Lucky ‘Lady’ saved from drowning by Cattaraugus man

Lady, the dog, was lucky on Sept. 3 when Bill Ellis rescued her from the Wildwood Pool in Cattaraugus. Shown with Lady are her owner, Heidi Fisher, and Ellis.

CATTARAUGUS — When Bill Ellis set out for some early morning squirrel hunting on Sept. 3, he had no plans of going for a swim. That all changed when he heard the yelping and crying of a dog in distress.

Lady, a 12-year old, black Labrador Retriever-Border Collie mix, was trapped in the Wildwood Pool in Cattaraugus and couldn’t get out. The chances of anyone hearing or seeing her in the pool that day were slim, but along came Ellis who showed up to hunt on the wooded property behind the pool.

“When I pulled up, I heard this dog and looked towards the pool. She was on the deep end hanging on to the ladder for dear life with her front paws,” he said. “She was just spent, that poor little girl. I’m guessing she was in the pool for close to an hour.”

The Cattaraugus man said he could see where Lady had splashed all around the edge of the concrete pool in an attempt to find a way out, but she couldn’t grab onto anything, except the ladder. He could see a lot of her hair in the pool that was the result of her stressing out. He said her tongue was hanging out and she was exhausted.

“As soon as I saw Lady, I knew I was going swimming. I used to be a fireman and I had no hesitation to rescue her. I stripped-down to bare essentials and dove in,” he said. “Before I reached for the dog, I talked to her because a scared dog can turn around and bite you in the face pretty quick.”

Because Ellis, a former carpenter, doesn’t have full-strength in one of his arms due to an old injury, he could not lift the 70-pound dog up onto the deck of the pool.

“I couldn’t get underneath her to pick her up, so I held onto her and swam her down to the shallow end of the pool where I could stand and lift her up onto the edge,” he said. “She was licking my face the whole way as if to say, ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’”

In an effort to quickly find Lady’s owner, Ellis posted a video of her clinging to the ladder at the pool on his Facebook page. After he got her out of the water, he told everyone she was OK, and he was not going to leave her there. He was going to take her home until her owner was found.

After rescuing the dog, Ellis discovered she had tags, so he contacted the Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Department and they directed him to Mary Dankert, the area dog control officer, who was able to trace the owner’s name through the tags.

Ellis said Lady’s owner, Heidi Fisher, was overcome with joy and relief as she arrived at the pool where he was waiting with her wet and exhausted, but safe dog. Fisher, and her husband, Jeff, moved to Cattaraugus about a year ago and live just a few blocks away.

“I was absolutely flabbergasted when they called me and said they had found her so quickly,” she said.

Fisher, who recently fell spraining her wrist, said she normally takes Lady out in the morning, but her husband let the dog out before he went to work that day. Somehow, she got away from him and he was running behind, so he didn’t have time to chase after her. Unable to run after the dog herself, Fisher said she called for her and had no idea she was stuck in the pool and couldn’t come home.

“I came back in the house, sat down and bawled because I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I was upset about Lady being gone because of her age and I didn’t know if she would be able to find her way home, or not.”

A little while later, the dog warden called Fisher and told her they found Lady down at Wildwood Pool. Although she was not supposed to drive because of her wrist, she drove the short distance down to the pool anyway.

“I’m extremely thankful that Bill was there when he was,” she said. “He did a wonderful thing and I tried to pay him, but he wouldn’t take anything.”

“I told her to put her money away. I have a dog, too. If something happened to him, I would hope somebody would help him out of the kindness of their heart — not for the money,” he said.

Ellis said it was like he was meant to show up. He decided to go squirrel hunting on the spur of the moment and, that day, decided to pull all the way down to the pool and park there. He said it was a lucky decision for Lady and he’s just glad she is OK.

“God was watching over Lady and Bill deserves a lot of credit for saving her. He’s an angel on earth,” Fisher said.

Remembering her ordeal, Lady would not go near the pool when she had her picture taken with Ellis and Fisher, her owner. How she got onto the grounds and into the pool is speculation because it’s fenced in. Did she fall into the pool or purposely go for a swim? Only Lady knows.

(Contact press reporter Deb Everts at