Pit bull shot by sheriff’s deputies; community responds

Pit bull shot by sheriff’s deputies; community responds June 5, 2012
Diablo was shot Friday night by Monroe County sheriff's deputies responding to a call. (photo: www.facebook.com/JusticeForDiablo)

There’s a hot controversy stirring here in my hometown of Rochester, NY. I confess I’m late coming to the story, being wrapped up as I am in family tree research. But I’ve finally had time to catch up and … well, it’s quite a story. Here’s what happened.

Last Friday, June 2, two Monroe County Sheriff deputies responded to a call at a home in the Rochester suburb of Perinton, NY. News reports say the officers were responding to a call for a car blocking a driveway at the home of Gary Brockler; I’ve also heard it was a call for a party disturbing the neighborhood.

From a 13WHAM news story:

“Diablo was inside the open garage at his own home and restricted by an invisible fence.  When two sheriff’s deputies walked up the dark driveway on Whitney Street its likely dog and man startled each other. With split seconds to make a decision, deputies relied on protocol to treat a dog running at them as though it were a person running at them with a knife.  They fired four shots.”

Monroe County Sheriff Patrick O’Flynn said on a local radio show that New York State law allows officers to use deadly force when confronted with an aggressive animal. Brockler claims that the dog was not aggressive, that there was no party at the house, and officers had no reason to shot his beloved family pet. Neighbors back up Brockler’s story, adding that Diablo was a friendly dog who was anything but aggressive.

As expected, the incident has sparked outrage in the animal rescue community along with the expected “all pit bulls are dangerous” other side of the argument.

And as expected, things have already spiraled out of control.

Take the Facebook posting by one man, offering a $1,000 bounty on the heads of the deputies who shot Diablo. Responding on WCMF’s “The Break Room,” O’Flynn said, “This is rather unsettling because we did see the Facebook alert through the Crime Intelligence Center … He offered a thousand dollars to anybody who would shoot the deputies.”

There was a rally today, and according to some who were there, it was a bit out of hand. Screaming, yelling at nearby school children, and one man with a stuffed beagle hanging from a pole (whatever that was about).

Jenn Fedele, founder of Pitty Love Rescue, wrote on Facebook:

“It is awesome to see people stand together but screaming obscenities does not further your cause. We are already viewed as ‘those crazy animal people’ and not taken seriously enough as it is. Try to make your points in a reasonable manner. You can be loud and make yourself heard without sounding like a raving lunatic.”

She’s 100% correct. Advocates for pit bulls work very, very hard to rehab dogs, train dogs, and help make them ambassadors for their breed in our community. When protestors get out of hand or make threats on the lives of officers (or call radio shows and ask for the dog’s head to mount on their wall … yes, that happened, too), it makes their rescue efforts even more difficult.

On a hopeful note, O’Flynn said the investigation will look into the specific incident but also at how officers should respond to family pets in situations like this – as opposed, I assume, to situations where there are loose dogs acting aggressively. (Yes, there is a difference.) “Is there something we may need to change or should change to improve our performance?  We’ll look into that too,” he said in the story.

Let’s hope so. I had an experience a few months ago when officers responded to numerous calls on our street for cars parked overnight waiting for an estate sale the next day. When one officer came to talk to me, he tried to pet Bailey over the fence. She barked and jumped and was quite frankly out of control. When I told the officer not to pet her over the fence, he asked, “Why?” “Because she might bite you”, I replied; I refrained from adding “Duh.” “Really?” he said in a “you’re an idiot” tone of voice, then rolled his eyes at me and walked away shaking his head.

A brief lesson in dog behavior would teach an officer that even in that situation, where the officer is just trying to be nice, he shouldn’t reach over a fence to pet a dog. Dogs protect their property; when you reach over into their space, they view it as a threat. (Or they jump and bark and inadvertently bite someone; had that experience as well.)

In Diablo’s case, it would make sense that two strangers approaching him, in his own yard, would cause at the very least barking and at worst an attack. And quite frankly, in that scenerio Diablo is in the right. A dog doesn’t know the difference between a sheriff or a burglar; he just knows “stranger in my space.”

And no, I don’t think police officers had the right to shoot the dog. But according to the 13WHAM story, “Since 2009, Rochester Police Department Officers have shot at 78 dogs, killing 30 of them.  More than one-third of the shootings occurred when police were executing a search warrant – in some cases bursting into a home.”

Obviously it’s a valid point that while responding to calls that there will be cases where officers are faced with an aggressive dog. But there has to be a better way to respond in situations like this one.

In any event, this story has reached a fevered pitch locally, and will likely continue to spawn rallies and protests and lots of gossip. I was at the coffee shop yesterday when a group of local men (who apparently meet regularly to catch up on the day’s gossip; now I know where to go to get the inside scoop) spent quite a bit of time discussing Diablo, his owner, other people they know involved in the situation, and details I hadn’t heard so far. The story is all over the news, and I guarantee that before long you’ll see it mentioned in a national story.

Brockler has retained the services of local attorney John Parinello, so it’s likely some sort of lawsuit is forthcoming. O’Flynn seems sincere in news reports about investigating and also making changes moving forward. I’ll try and keep  you posted.

And if I can offer some advice to readers upset about this situation? Take Jenn Fedele’s advice and try to engage in civilized discussion. If you’re truly interested in the well-being of the animals, make your case – for pit bulls, for the police, whatever side you’re on – in a well-reasoned, rational manner rather than adding gasoline to an already very emotional fire.

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