A farmworker rescued two dogs that fell into an irrigation canal by using a lasso.

Share story

MOXEE, Yakima County — Noya Deats’ routine walk along the Roza Canal turned disastrous Wednesday when her two dogs, Fawn and Nia, decided to take a swim.

Despite signs warning folks to stay out of the canal, she said, she’s let her dogs off their leashes before without any problems.

But once in the water, neither dog could get out because of the swift current. Unsure what to do, Deats ran alongside the canal to keep up with them while she called her husband, Matt, and the police.

Noya had run about two miles when Matt, who works for Comprehensive Mental Health in Yakima, arrived.

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

“I was almost throwing up at that time,” she said. “I was running and talking on the phone at that time.”

Matt climbed down a canal ladder, his body half submerged in the water, and reached out to grab one of the dogs. He barely touched her collar as she passed by.

Meanwhile, a Yakima County Sheriff’s deputy attempted to lasso the dogs with a rope. Although Fawn, a Labrador mix, seemed to be keeping her head above water, Nia, an Australian shepherd mix, was struggling, Matt 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.”

Then, about three miles from where the dogs had entered the canal — behind Roy Farms off Walters Road — a good Samaritan came to the rescue.

Jesus Villanueva, who speaks only Spanish, said he 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.

Nevertheless, it took him just one lasso each to capture the dogs.

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, said Roza Irrigation District assistant manager Tim Collett. 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.”

It’s a warning that the couple now vows to heed.

“We’re so happy (Villanueva) came along,” Matt said. “One of our dogs looked like she wasn’t going to make it — then he pulled her out.”

For Villanueva, helping was his reward.

“I felt happy, especially when I saw the woman who looked hot after running from far away,” he said.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.