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SRP worker saves dogs stuck in Laveen canal

Dog-gone hero
"The white dog wasn't gonna leave until his buddy was OK."
"The white dog wasn't gonna leave until his buddy was OK."(SRP)
Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 2:44 PM MST
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LAVEEN, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) – An SRP zanjero is being called “zanhero” and “dog whisperer” after he rescued two Labradors who were stuck in the canal near 27th Avenue and Elliott Road on Thursday afternoon. “When someone or something needs help, you help,” Ruben Cecena said.

Cecena is one of nearly 100 zanjeros, which is Spanish for “ditch rider.” He’s part of SRP’s water delivery team, which looks after the Valley’s water supply and controls water flow throughout SRP’s 131 miles of canals and into our homes. Part of a zanjero’s job is clearing debris from grates so water can flow through them smoothly. That’s what Cecena, 62, was doing when he discovered the dogs. He could see they were having a rough time as the water rushed around them.

According to SRP, Cecena used his gancho, which is a tool to pull trash and debris out of the canal, to hook the collar of one of the dogs and haul it to safety. The dog wasn’t small. It weighed about 70 pounds. Cecena tried to snag the second dog’s collar, but it slipped over his head.

With the first dog standing by waiting for its pal, Cecena quickly came up with another plan, SRP said. He laid boards from his zanjero truck across the grate to create a makeshift ramp, hoping the dog would climb out. But the Lab was exhausted from struggling in the water and needed a little more help, so Cecena used his gancho to give him a push.

Once the second dog was safely on dry land, both Labs took off, heading for a nearby farm field.

Ruben Cecena, who has been with SRP for 41 years, used his gancho to hook one dog's collar and...
Ruben Cecena, who has been with SRP for 41 years, used his gancho to hook one dog's collar and give the other a push.(SRP)

“The dogs were devoted to each other,” Cecena said. “The white dog wasn’t gonna leave until his buddy was OK. It felt good to help them. Every life is important.” Cecena, who has been with SRP for 41 years, said he believed the dogs lived in the area.

It’s not uncommon for zanjeros to come across animals in the course of their days. SRP is reminding pet parents to keep an extra close eye on their pets around canals and irrigation facilities. The utility put out a list of safety tips for everyone who walks, jogs, or bikes along the Valley’s canals.

Be safe around Phoenix-area canals

  • Do not swim in canals.
  • Keep a safe distance from the edges.
  • Canal sides are extremely slick, making it difficult to get out.
  • Swimming, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing and tubing are not allowed.
  • Make sure to teach children about canal safety.
  • Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the canal banks (authorization from SRP is required).
  • Stay away from automated equipment at water delivery gates.
  • Never jump in to rescue pets or objects such as toys. Call 911 for help.
  • Secure permission from SRP before using canal banks for any kind of event. Call 602-236-3126 for permit information.
"It felt good to help them," Cecena said. "Every life is important."
"It felt good to help them," Cecena said. "Every life is important."(SRP)