Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dog Rescued from Los Angeles River Is Home At Last

Spikey, the dog who captured national headlines when he was airlifted from a Los Angeles river in a daring helicopter rescue is finally home. The 4-year-old German-shepherd mix was in quarantine for several days before being released and reunited with his owners, the Los Angeles Times reported.

On Friday, Jan. 22, viewers were glued to their television screens when news stations broadcast live coverage of a dog being rescued by the Los Angeles Fire Department from a surging river. The video from Fox 11 News shows firefighter Joe St. Georges, 50, dropping from a helicopter into the river, grabbing the struggling dog and airlifting him to safety -- but not before dangling high above the river for several long, nail-biting moments.

"We got reports of a dog in the Los Angeles River, which is really a concrete-walled flood control channel," said Los Angeles Fire Captain Steve Ruda. The dog couldn't climb out of the river, which was extra-high due to heavy rains that had been flooding Los Angeles all week.

"The incident commander made a decision to rescue the dog," explains Capt. Ruda. "It was wearing a collar and appeared to belong to somebody. If we did nothing, we were concerned that humans trying to rescue the dog would be harmed." A helicopter swift water rescue team swooped in under high tension wires and lowered firefighter St. Georges into the river. "Joe [St. Georges] was able to capture the dog, put a capture strap around it, and get the dog to safety," Capt. Ruda says.

The rescued dog remained in quarantine at the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority (SEAACA) for a week. Staff fielded dozens of requests for adoption, but chose to wait for a rightful owner to come forward. On Jan. 25, says Capt. Reyes, a man called the animal shelter saying, "I think you have a dog that belongs to a family friend." Wary of false claims, an investigator at SEAACA began checking out the man's story, which turned out to be valid. When the man came to the shelter to identify the dog on behalf of the family friend, "the dog just went nuts," recalls Capt. Reyes. "His ears went back and his tail went crazy. I wish we would have videotaped it."

Spikey lived in nearby Maywood with his owner, Maria Medina, 70, who is described as "elderly and Spanish-speaking." Spikey had escaped -- along with Medina's other dog, a yellow Labrador retriever named Polo -- after visiting grandchildren left her gate open, Capt. Reyes explained.

Polo, the yellow Labrador, was picked up by animal-control officers the day after Spikey's helicopter rescue. "Polo may have been following Spikey's scent because he was picked up in the same area where Spikey had been rescued," says Capt. Reyes.

Medina had been looking for her missing dogs, but had been unaware of the much-publicized drama surrounding Spikey until a family friend told her about a YouTube video showing the rescue. "My mother had seen something in the Spanish media about a dog, but she didn't hear all of the story," said Medina's son, Ramon Medina.

After interviewing Medina and her neighbors, performing a property inspection and checking Spikey's and Polo's dog licenses and vaccinations, SEAACA determined that Medina could have her dogs back. "Spikey's a good dog who watches the house," Ramon Medina said. "My mother is very happy he's coming home and wants to thank the firefighters for risking their lives to save her dog's life."

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