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Owner claims dog rescued by firefighters from swollen L.A. River

Dog rescue

Turns out Vernon is actually Spikey.

The German shepherd mix rescued by firefighters last week from a swelling Los Angeles River has been claimed, animal control authorities said today.

A family friend of an elderly Maywood woman went to the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority on Tuesday to claim the dog, whom firefighters had named Vernon, after the city where the dog was rescued.

"And Vernon just went crazy, his tail flapping," said Aaron Reyes, director of operations. "We see it all the time: Gosh, he really knows this guy."

Although animal control officials questioned why it took so long for the family to come forward to claim the dog, whose real name is Spikey, the friend said the owner speaks only Spanish and missed extensive TV coverage of the Jan. 22 rescue. A friend eventually pointed it out to them a few days later, Reyes said.

"It didn't get a lot of play on Spanish-language TV," he said.

Animal control officials visited the Maywood home, checked the dog's license and spoke with the owner. They also spoke with neighbors and learned that Spikey's "brother," a yellow Labrador named Polo, was picked up by animal control the day after the rescue after being found walking down a street, Reyes said.

The owner thinks her grandchildren may have left the backyard gate open, letting the dogs loose. Polo will be released to the owner once the backyard is cleaned up, Reyes said.

Spikey is under quarantine until Tuesday because it bit the firefighter, Joe St. Georges, 50, who pulled him from the river.

Many questioned the decision by firefighters to launch an airborne rescue operation to pluck the 3-year-old dog from the river, especially after the dog bit St. Georges in the hand.

But many factors played a role in the decision to save the dog, said Steve Ruda, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Fire Department. One was the concern that someone would risk his or her life to save the dog.

"If we did not do anything, there was potential for another human being to enter the river," Ruda said, citing national statistics showing that of 900 people who die in drownings each year, a third involve would-be rescuers.

At least 50 firefighters responded to reports of the dog in the river during a heavy rainstorm. Firefighters stood on the steep, concrete banks, throwing life vests and float rings, hoping the dog would grab one.

But mostly he walked along a pipe or ledge in the river, sometimes slipping. One firefighter got into the river and tried to catch it, but the dog took off. Soon the pipe was submerged.

After an hour passed, officials decided to send an LAFD helicopter. As the aircraft moved into position overhead, the dog scrambled to the side of the river and tried to climb, only to slip each time. Next, St. Georges, a 25-year veteran, was lowered from the helicopter and wrestled with the frightened dog, lifting it to safety after the dog bit his hand.

Ruda said Los Angles fire officials had received a request for help from the city of Vernon, which did not have the resources to pull off the rescue. One of the on-scene commanders also happened to oversee special operations for the LAFD, including swift-water air and urban search and rescue.

Although the current was moving quickly, firefighters determined the water was not that deep, Ruda said. He said it also was an opportunity for rescuers to hone their skills. Even though firefighters train for such incidents, it's no substitute for real-life conditions.

"Any time we get a chance to practice our craft, it sharpens our skills," Ruda said. "They felt it was low risk and high return."

Ruda said he hopes people realize the rescue was rooted in what firefighters consider their most important calling, saving lives.

"It was an animal life," he said. "It is a life."

-- Raja Abdulrahim and Andrew Blankstein

Photo: The dog that was rescued from the L.A. River. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (45)


To say that she only spoke Spanish and that it didn't get alot of play on Spanish tv is an INSULT to our inteligence!

This story was played over and over for days on end and where were the relatives (who supposedly let out the dogs).

Apparently these owners don't take care of these animals...don't they feed them...water them...the usual DAILY chores with animals...to not know they are missing is absolutely UNFORGIVABLE...and these people should NOT get these dogs back!

And...they should be fined for letting them run lose..no tags on the dog!

Hey everybody relax, this story brings warmth to the heart and I think the firefighters did a wonderful job in rescuing the dog, as the reporter mentioned, more people would of tried to jump in to save the dog, its human nature, animals are helpless, and it shows that there are people in our community that care. When dogs are frightened they will bite, sorry the dog bit that nice firefighter, but glad that Spikey will be doing better, and I agree the dog should not go back to the owner, I don't believe the gate was left open, I keep a lock on my gates so my dogs are safe all the time.

"It was an animal life. It was a life."

Quote of the year!

Please give this dog an opportunity to have a loving and responsible family! There is apparently a waiting list to adopt him. Unless there is intervention, chances are Spikey and Polo will eventually be impounded again or possibly meet an even worse fate.


