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Los Angeles firefighter recounts daring dog rescue

January 22, 2010 |  9:02 pm

Dogrescue

The Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter who rescued a panicked dog from the brown, rushing waters of the Los Angeles River this afternoon said that unless firefighters acted, someone else was likely to have ventured into the concrete wash and wound up a casualty.


Joe St. Georges, 50, the firefighter who captivated much of  Los Angeles as he was lowered by a tether into the churning waters to rescue the hound, told reporters late Friday that he suffered a bite to his thumb but was otherwise OK.

“I didn’t have time to establish a rapport with the dog,” St. Georges said, in a classic understatement, as he held his heavily bandaged hand in the air. “He did what dogs do.”

Vernon St. Georges was treated for the bite and released from Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center. From there, he traveled to the department’s air operations center in Van Nuys to meet with a throng of reporters.

St. Georges shrugged off his injury, which he described as a single bite on the thumb.
The firefighter said it was more “prudent” for him to do the rescue than to risk having a civilian jump in after the dog.

“I’m not sure there was a whole lot that could’ve been done differently,” St. Georges told reporters. “Somebody was going to go do it, and then we’d have to rescue a human victim.”

The dog was taken by [human] ambulance to a Downey shelter run by the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority, which serves 14 cities, including Vernon.

Animal Control Officer Justin Guzman said the 6-year-old German shepherd mix was cold and wet, but otherwise unhurt. He showed no further aggression, and shelter staff named him Vernon.

“He’s really lovable,” Guzman said. “He’s appreciating all the attention he’s getting here.“
Guzman said there were a “million” ways and reasons Vernon could have gotten into the river channel.

“Whether he got scared by the thunderstorm and jumped the fence, we don’t know,” he said.
The dog was never really swept away, but managed for the most part to maintain his footing on a slender ledge in the middle of the river, the officer said.

The dog will be quarantined and watched for signs of rabies.

Marcia Mayeda, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control, said the disease is extremely rare in domestic animals. Untagged and loose, the dog was technically in violation of city codes, but the owners will face no repercussions if they step forward and take him home, Guzman said.

If they don’t, the shelter by early evening already had a list of 20 people who want to adopt Vernon.

Mayeda said she was very impressed by St. Georges’ actions.

“That dog wouldn’t have made it out…I think the firefighter was very brave for rescuing him. I hope he gets a medal.”

-- Gale Holland

Top photo: LAFD Firefighter Joe St. Georges rescues Vernon on Friday. Bottom photo: Vernon after rescue. Credit: KTLA

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