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Jana Hollingsworth, Published June 20 2012

Rescuers save three-legged dog from Duluth floodwaters

DULUTH, Minn. - Molly O’Neill, her three-legged pup, Gabriel, and her kids were among the hundreds of Duluthians checking out the aftermath of massive flooding throughout the region Wednesday.

But at the roiling Tischer Creek in Duluth’s Congdon Park neighborhood about 2:30 p.m., Gabriel somehow ended up in the water as the family walked along a bridge.

O’Neill immediately went in after her German shepherd/husky mix: a dog that had already had some bad luck.

Gabriel was in a 2009 litter brought to Animal Allies in Duluth under false pretenses by a man who said he found them by the side of the road.

Gabriel became famous among his littermates because he was born with two left front legs. Once adopted by O’Neill’s family, the pup underwent surgery and the conjoined legs were amputated.

In the water Wednesday, O’Neill was able to get hold of the dog and cling to a wall, and her son, 18-year-old Nick Sengbush, went in after them.

“The current was really bad,” O’Neill said of the storm-swollen creek that leads to Lake Superior.

Duluthians Mike Valdez and Josiah Early heard screams for help from atop the 34th Avenue East bridge, and they ran down to the creek. Early waded in to help, and Valdez recruited Bruce Carlson and Sarah Lofald to aid in the rescue, Valdez said.

Right about then, Sengbush let go of Gabriel. Valdez raced along the creek path and managed to catch Gabriel before the water rushed him by.

Meanwhile, Carlson and Lofald, both of Duluth, were trying to retrieve the others from the water, Carlson said. A tree branch was used to rescue Sengbush, and a carabiner and leash attached to Lofald was used to create a chain to retrieve O’Neill.

“A lot of people were in there trying to help, which was scary,” O’Neill said.

Carlson held on to Lofald, who was able to pull O’Neill from the water to safety.

“She was like a human claw,” Carlson said. “We had to really think about what we were doing, where the eddies were. I was really skeptical.”

Duluth police, who responded to the call, said the dog was swept nearly 100 yards downstream.

O’Neill was grateful to her rescuers, but said she wished she had chased Gabriel on land as Valdez did.

“That was the smarter way to go, instead of risking all these people,” she said. “But I appreciate what everyone did. Who knows what would have happened otherwise.”

The city asks residents to stay away from streams, culverts and standing water, including driving or wading across roads with standing water.

“Never underestimate the power of moving water,” Duluth police Public Information Officer Jim Hansen wrote in a press release.

As for Gabriel, O’Neill said she learned again what a strong dog she had.

“His fighting upstream to get to me was impressive,” she said, “for a dog with just three legs.”