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LAFD: Helicopter rescue of dog was right move

The Los Angeles Fire Department is defending its decision to deploy about 50 firefighters and a helicopter to rescue a dog from the Los Angeles River.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Saving a German shepherd stuck in the rising Los Angeles River was the right thing to do, the risks were slight, rescue crews were on standby, extra taxpayer money wasn’t used and the alternatives were unacceptable, authorities said Monday.

The helicopter and swift water rescue crew members that saved the dog on Friday have been hailed as heroes, feted on television and radio and congratulated on the Web and in print. But they have also been vilified by a few in blogs, on social networks and story comment sections.

“You’re not going to please everybody. There’s always 10 percent, they either don’t like animals or think we are wasting taxpayer money,” Capt. Steve Ruda said.

The dog, nicknamed Vernon after the city where he was rescued, remained in quarantine at the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority shelter in Downey, just south of Los Angeles.

Joe St. Georges, 50, the 25-year firefighting veteran who hoisted Vernon to safety, lost a fingernail and fractured a thumb when the dog bit him during the rescue. St. Georges just needs time to heal and he will be back at work, Ruda said. “He’s anxious to get back to work to be with his crew.”

The dog, which appears to be about 4 years old and weighs about 65 pounds, was eating everything given to him, sleeping well and showing no signs of rabies, said Capt. Aaron Reyes, director of operations for the SAACA shelter.

If no owner shows up, “we do have a mile-long list of people who want him,” Reyes said.

On several Internet sites with comments about the rescue, the only people who left their names were those who supported the effort. There were a couple of open critics, but their identities were not easy to decipher.

Friday’s rescue was televised nationally by the major cable channels.

About an eighth of a mile downstream from the rescue site, the water was much deeper and the current much faster, Reyes said.

The dog would have drifted on down and died. Do you just wait at the mouth of the river and wait for the carcass? Any way you slice it, that is unacceptable. They would not have been able to live that down,” Reyes said. “They made a decision and we support that decision.”

Firefighters on the ground said a crew could get the dog and the helicopter pilot, who had been standing by just 45 seconds away from the river, reported he could clear high tension lines in the area, Ruda said.

Swift water teams were on standby because of weeklong storms that had dumped as much as 8 inches of rain on some parts of Los Angeles County, Ruda said. Although as many as 50 firefighters were at the river, no firefighters were called in on overtime to take part in the rescue.

“All life is important,” Ruda said. To prove his point, he pointed out that firefighters carry oxygen masks for cats and dogs that become victims of fire.

In addition, he said, 900 people die every year across the country in water accidents and one-third of them are rescuers. If St. Georges and his crew had failed to get the dog, “civilians, do-gooders and good Samaritans” would have been in the river, Ruda said.

The dog is thoroughly enjoying all the attention, Reyes said. “He’s a big lover” and caters to women at the shelter.