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Farmhand recalls former cowboy skills, lassoes 2 dogs to safety from canal

Jesus Villanueva (right) rescued two dogs, Nia and Fawn, owned by Noya (left) and Matt Deats . Jesus Villanueva (right) rescued two dogs, Nia and Fawn, owned by Noya (left) and Matt Deats . (Andy Sawyer/Yakima Herald-Republic via Associated Press)
Associated Press / September 3, 2011

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MOXEE, Wash. - A farmworker who says he learned how to lasso 30 years ago while working on a cattle ranch in Mexico still knows his ropes.

Jesus Villanueva was working Wednesday when he heard a disturbance along the Roza irrigation canal.

A woman and her husband were trying to save their two dogs being swept away in the current. The dogs could not climb up the steep concrete sides of the canal.

A Yakima sheriff’s deputy had a rope but was having no luck. It took Villanueva just one lasso for each dog to bring them ashore.

Noya Deats had run nearly 3 miles along the canal, trying to save her dogs while calling her husband and the sheriff’s office for help, The Yakima Herald-Republic reported.

Despite signs warning people to stay out of the canal, Deats said she had let her dogs, Fawn and Nia, off their leash before without any problems. But when they decided to take a swim they were swept away.

Deats had run about 2 miles when her husband Matt arrived.

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

Fawn, a Labrador mix, seemed to be keeping her head above water. Nia, an Australian shepherd mix, was struggling, Matt Deats 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.’’

Villanueva 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.

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.

“He just kind of came out of nowhere. It was amazing how fast he lassoed them,’’ Noya Deats said.

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.

It is nearly impossible to make it out of the concrete-lined canal this time of year, said Roza Irrigation District assistant manager Tim Collett. There is nothing to grab onto and the sides are slippery.

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