"Please remember this the next time you bite into a hamburger or steak. Please remember this as millions of animals are abused and slaughtered in meat and dairy factory farms every day! Please remember this the next time you buy a pair of shoes made of leather, which was once the well-needed skin of an innocent animal. Please consider the compassionate diet and lifestyle of veganism. All animals deserve to live their life without abuse and neglect-they need our help. Thank you."


to breaking news :

Several Firefighter organizations have ask for the maximum sentence for the
convicted Riverside FF who killed the puppy......they are not defending his
actions one bit.

Your tax dollars at work. This is what happens when IDIOT government managers have access to too much money that isn't theirs to lose. Total waste of taxpayer money and complete stupidity for endangering the safety of the rescuers and the public. I saw this stupidity on TV for over an hour and counted at least a dozen rescue vehicles and fire trucks plus two county helicopters to rescue a DOG. I guess there isn't anything important for them to do and since they have extra time then maybe there should be a layoff of police and firefighters.

Wow. I'm amazed that those of you commenting can manage to politicize so deeply and complain about footing the bill. We pay taxes so lives can be saved. And in this case, a life was saved. Job well done.

All of you people complaining about the fire department recscuing a dog.

I am glad they did it and if all you whining complainers would just shut up about the money spent to do a good deed, maybe we all will see some good karma come our way.

Actually, I would be happier to see some of you whiners dropped in that swollen river.

We applaud the rescue workers for seeing Vernon/Spikey as a living being...scared as he was I would bite. How else do they have to communicate sometimes...
Thank you very much...

Does anyone really think it would have been a good idea:
1) to have millions watch the dog drown on TV & subsequently on uTube forever; 
& 2) have a dead dog clog up the river filters downstream; 
or 3) have to watch citizens try to rescue the pooch or drown trying???? 
All three would have been costly, financially as well as psychologically, and damaging to the reputation of any city. 
Besides, the rescue saved 
the city, the fire department, and the helicopter crew
one ‘rescue exercise’ they would have done some other time
 when it didn’t matter.
 The rescuers were on the clock anyway,
and if something more important came up they would have been able to immediately leave for it.
 So we don’t want to hear any more bellyachin’ about rescuing this pooch. 
And you racists — please for once just stifle yourselves.
 Congratulations and thank you to the rescuers.

I have no idea what the dispute is here about but omg MAYWOOD owner, i live there hahaha!

The firefighters are, without a doubt, heroes. They were saving a life and perhaps many more by taking the little guy out. Shame on those who do not support them. A life is a life and all of equal value.

Great job, LAFD! So glad you made the right call, and for all the right reasons. I hope St. Georges is healing well. Job well done!

Spanish or no Spanish. Why was this dog and his pal in the yard when it was raining cats and dogs (no pun intended)? They should have been in the house keeping this elderly Maywood woman company. Instead she thinks her grandchildren (no ages provided) left the gate loose sending Spikey into the LA River and his buddy wandering the rain soaked streets for over 24 hours. Nice. Irresponsible people should not be allowed to have pets. Period.

Well it's pretty obvious why LA County is going down the drain...Who made this command decision to use all of those resources to save a dog...And nothing will happen to the people who authorized that fiasco...Because there is not effective oversight...

Why can't we just take this as a feel good story? In this age and time when all we hear on the news is earthquake devastation, parents murdering their children, increasing foreclosure rates, increasing unemployment rates and decreasing jobs this story was a breath of fresh air. Don't make this into a blame game, budget issue or an immigration status issue. All I know is that it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. :o)

perhaps upon the next rain we should drop the whiners and racists into the river
where they can debate the use of county funds

the reason they saved the dog is that dogs bring love and joy into the world
where some miserable people just look for someone to hate

Please, somehow, do NOT RETURN THIS LOVELY DOG THAT WAS RESCUED FROM THE L.A. RIVER TO THE PEOPLE THAT SAY THEY OWN HIM. NO MATTER WHAT THEIR EXCUSE, THIS LOVELY ANIMAL AND HIS "BROTHER" POLO, ARE NOT SAFE WITH THIS FAMILY. I FEAR FOR THESE ANIMALS. There are many wonderful people and homes that will adopt these animals and be responsible owners with no excuses.

OUTRAGEOUS!!! This poor dog is being given BACK to the uncaring, incompetent owners? An owner who didn't come forward for a WEEK after the rescue..and then only because some friend of the family mentioned seeing the rescue on TV? And this owners other dog was also found roaming the streets? Clearly, these 2 dogs were NOT well taken care of, were kept outside in a filthy backyard all day and their apparent "escape" from the back yard went completely unnoticed. The owner did not call the Humane Society to report them missing, did not place a Lost and Found ad in the paper...apparently did nothing. And..."she doesn't speak English, blah, blah...is NO excuse!" Shame on the L.A. Humane Society!

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