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The 'Rocky Balboa' of St. Petersburg dogs is a reminder of how to be safe while boating

ST. PETERSBURG — Maddie Belle is the Rocky Balboa of dogs.

She's a fighter, just like the iconic Sylvester Stallone character, according to her owners. Days after she was badly sliced by a boat propeller in Riviera Bay, she was already headed home from an animal hospital in Largo — with a big cone around her head.

"She's super happy," said owner Mary Griffen, 46. "Her whole body was wagging as we went out the door."

Maddie Belle has a wound snaking down her face and near her snout; the propeller just missed her left eye. She had a lot of water in her lungs and needed surgery to reconstruct her jaw. She's on several antibiotics and pain killers, but it seems like she's going to make a full recovery, said Griffen's boyfriend, Gregg Marrocco, 42.

Now, the St. Petersburg couple is hoping other dog owners will realize: What happened to Maddie Belle could happen to any dog riding on a boat's bow.

On Sunday, the couple and some friends went out on Griffen's 23-foot Malibu to go tubing. It wasn't anything abnormal for the 14-month-old silver-colored Labrador. She's been on the boat at least two dozen times and never showed signs she wanted to jump off while it was moving, Griffen said.

She sat on the bow of the boat with a child, overlooking the water.

Suddenly, Griffen heard something hit the propeller. At the same time Marrocco asked, "Where's Maddie Belle?" They realized something terrible happened.

Griffen shut off the motor and everyone on board started to search the bay. Griffen spotted the dog, bobbing motionless. As the boat started to move closer and its motor buzzed, the pup moved its head above the surface.

Griffen dived in the water and side-stroked back to the boat with Maddie Belle, bleeding from the wounds to her face.

Griffen, a neurological radiologist, knew as a physician she needed to get the dog to emergency care as soon as possible. Within 30 minutes, the couple had the dog at the BluePearl pet hospital in Largo.

Griffen said the dog disappeared from the bow in an instant, and likely jumped off the boat to go after the bobber on a crab trap that looked like a ball. Griffen and Marrocco plan to take the dog out on the water again, but with a few new rules.

She won't be back on the bow, and she'll be leashed any time the boat is moving. They already ordered a doggie life jacket the week before the accident and are still waiting for it to come in the mail, but they know now why it's important to have. All the fluid that wound up in Maddie Belle's lung could have killed her.

She still likes to be petted and cuddled, Griffen said.

"She's just as sweet as she was before," Griffen said during the car ride home from the hospital on Friday around noon.

"No," Marrocco interrupted. "She's even sweeter."

Contact Sara DiNatale at or (727) 893-8862. Follow @sara_dinatale.