Jim Palecek and his dog, Duke, enjoy running together. And sometimes combine ball-throwing with the activity, since the mind and body of a six-month-old Australian shepherd both enjoy a workout. But when the ball Palecek had been tossing ended up in a Scottsdale canal, Duke just did what was natural and jumped in after it.
“Duke went into the water, and I went after Duke,” Palecek, 50, told the Arizona Republic.
It was something many people would do for their beloved animal, but ultimately unwise. Once Palecek got hold of Duke’s harness, he realized with panic that he couldn’t scale the walls of the canal.
“I thought we were going to drown — I was that scared,” Palecek said. “And I can swim.”
Meanwhile, Danny Ortega and Tyler Moore were on the 14th green at nearby Silverado Golf Club when they heard something down by the canal and went to check it out.
“We were shocked to see Jim and his dog in the water,” Ortega said, “and I was staring at a face that was … he was going down.”
Ortega was able to pull Duke up out of the water while Tyler used a golf club and, later, the pin from the putting green, to help hang onto Palecek until the Scottsdale Fire Department responded. On Tuesday, Scottsdale’s “bravest” recognized the pair for their rescue efforts.
“There was nothing heroic about it, just helping your fellow man,” said a humble Ortega. “The true heroes of our community are these firemen and policemen that protect us every day.”
The pair set aside their initial plan to pull Palecek out once they saw firefighters coming and instead helped keep him calm.
“I could definitely tell the water was moving … when I was holding onto the golf club and him, it was trying to drag him,” Moore said. “So it was definitely a strain on me to lay flat against the embankment and use all my weight to counterbalance and make sure he didn’t go back in.”
Palecek, whose fingertips were scraped raw by his efforts to scramble up the canal wall, was grateful.
“I have to thank them from the bottom of my heart because they saved us. They saved our lives.”