How A Reporter Helped Rescue 3 Waterlogged Weimaraners At A Surprise Farm
A day in a reporter’s life can be surprising, monotonous, stressful or head-poundingly frustrating. It can also be rewarding, enlightening, educational or heart-touching. And, sometimes, a reporting trip can even turn into a rescue mission.
Whenever I go out to do a story, I typically follow a very straight, predictable path. I call my source, meet my source, I report and go back to write.
This week, that all changed with a chance encounter. I had to step in and break out of my typical bystander mode to work with my source, rescue some animals all while keeping the (digital) tape rolling.
My day began with a planned tour at Justice Brothers U-Pick Farm in Surprise.
I met Selwyn Justice there, about 15 minutes late, and he welcomed me to his farm.
Hundreds of orange and grapefruit trees flanked one side of a small, dusty office and garage.
Rather than talk inside the stark interior, I asked Selwyn to take me on a walking tour, since it was too echoey for my audio quality.
We started off down rows of what looked like more citrus, down the path to a water retention basin to talk farm.
He told me how the farm began, who managed it and why there are so many kinds of citrus here.
The retention basin we were headed to is a unique farm feature. The University of Arizona used that reservoir to carefully and methodically water the orchard to study the citrus trees and how they grow in the climate.
UA decommissioned the site about 10 years ago when the economy took a dive.
But before I could learn more, some distant barks stopped Selwyn and me in our tracks.
“There’s some strange dogs,” he said, trailing off and listening.
“Where?” I asked.
“In that basin."
We clambered up the dirt mound to see three grown Weimaraners huddled together at the bottom of the basin. They had found a patch of dry land to stay on.
The reservoir was lined with black tarp, with steep, sloping sides 12 feet down, and was filled with dirty brown rainwater that reaches up to your ankles. In fact, you couldn’t get out of it alone without a ladder.
“How’d you get down there?” Selwyn asked the dogs.
Later, Selwyn told me one of his employees saw one of the dogs running from a swarm of bees two days ago.
He had no tag, so they couldn't find the owner. We hypothesized that one of the tagless dogs ran away from the bees, into the basin and the other two followed suit. Normally, there wouldn’t even be water in it this time of year, but this time all the rain from the tropical storm residue built up.
Then, Selwyn left me comforting the big gray pups, with their ribs sticking out. They were desperate for help as they slipped and fell on the tarp as they tried to get closer to me.
He came back with chest-high waders on and a long thick tow rope.
"I didn't mean to put you to work today," he said, laughing.
We headed back up the embankment, and Selwyn slid down the tarp into the lagoon, calling the dogs over.
I set my recorder down in the dirt and threw the rope to Selwyn.
Selwyn carefully showed the rope to the dogs and introduced himself, letting them sniff it before looping the rope around their skinny torsos.
The dogs, though scared, didn’t bite.
Now, it was my turn.
“What do you need me to do?” I shouted down.
After three failed attempts at throwing the rope and me catching it, Selwyn had to pull himself up the side of the basin with a plastic pipe fitting, that was never really meant to hold an adult climbing up it.
"I hope that fitting doesn't break," he said, easing himself up the slope.
I crouched down, stretched my arm as far as it would go without toppling over down the slippery tarp and tried to grab the tow rope's end. It was a precarious balancing act that rested on the strength of one thin, metal band holding the pipe in place. Finally, after slipping through my fingers, I grasped the dirty, wet rope and heaved.
I pulled up the rope, hand over hand, and the 70-pound dog braced herself climbing up the ledge. Up she came, and I could finally read the tag: "Leisel."
We did that twice more, and the pipe fitting held and the dogs were safe.
Relief flooded through all of us and the dogs took off, following us at a distance back to the office.
We get back and the dogs are nowhere to be found.
Unsure, we waited around. About 10 minutes later, as if they’ve all decided they can’t figure out how to get home on their own, they came back and we rounded them up, put them in the garage and gave them water.
Selwyn checked their tags gingerly.
“I just want to get your digits,” he said, before calling and reaching a woman who said the three dogs escaped two days before. The downpour scared them and they got loose, traveling several miles before they reached Selwyn's farm.
The family pulled up and the dogs were so happy to see them again.
And of course, so were the humans, Shauna White and her husband, who told us the dogs names: Leisel, Rudy and Salvatore.
“There is a little 10-year-old girl who is going to be so happy to see them, she bawled all day Saturday and Sunday,” White said. "Thank you."
It feels lucky that I was there with Selwyn, to tour his unused reservoir, especially one he said he doesn’t often check. He said when he does, he often finds dead rabbits who got stuck in it. And, it feels lucky the dogs were barking to get our attention.
For me, now it's back to my regularly scheduled broadcast programming. But, if I have to put my digital tape recorder down to help, I will. And now I know I have the wherewithal to do it — and keep rolling, too.