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SPCA officers, with a bit of help, save dog from rushing central Fresno canal

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Chubbs the dog is alive thanks to the SPCA and a good-hearted young man.

But as the Duke of Wellington said after Waterloo, for Chubbs it was “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life.”

And it all happened Friday on the side of a busy street in Fresno.

Before I explain, let me add that the tale has a hero – a heroine, to be more precise. Her name is Danielle Hartman, an animal control officer with the Central California Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

For me, it all began early Friday afternoon. I decided to walk from my North Fresno home to City Hall. That’s about a two-hour walk, one way.

My usual route takes me along Blackstone Avenue. I was on the east side, almost to Olive Avenue. It is here that Blackstone turns into Abby Street (or, if you’re in a car heading north, it’s here that Abby, a one-way street, turns into the northbound side of Blackstone).

A McDonald’s restaurant and a Rite Aid drugstore sit on the piece of land that separates Abby and Blackstone. It’s also here, maybe 100 feet north of Olive, that an open irrigation canal flowing east to west crosses under the maze of streets and businesses in this area.

I was walking along, minding my own business. Up ahead I saw an SPCA truck parked along the curb next to the canal where it goes under Abby. I stopped at the short fence on the canal’s north side.

I saw two men on the south side of the canal holding a person, one man to a leg. The person was dangling head first down the concrete side of the canal. The person’s head was almost to the fast-moving water.

Needless to say, it was a shocking site.

A young woman was standing along the north fence as I came up.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“There’s a dog stuck on a ledge under the street,” she said. “They’re trying to get him out.”

Before we go any further, let’s get the names right.

The person dangling down the side of the canal was Danielle Hartman. Don Williams, an SPCA supervisor, had one of her legs. The good-hearted young man I mentioned at the beginning had the other leg; after all was said and done, he politely declined to give his name.

Chubbs could not be seen. He was stranded under the bridge (which is what Abby is at this point).

I’m guessing it was about 3:35 p.m. I would later learn that the SPCA arrived on scene at 3:26.

Hartman had a rope. Her plan was to loop the rope around Chubbs’ neck, then pull him off the ledge. The men would pull on the rope, too. Ideally, Chubbs would make a swift exit from the ledge and be hauled to safety, perhaps never touching the water.

But the plan had a lot of details, each of which had to be handled darn close to perfection. And the plan involved a lot of danger. Drop by and see that canal for yourself – the water really moves. I’ve got no idea what that canal looks like when it goes under Abby, the mini-shopping strip, Olive and Blackstone. I just know the water travels below ground level for about 300 feet before returning to the open air on the west side of Blackstone.

I think it’s appropriate to say the canal is potentially lethal to humans as well as dogs.

It appeared that Chubbs wasn’t too far under the bridge.

But don’t forget – Hartman was upside down. She had to keep the bottom half of her body – mainly her legs – positioned straight up toward the sky. She couldn’t kick or move her legs as she worked, natural as that might be; to do so could make it harder for the men to keep hold of her.

At the same time, Hartman had to make the upper half of her body do incredible things. For starters, she had to twist her body 90 degrees at the waist so she could get to Chubbs under the bridge. She had the rope in her hands. She had to get the loop around Chubbs’ head. She had to keep Chubbs as calm as possible. She had to communicate with her two colleagues.

I couldn’t see Chubbs from where I stood. But it was obvious from Hartman’s conversation with her colleagues and her amazing amount of physical effort that Chubbs wasn’t buying any of it.

Hartman was kind, encouraging and patient to Chubbs through it all.

At one point, Hartman had the rope around Chubbs’ neck. She signaled she was ready to have everyone pull. Then the rope slipped off Chubbs. The woman standing next to me moaned. She was probably thinking the same thing as me: I hope Chubbs doesn’t get pulled off the ledge, only to have him plunge helpless into the water when the rope slips away.

At another point, Hartman got the rope around Chubbs’ neck and everyone was in a better position to effectively pull. The pulling began. It was then that we heard the most heart-wrenching cries from Chubbs. The cries no doubt would have been loud in the open air. Reverberating off the canal’s underground walls, they pierced the heart.

I don’t know how Hartman did all this, minute after minute, with the blood rushing to her head.

I got involved at the last minute. Hartman and SPCA colleague Williams decided there was no use trying to pull Chubbs toward them. There were simply too many physical obstacles in the way. Yanking Chubbs over them was too risky. The SPCA duo decided the rope around Chubbs’ neck would be more effective if it was handled from the center of the bridge. With Hartman’s help, Chubbs would be pulled toward the center of the canal. The loop would tighten around his neck, he’d take a quick dip in the water, then be pulled to safety.

I hustled to the other side of the canal and grabbed one of Hartman’s legs at the ankle. Things happened fast and exactly as planned. I can’t remember who had been holding Hartman’s other leg. I just know the other guy and I helped Hartman regain her feet. We all rushed to say hi to Chubbs.

By this time a third SPCA employee was on scene. He declined to give his name, saying Hartman and Williams deserved all the credit.

Chubbs had a name tag with telephone number around his neck. The late-arriving SPCA official said a call had already been made to Chubbs’ owner, but there was no answer.

What’s the backstory? I got bits and pieces from various bystanders and participants in the rescue.

Chubbs might have been on that ledge for about four days. A howling would come from under the bridge whenever a siren went off nearby. Authorities of some nature might have been contacted about Chubbs’ plight, but without success. Hartman speculated that Chubbs might have been running along the side of the canal only to slip into the water. She said there was a pile of snagged refuse under the bridge. She said Chubbs might have latched onto the refuse, then pulled himself to safety.

It was there that Chubbs faced his dilemma: Drown in the water, starve to death or hope someone came to the rescue.

Hartman said Chubbs would get a good meal and a warm bed.

I conclude with two thoughts.

No. 1. When the drama was nearing its end and it was decided to work the rope from the bridge, I yelled across the canal: “Do you men need help?”

I used their gender on purpose. The two men were the only ones for whom help was an option.

Help, other than holding her legs, was not an option for the woman. She alone was at the decisive point of action. It is Chubbs’ great fortune that Danielle Hartman chose to be an animal control officer in the city of Fresno.

No. 2. Everyone was chattering away on the Abby Street bridge as I resumed my walk to City Hall. The last words I heard came from Hartman.

“I love my job.”

George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

2 Comments

  1. Thank u for your help! Also thank u for the wonderful words…and yes I do love my job! It’s a great feeling to help the animals!

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