Rescued LA River Dog’s Elderly Owner Comes Forth

She's 70. She doesn't speak English. And she was brokenhearted when her German shepherd, Spikey, disappeared last week. Maria Mendina, mother of 9, grandmother of...


A senior animal care technician takes care of Spikey in his quarantine cage.  Photo: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

She’s 70. She doesn’t speak English. And she was brokenhearted when her German shepherd, Spikey, disappeared last week.

Maria Mendina, mother of 9, grandmother of 45, sent some of her grandchildren door to door looking for him in their Maywood neighborhood of Los Angeles after he escaped from an open yard gate.

But by then Spikey may have been dangling from a helicopter in the arms of the heroic firefighter who rescued him from the rain-swelled Los Angeles River. Footage of his dramatic rescue aired nationally. It also went viral on the internet. That’s what finally got the attention of some of Mendina’s relatives.

Spikey and heroic firefighter Joe St. Georges last Friday in the Los Angeles River

She sent a son-in-law to visit the shelter to see if it was really him.

“(The dog) went nuts when he saw him,” Aaron Reyes, director of operations at the Southeast Area Animal Control Authority, said in an AP story. “His whole demeanor changed, like he found a long lost friend.”

Animal authorities say they have plenty of proof Spikey is Mendina’s. But because he bit the firefighter out of fear when he was being rescued, Spikey, alias Vernon (the nickname shelter workers gave him for the city where he was rescued), has to remain in quarantine a few more days. He’s expected to be able to go home Tuesday.

One of Mendina’s sons, Ramon Mendina, brought his children to the shelter to see Spikey. “The kids were looking at the dog in the cage and crying for him,” Maria Mendina told AP. “Now they’re happy, waiting for them to come home.”

Maria Mendina says Spikey is a playful, gentle dog who is excellent with her grandchildren, and loves to play fetch.

Spikey is not the only one of Mendina’s dogs in the shelter right now. The day after Spikey’s rescue, her other dog, a yellow Labrador Retriever named Polo, was found wandering the very same bridge where Spikey’s rescue took place. Authorities took him in, too.

“Maybe he was looking for Vernon/Spikey, we don’t know,” Reyes told AP.

It does seem too much for coincidence. Yes, the grandkids may have accidentally undone the backyard gate, which allowed the dogs to go loose. But what are the odds that Polo would end up at that bridge — which isn’t exactly down the block from his house — after his friend had his traumatic time there?

Photo: Mark Bolster, Los Angeles Times

As you may recall from seeing the video, the chopper dropped Spikey and the firefighter onto the road close to the bridge. It’s conceivable Polo may have smelled a trace of his friend there.

Polo will probably be returned today, pending a cleanup of Mendina’s yard, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Ramon Mendina said in the AP story that the dogs had never been out of the yard, and were probably really spooked by the stormy weather once they were out in the elements.

I know what some Dogsters might be thinking: “These dogs have never been out of the yard, and they escape and are not properly looked for, they don’t have ID tags or microchips, and their yard isn’t up to inspectors’ snuff. Could this be a good situation for the dogs?”

It’s true. If Ramon Mendina didn’t actually mean they’d never been out of the yard on their own, but that they’d never been out of the yard, that’s sad. No wonder they got loose and ran around. It’s obviously less than ideal that the dogs are confined to a yard and a house. And it’s worse that inspectors found the yard needed to be cleaned up before the dogs come back.

And as for looking for the dogs, you and I would have handled things far differently. But we know the system. We know what to do in these situations. Not everyone does. And news reports state that Spikey’s story was not well covered in Spanish-language TV, so it’s easy to see how family missed the coverage.

In addition, Mendina’s relatives went to claim him on Monday, just three days after his disappearance. Animal authorities didn’t alert news media to this until yesterday, after everything had been sorted out. So it hadn’t been a week, as it might appear at first glance.

Sure, if these dogs were given to new homes, they’d probably be amazing homes, judging by the 100 or so people Reyes’ team could have hand-picked on the adoption list for Spikey.

But judging by Maria’s tender description of Spikey, the image of her grandchildren crying outside his cage, and most especially, by Spikey’s ecstatic reaction when he saw one of “his” relatives, it seems Spikey’s home is where his heart is.

“(The dog) just went crazy, his tail flapping,” Reyes said in another LA Times story.

Tails don’t lie. And maybe Reyes and his team will have educated Mendina’s family so the dogs will have more “ideal” lives in the future. They certainly deserve it. (Don’t they all?)

What do you think, Dogsters?

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