Visually Impaired Senior Plunges Into Shinnecock Canal – Saved by Local Heroes

Written By: John Holodak

Generosity in The Hamptons – First person report by Oreo

Hampton Bays, July 11, 2013 – East Quogue resident, Tom Diffley, graciously invited his sister and her family here for a summer vacation. Kicking off the holiday was an opportunity to participate in The Annual Benefit Gala for the East End Hospice on June 29th at Sandacres in East Quogue. Tom teaches art at the Isabel O’Neill Studio School in NYC and donated numerous pieces for auction at the event and some of the family helped to carry, label, price and set up. The evening gala was a signal people watching occasion (The Palm Beach contingent in their elegant outfits, Susan Lucci, et al) and hugely successful fund raiser.

As the week progressed, the Diffley house filled up with brothers, sisters, boys and their wives and 3-1/2 month 1st grandchild. There were three birthdays and a college graduation to be celebrated. Stories of the Hospice event were told and re-told

I awoke early on the morning of the 11th and needed to go out rather desperately. I made my way past the youngster’s blow-up mattresses on the living room floor and located my guardian, Jack, in the main bedroom. After a walk around the block and an early breakfast, Jack led me to his car and then filled the trunk with various Southampton Town Bags, piles of cardboard and bags of empty cans and wine bottles from the prior night’s celebration. Off to the transfer station in Hampton Bays and then a brief stop at Starbucks where, despite the heat and humidity, Jack bought a hot, vente cappuccino.

Instead of going directly back to the house, we headed further east to the Southampton side of the Shinnecock Canal. We drove up to the Meschutt Beach parking area, around through the public marina and then down Canal Road to the Peconic side of the Montauk Highway Bridge where we parked and got out. Jack explained that we were not far from the old Cruiser Club site where he met Mary Ellen on Labor Day Weekend in 1969. A row of attractive benches overlook the canal – each bearing a dedication to some lost loved one. After passing several, Jack selected one and sat down to enjoy his hot coffee. I took the opportunity to pee on the grass and then found some welcomed shade in Jack’s shadow… I

don’t see too well as I have since learned I have cataracts, but Jack sat staring ahead hoping that the locks might open and a parade of water craft would liven the morning.

Forgive me. I should have introduced myself earlier. My name is Oreo. I am 12 years old (84 in human years). I am part Canadian and part Australian – that is 50% Black Lab and 50% Sheep Dog. I have jet black, medium length fur, with a white blaze on my chest, white boots and 4” white marking of the tip of my furry tail, I have the head of a Labrador and Jack says I look like I am always wearing my tuxedo.

Two years ago I was diagnosed with arthritis and last year, diabetes – for which I get insulin injections twice a day. Last year they left me in a kennel for a week and when they returned I could not stand up for lack of exercise. As a result they don’t board me anymore.

The family has taken me down to the beach in off season and we have had a great time playing catch and Frisbee. They have tried to lead me into the water but I wanted no part of that. On past visits out here the family has tried to lure me into the Diffley pool but I was determined not to go in. At my age I have all I can handle with fresh air and terra firma. I prefer showers with a bucket and the hose in the backyard – I never learned to swim.

Back to my story. After a while, Jack stood up to look at the current. Connected by collar and retractable leash I moved to join him. I guess I was looking at the other side of the Canal some 200 feet away… the next thing I knew I was hurdling, head first 7 or 8 feet through the air and into the water.

I couldn’t breathe. I tried to run but couldn’t get traction. Finally, my head broke the surface and I got some air. I tasted salt. Lots of salt. The current was dragging me away from Jack who looked stricken. This was NOT reassuring.

Jack surveyed the surroundings. The current was running at about 3 feet per second, which is about the pace of a normal walk. There were no ladders along the length of the inlet. The locks, though closer, were too high to facilitate rescue. The only solution was to try to swim to the marina, moving against the current for what seemed to be three city blocks, and once there, get help or somehow get on a boat closer to the waterline. We were still connected by the leash… but the collar was loose and if he pulled too hard it could slip over my head.

Jack must have seen the terror in my eyes. I tried desperately to gain purchase on the shear walls; each attempt nearly resulting in slipping my collar. Jack would react by running down stream and pulling me backwards till the collar repositioned correctly. Once he pulled so hard I went over on my back and had to right myself. Then, urging me on in a reassuringly calm voice that surely belied his inner panic and pulling gently on the leash we made gradual but steady progress in the direction of the marina.

When finally we got to the cut where the marina began I was totally out of gas but Jack’s persistent reassurance together with not having to fight the current provided a marathoner’s final kick.

Dogs know something about mankind that men often appear to forget. When the chips are down, people do amazing things.

A couple – several years younger than Jack – appeared from their sailboat, awakened perhaps by all the commotion. The man took charge. He pointed out a boat moored, perhaps 6 berths further down, and that had a swimming platform. “Lead him this way”, he urged. “I’ll climb down and haul him in.”

I was paddling with the last of my strength; could I make it to where the sailor was pointing? Jack, now on hands and knees, was busy threading the leash under a web of crisscrossed mooring lines.

A second Samaritan emerged from a new luxury sedan, Jack would later explain to me. He was finely dressed in white linen slacks, expensive loafers and a silk Ralph Lauren shirt. His pretty young daughter – perhaps 11 or 12, stood beside him. “You see, I was right!” she said. “It is a dog.” The man said later that he had tried to convince her that Jack was crabbing but she insisted he stop and help.

As I finally made it to the swimming platform, the sailor grabbed me, wrapped his welcomed arms around me… but could not manage to lift me out. “Hold on, I’m coming,” said Ralph. He climbed down, lay behind the sailor and together the three of us rolled over to safety. Together they lifted me to Jack’s waiting arms and I collapsed on the grass totally exhausted. The ordeal had taken over an hour.

The sailor’s wife came over with a warm hose and washed the salt water from me. I was too tired to raise my head to bark “Thank you.” Jack thanked everyone for both of us. He looked at Ralph’s ruined silk shirt and soaked linen trousers and wet loafers. He offered money for dry cleaning or dinner out when the cleaning was declined. He made a similar overture to the sailor and his wife; all declined.

“Pass it forward”, they said and disappeared as fast as they had come.

What, Dear Reader, have we learned?

As I lay exhausted, grateful, hosed by the sailor’s wife, I watched a soaked Ralph get into the driver’s seat of his expensive car and caught the flash in his young daughter’s eye as she sent her Dad that “You’re My Hero… look.” Never, Dear Reader, underestimate the capacity for, and rewards of, anonymous human kindness. Children, like animals, never forget.

I glanced at the Sailor’s Wife, at Jack, at the Sailor and, as they drove away, at Ralph and finally, his daughter, and tried to say thank you the only way I could, with my cloudy eyes. You are all My Heroes.

Should I be so fortunate as to be awarded a prize I should like to donate it in their honor to East end Hospice.