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‘Wonder Dog’ survives South Side Bridge fall

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A Charleston pup is just fine after leaping from the South Side Bridge into the Kanawha River in fear last week.

Sandra Groce said her 7-month-old pooch is recovering at the East End home she shares with her husband, Larry, and their daughters, Virginia and Bonnie.

They got the coonhound-beagle mix from New Hope Animal Rescue in December and named her Betsy.

But after last week's terrifying ordeal, they've taken to calling her Betsy the Wonder Dog.  

She said Betsy is great with their kids, who adore her, but still skittish around other people.

Groce said she and Betsy were walking on Virginia Street and headed toward the South Side Bridge last Thursday. They were going to run on the Carriage Trail on the south side of the river.

The dog normally wears a harness on such outings but had recently chewed through it and this day was wearing only a collar.

As they approached the bridge, something spooked the dog. She slipped out of her collar and darted up the bridge. Groce said she chased Betsy as fast as she could.

"I was running desperately after her," she said.

Charleston Police Officer Courtney Johnson was driving the prisoner transport van that morning and saw Groce running after the dog.

He said he turned on the van's emergency lights, drove onto the bridge and stopped near the middle, where the dog also had paused.  

Motorists coming from the south end of the bridge were braking as the pup darted across the lanes.

Johnson said he and another driver tried to calm the dog, but the scared pup acted impulsively.

"The dog took a sharp left and jumped over the rail," Johnson said. "I said 'Aww man.' Everybody just stopped and looked at each other like we've never seen anything like that before."

The little tan-and-white dog plunged about 100 feet from the deck into the river.

As Groce made it to that spot on the bridge, the officer told her the dog had jumped. He said she looked "just devastated."

Johnson didn't know if the dog had survived but told Groce they should check the bank on the north side because of the river currents.

Groce looked over the rail and saw the miracle.

Betsy was indeed swimming in that direction.

Still helped by adrenaline, Groce ran from the bridge to Kanawha Boulevard and headed over the riverbank.

Johnson jumped back in the police van, wheeled it around and headed there as well. He found the reunited pair on the rocky bank.  

"She was definitely in shock," Groce said of Betsy. "When I got to her, she went limp and I thought I'd lost her momentarily."

Johnson said the dog, which he described as "beautiful," had blood in her mouth. He asked Groce what she wanted to do. She asked him to call her husband, but the officer couldn't reach him. She then asked for a ride to the vet.

Johnson put both Groce and Betsy in the back of the van, where prisoners normally would ride. He drove quickly to Kanawha Boulevard Animal Hospital, where the woman and dog were whisked into an exam room.

The officer had to get back to work but left his card.

Groce said the doctor told her the dog had taken in a lungful of water but otherwise was OK.

"Miraculously she was just fine," she said. "The vet said he couldn't believe that she hit the water and wasn't so stunned she couldn't swim."

Betsy had a rattle in her chest the next day but by the second day was "completely clear," Groce said.

Betsy now has a new harness but remains a bit nervous. Her owner is a little embarrassed about the ordeal but grateful.  

"The officer was great," she said.

"He took me right down to the vet. I really appreciate him."

She said while the experience was terrifying, she's glad the dog took the leap instead of running into the path of a car.

Contact writer Ashley B. Craig at ashley.craig@dailymail.com or 304-348-4850.


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