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Rescuer, puppy reunited

When he saw a thirsty puppy being dragged by a bike rider, a restaurant owner acted.

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2006

TAMPA - When Aihab Gerges saw a man dragging a dehydrated puppy by a rope outside the Hardee's he owns in Ruskin, he said he couldn't help but intervene.

For his effort, he got a couple of stab wounds after the man brandished a steak knife and machete.

On Wednesday, Gerges got something more: A plaque from Hillsborough County commissioners recognizing him with their Animal Services Model Citizen for Bravery, Righteousness, and Humanitarian Award.

And that wasn't all. The collie-chow mix he rescued - "Scruffy" - visited the presentation at County Center with his new owner.

With his tail between his legs at first, Scruffy eventually warmed up. He greeted those who bent down to pet him by wrapping his front paws around them, like a hug. He wore a blue bandanna around his neck with little dog bones and paw prints on it.

He got a doggie bag for making the trip.

"I feel so good," said Gerges, at first a reluctant award recipient who had to be coaxed to accept it. "He's alive. He's vibrant. He's in good shape. I'm so happy to see him that way."

Animal Services workers estimated that Scruffy was younger than 11 weeks when Gerges helped rescue him from his bike-riding owner, Juan B. Martinez-Castro. The dog was on its side as it was being dragged.

"I saw that and was just infuriated," Gerges said.

He confronted Martinez-Castro and tried to give Scruffy water. Martinez-Castro repeatedly emptied the water container before attacking Gerges, first with the knife before backing him off with the machete.

Witnesses followed Martinez, who was arrested on charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and animal cruelty. Gerges was treated at the scene for what turned out to be minor wounds.

"This is a story about a citizen who represents all that is great about Hillsborough County," said Commissioner Kathy Castor, introducing Gerges.

Scruffy, named by Animal Services workers and sheriff's deputies, had a broken tooth, cuts on his paw pads and the potentially deadly parvo virus when rescued. People who heard about the case donated money for his treatment.

He was initially adopted by someone who then broke a leg and couldn't care for him, so he ended up back at the animal shelter. That's where Norma Slone of Thonotosassa stepped in about a month ago, adopting Scruffy as a pal to her other dog, Duke, a sheltie mix.

There was a breaking-in period, said Slone, with Duke being a little jealous.

"He's spoiled also," Slone said of Duke. "Now they're inseparable."

[Last modified August 24, 2006, 01:05:19]

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