Dog dies after owner fights to save him from storm drain

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Rupert, a 150-pound mastiff mix, died after being swept into a storm drain when playing at Huntington Beach. (KABC)

Messages, flowers and dog toys make up a small memorial by the Orange County storm drain where Rupert, a 3-year-old mastiff mix, died last week.

His owner, Madi McNaughton, said the day began as a fun morning with Rupert and her three other dogs on a sandy stretch where Huntington and Newport beaches meet up beneath the Pacific Coast Highway overpass. It's a popular spot for dogs and their owners to play.

"I threw the ball once," said McNaughton, 24, a Huntington Beach resident. "The next thing I knew a wave of high tide came and he was getting pulled into the drain."

McNaughton says she went in after him.

"There was only inches between the top of the water and the top of the drain," recalled McNaughton, a doctor's assistant at a veterinary office.

"I had one hand on his collar and the other hand on the wall above me."

McNaughton says she started to lose her grip on her 150-pound dog. The current was just too strong.

"Water was rushing over my head to where I couldn't even breathe at that point. I had to let go of his collar knowing I would probably never see him again."

McNaughton says she rushed to the other side of the drain - only to find a grate over it.

She says his body washed ashore shortly after.

"He was my baby he was my entire world."

McNaughton is now trying to warn others by posting her own danger signs by the storm drain.

Just days later Public Works also took extra precautions by adding permanent "Flood Channel" signs that warn people not to walk, swim, boat or camp in that area. Temporary orange fencing also went up around the mouth of the storm drain.

Tuesday afternoon, crews also started digging out sand at the drain's opening.

New permanent grates are expected to be installed in the next couple of weeks, said Shannon Widor, a spokesperson with Orange County Public Works.

McNaughton says she doesn't understand why the grate wasn't replaced as soon as it disappeared.

"We're looking into how long it's been missing," said Widor, adding the county doesn't know what happened to it. It could have been vandalized or broke away due to Mother Nature.

"The purpose of the grate is to stop debris," Widor said. "It's not designed to catch people or animals. It's a flood control channel."

The county says it urges people to stay out and stay alive.

"This is tragic. We don't want it to happen again," Widor said.

In the meantime, McNaughton is preparing for a vigil Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the storm drain location to celebrate Rupert's life.

She rescued him from the Baldwin Park Shelter when he was 3 months old. He underwent numerous surgeries to get healthy.

"He was a community ambassador for his breed and the rescue community," she said.

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