A 'River' rescue on the Schuylkill: The animal heroes of 2009

Before we put 2009 completely behind us, Philly Dawg would like to make sure that the three brave officers of Philadelphia Police Marine Unit who pulled a near-dead dog from the swirling waters of the Schuylkill River in August are not forgotten.

Ofc. Joe Curley said the unit sprung into action that day after getting a call about a dog trapped on the dam near the Art Museum. After racing up from their Delaware River base, they first tried to reach the dog by shimmying out on the dam but she was swept over the dam and got caught in the "boil," the whirlpool-like waters at the base of the falls.

"Boats get flipped over and it can kill people who get sucked in," said Curley. They tried to send in diver Bill Borbidge  - suspended by a 600 foot line - but his route to the dog was blocked by a huge tree caught in the dam.

Then the drama - all caught by Channel 6 on video - really began. 

Once trapped in the boil, the frantic dog tried to climb up the dam. The officers  circled the dog in their boat, but couldn't get close enough. While the dog, in its panic, was going the wrong way. Suddenly she got sucked under and then popped out of the boil in a calm area and they were able to snatch her from the river.

But when they pulled the dog onto the back of the boat - after 40 minutes in the river - it wasn't breathing.

"It was lifeless," said Curley. 

Ofc. Jim Jonas swiftly went to work pumping her chest. Miracle of miracles she came back to life. "It started breathing sporadically," said Curley.

Curley, whose own dog - a German Shorthaired Pointer - had recently died, said it is rare to have an episode on the river with a happy ending. The work is often not rewarding. They scoop up human bodies and dead animals all the time. 

This time they brought one near-dead dog back to life. The dog, a young, female pit bull, spent two weeks at the Pennsylvania SPCA where she was treated for shock and water in her lungs, along with severe paw abrasions, from trying to climb up the concrete dam.

Tell-tale scars on her face indicated she had been used in dog-fighting and mayhave been thrown in the river intentionally, the PSPCA said.

After being nursed back to health, "River" - as she was quickly named - found a new home with a bartender at Waterworks restaurant, which is located on the banks of the Schuylkill. Derek Abrams watched River in her desperate struggle against the tide and then watched the "white knights" of the marine patrol swoop in to save her. Abrams told Channel 6, after surviving her ordeal, River deserved a life of comfort and love - a promise he said he'd deliver. 

Congratulations to Philly Dawg's Animal Heroes for 2009: Ofcs. Joe Curley, Jim Jonas and Bill Borbidge of the Philadelphia Police Marine Unit.