Dog saved from flooded L.A. River is safe; firefighter bitten during rescue released from hospital


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A firefighter splashed into a rain-swollen river Friday to rescue a German shepherd and managed to hang on safely, even after the dog furiously bit his arm and hand.

Joe St. Georges, a 25-year Los Angeles Fire Department veteran, said he received a “real bite in the thumb” but was otherwise feeling fine.


He said he had no hard feelings toward the dog.

“I didn’t really have the time to establish any rapport with the dog,” St. Georges told reporters after being released from County USC Medical Center. “He’s cold, he’s wet, he’s scared, and then here’s this stranger jumping on his back for all intents and purposes, and he did what dogs do.”

Fire officials said the male dog, nicknamed Vernon after the Southern California town where he was found, was fine. He did not have a name tag or computer chip, said Sgt. Charles Miller of the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority in Downey.

The dog was quarantined to be monitored for rabies but “appears to be well-maintained and cared for,” Miller said.

At least 50 firefighters responded to reports that the dog was in the river. For an hour, firefighters stood at the top of the steep, concrete banks, throwing life vests and float rings, hoping the dog would grab on. Most of the time, the canine walked along a pipe or ledge in the center of the river, sometimes slipping. One firefighter got into the river and tried to catch him, but the dog took off. Soon the pipe was submerged.

When the helicopter hovered overhead, the dog scrambled to the side of the river and tried to climb the sides, only to slip each time.

The 50-year-old St. Georges finally splashed down from the helicopter, wrestled with the frightened canine and lifted it to safety.


Helicopter pilot Scott Bowman said St. Georges took a muzzle with him but he wasn’t able to get it on, “so he decided to go for the capture.”

Miller said the dog had some scrapes and worn nails, but was otherwise fine.

“He was fearful when he first got here, understandably. He went through a big ordeal,” Miller said.

St. Georges said the dog was in danger of being swept up by the strong currents. He said fire officials were worried somebody might attempt to rescue the dog and put themselves in danger.

“We thought it was more prudent to send in people trained to take care of the dog,” St. Georges said.

The dog will be quarantined for 10 days, unless the owner shows up with proof of rabies vaccination, Miller said. Then the dog could be monitored at home. If the owner doesn’t show up, officials will try to find the dog a new home.

Storms that started Monday have already dropped up to 8 inches of rain in Los Angeles County, the National Weather Service reported.

-- Associated Press

Top photo: Vernon after his rescue. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times