A morning jog turned grim when a Scottsdale resident found himself struggling to keep both him and his dog above water, after a series of events landed them both in a canal.
Just after 8 a.m. on May 18, the efforts of golfers Tyler Moore and Danny Ortega saved the lives of 19-year Scottsdale resident Jim Palecek and his six-month-old Australian Shepard, Duke. During a routine jog and game of fetch along the pathway between a canal and Silverado Golf Club, 7605 E. Indian Bend Road, Duke chased a runaway ball into the canal.
“He drops the ball out of his mouth and it bounced into the water,” said Mr. Palecek during a May 24 interview. “Duke went into the water, and I went after Duke.”
Although knowing better, Mr. Palecek acted as any loving pet-parent would have, and tried to rescue the dog who had already exerted a lot of energy during the run.
“The lesson for me is to never have your leash off of your dog near the canal,” said Mr. Palecek.
Mr. Palecek said he thought about swimming with Duke down the canal but wasn’t sure how long he or the dog would be able to keep themselves above water.
The canal’s steep slope is slippery and flat along most parts. Mr. Palecek attempted to hold onto the concrete of the canal with his right hand, while holding Duke by his harness in his left hand. He ended up bloodying his hand and tearing the skin on his fingers, damaging his nerve pads.
From the water, Mr. Palecek could see a woman nearby walking her dog. He started yelling to her to call 9-1-1 for help.
It was Mr. Palecek’s screams for help that alerted Mr. Moore and Mr. Ortega, who were on the golf course.
“Somebody was tapping me on the shoulder, because something didn’t seem right while playing golf that morning,” said Mr. Ortega during a May 24 interview.
“We were shocked to see Jim and his dog in the water. I was staring at a face that was … he was going down.”
Thanks to some quick thinking, the two men grabbed a golf club and extended it out to Mr. Palecek to hold onto. By holding onto the golf club, they were able to get Duke out of the water. Mr. Palecek calmed down immensely once his companion was saved, said Mr. Ortega.
“It (the canal) was trying to drag him,” said Mr. Moore during a May 24 interview. “It was a strain on me to lay flat against the embankment and use all of my weight to kind of counter balance, to make sure he didn’t go back in.”
The men could hear the Scottsdale Fire Department nearing, and kept Mr. Palecek secure until professionals arrived.
On May 24, Mr. Moore and Mr. Ortega were honored with plaques by the Scottsdale Fire Department for their heroic efforts that day.
“There was nothing heroic about it, just helping your fellow man,” said Mr. Ortega. “We did something anybody would have done.”
Had help not been nearby, Mr. Palecek was convinced he and Duke would have drowned that morning.
“They saved us. Saved our lives,” said Mr. Palecek.
The banks for canals can be very dangerous and are built and maintained for the primary purpose of transmission and distribution of water. The Salt River Project works to educate residents around the Valley about the importance of knowing how dangerous canals are.
“We have a safety connection department at SRP, where we go out into the schools and the community and talk about water safety,” said SRP Spokesperson Patty Garcia-Likens on May 24. “One of the things that we tell people — just again and again, we can not stress it enough — is to never go into the canals.”
The canals have a yellow painted arrow every 300 feet, which indicate stairs on the embankment. Educating the community on how to get out of a canal is critical, she said.
“I know he was in panic mode, and probably didn’t realize it, but maybe had he known it before,” said Ms. Garcia-Linkens.
Other tips for being safe around canals include never swimming in one, never jumping into rescue pets or objects and keep a safe distances from the edges. In addition, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing and tubing are never allowed in the canals, according to SRP’s website.
“The rescuers did absolutely the right thing,” said Ms. Garcia-Linkens. “They did not get in, they gave him something to hold onto and they called 9-1-1.”