested to Bob that he ride over to the other side of the ditch and looked from over there. Meanwhile I would stay where I was and keep an eye on things as well as mark the spot where we thought the sound was coming from.
Nothing but the Memory
Bob, who has a heart as big as the kindergarten teacher he used to be, agreed and took off up to the foot bridge and back on the other side of the ditch. He got opposite from where I was and looked around. He walked up and down searching for anything that moved or looked out of place. Nothing. No sound. No movement. Nothing but the memory of those yelps.
Finally I decided to go over to the opposite side as well and made the trip up the bike path and down the sandy road on the levee. I could see him looking intently across the ditch, and I asked him if he saw anything.
"Shhhhh," he said. "I think I just saw something this very second." I looked at the weeds hanging over the water near a small elm tree that marked the spot where we thought we had heard something. We both stared at the weeds. By god, there was something. It looked like a gray stick…or a leg.
"It is a dog, Bob! I can see it." Some kind of a gray dog was trapped beneath a dirt overhang. He was almost totally hidden by the long blades of grass bending down to the water. It was right where we had thought it was. And this was why that other dog, the black lab, was hanging around looking worried. Apparently they had both been in the water. One got out; the other couldn't…and somehow the gray dog found a small bit of shelter under the overhanging bank. It was enough to save his life, but there was no getting out of there to safety. And at this point the dog was exhausted and scared.
In the Water?
We stood there and debated what to do next. The dog looked to be in an inaccessible spot. Nobody else would ever find it, and the fate of that dog was certain death unless some kind of rescue was immanent.
"How about calling 3-1-1 and get Animal Control out here," I suggested.
"It's not a priority call and might take forever. And they would never find this spot on their own. Besides this is in the county, not the city."
"So you're thinking of going in the water?"
I Just Grimaced
I nodded, but I could see neither one of us liked that idea. "Well, go in downstream then," I said. "Hang onto that elm and try to scoop him up." This just didn't sound too good. Standing upright in a slippery ditch with the water moving at about 4 mph is not easy. And holding onto a wet squirming dog isn't easy either. I just grimaced and shook my head as Bob rode his bike back across the ditch and approached the site. I just hoped that Bob would find another solution once he got to the other side…something that didn't involved going into that ditch.
It turned out this was not Bob's biggest worry. He was worried that the frightened dog would bite him and then run off. "I just didn't want to think about getting all those rabies shots," he later told me.
When Bob got to where the dog was he decided that rather than entering the water he would try getting close to it from above. I didn't blame him, but tumbling head over heels into the ditch did seem likely. That grass was slick. The overhang could crumble. There was not much to hang on to. I regarded his chances of going into the ditch headfirst at about 50/50. Bob crouched down and edged closer and closer to the water. The dog seemed to be standing still.
"He's wearing a collar," Bob called out. "I'll try to grab him by the collar."
Shaking Like a Leaf
Bob somehow found a way to plant one of his feet in the water next to the dog. He slowly bent down and put out his hand. The dog did not sniff it, but didn't move either. It was shaking like a leaf. Slowly Bob put his fingers through the collar, grabbed it, and with one swooping motion picked up the dog and swung it onto the bank.
I couldn't see the dog hit the ground. I did see it limp off and run just as fast as it could. Bob said that after a little bit he saw both dogs together near the sewage treatment plant. We surmised they might have been mascots of the plant since there were no houses nearby.
In any case, that was one lucky dog. And Bob Evans? It had taken half an hour for us to locate that dog after those few cries and yelps. Half an hour of searching without any clues or even a sound. Thank you Bob Evans. From all of us who love our ditch bank heroes.