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Duluth News Tribune , Published April 09 2012

Woman follows dog after it jumps into Duluth ship canal

DULUTH, Minn. - DeeDee Elleson cautions people not to do what she did Monday morning.

Elleson went over the top of the wall on the Duluth ship canal and climbed down a ladder to the water to help the family dog, which had jumped into the canal.

The adrenaline had kicked in, she said, and only as she clung to the ladder did she realize how stupid she had been.

“If I had fallen in, it could have been bad,” she said after rescue workers helped her and her dog to safety. “The water must be ice-cold.”

The morning started like many when Elleson’s sons, Bren, 9; and Nash, 4, aren’t in school. The three drove to Canal Park with Ella, a 1-year-old Lab-collie mix for a walk. Things went well until Ella saw a gull.

“She saw the bird and went crazy,” Elleson said. “She just charged. She’ll just lose her brain sometimes.”

Bren, who had Ella on a leash, was unable to hold on, and Ella went over the pier wall and into the canal.

Elleson handed her cell phone to Bren and told him to call 911, then climbed over the wall and down the ladder to help Ella, who was swimming around the canal. She reached Ella, but was unable to climb to safety with her.

“We found her on the ladder with the lower portion of her pants wet,” acting Assistant Duluth Fire Chief Jarry Keppers said. “She had climbed down the ladder to the water and somehow grabbed ahold of the dog and got the dog partway up the ladder. But her hands were too cold to continue up the ladder. So she was holding the rung with the inside of her elbow. She was worried about falling.”

A firefighter dressed in a cold-water survival suit climbed down, put a rescue sling on Elleson and, with the help of coworkers, got her and Ella to the top of the ladder.

“I would advise people to use caution around cold water,” Keppers said, mentioning Friday’s accident on northwestern Minnesota’s Clearwater Lake, where brothers Zech, 6, and Jacob Risleand, 2, died of hypothermia after the sailboat they were aboard capsized. Their brother Isaiah, 8, was listed in critical condition Monday.

“Hypothermia can set in so easily in cold water,” Keppers said. “It’s still very cold out, and it’s always cold on the big lake.”

Elleson thanks the emergency workers and a passerby who did what he could to help and to keep her calm until police and firefighters arrived. Other than a wet dog, wet pants legs, cold feet and the realization that Elleson had done something she shouldn’t have, everyone escaped the incident uninjured.

When someone told Elleson that she must really like Ella, she said she’s actually a cat person.

“Ten years of marriage and I caved and agreed to get a dog,” she said.