August 20, 2009

Vicious dog or man’s best friend?



      Often dog owners often have a less-than-realistic opinion of their pet’s personalities. An owner’s loyalty to their dog precludes any insight into its degree of viciousness.

     Bob Petrillo, a Jeanette (PA) dog owner, believes authorities “overreacted” when they shot and killed his pet. Rocky was a one hundred fifty pound Rottweiler. Police justified the shooting because, they claim, Rocky “lunged” three times at Cpl. Brad Shepler and the animal control officer.

     The incident occurred after Petrillo bathed Rocky, then settled down for a nap. Petrillo theorizes that Rocky “jumped up against the door and unlocked the handle door,” enabling him to leave the house and wander from his yard.

     Neighbors feared leaving their homes while Rocky ran loose. They called the police. When the police and the animal control officer arrived Rocky was crossing the street. Neighbors told Petrillo that Rocky jumped into the police car through an open door. Shepler reported that when he and the animal control officer attempted to remove the dog, Rocky “pooped on the seat and ran.” Shepler said the two men attempted “to place the dog in a noose three times, and the dog came at them three times,” according to the police chief. They then chased Rocky for a quarter mile before shooting him.

     Was Rocky a vicious dog? Or was Rocky a loving playmate to the neighborhood children?

     I am reminded of another dog, Stoney. A large German shepherd mix, he belonged to a family who rented a trailer space on our family property. The owners installed a six-foot high chain-link fence for the dog. They also chained him inside the fence. Over time, the chains had to be stronger and stronger to prevent Stoney from breaking loose and jumping over the fence. Several times he appeared in my yard. Once, he faced-down with one of the children in my Family Child Care Home. Although we attributed the aggressive but controlled stance to the fact that the child held a kitten, my guard went up.

     Later, several children and I went to the edge of the trailer’s yard to pick up some wood for our fireplace. When I saw Stoney loose, I directed the children to get in the van. The dog went to the open door, looked about, then moved towards me. I knew not to incite the dog by moving, and I stood very straight and calm. Suddenly, Stoney knocked me down from behind. He was on top of me, chewing on my hand, which I’d tucked into my pocket. The owner’s three strong teenage boys could not remove the dog, and my hand, even protected in my coat pocket, was bruised.

     Three days later, I learned that emergency rooms were mandated to report to the state any dog bite injuries they treated. I immediately went to a hospital. After telling the doctor why I was there, he said he would have to treat the “wounds” in order to make a report. I laughingly held out my hand while he bandaged it. Many years later, I still have the small white scars on the back of my right hand, and an instinctive reflex reaction of fear in meeting unfamiliar large dogs. These remind me that I was attacked by Stoney.

     Meanwhile, Stoney’s owner told me that I “didn’t know what a dog attack was,” and pooh-poohed my claim that the dog was dangerous. My husband even asked me if the dog really attacked. “Certainly, if I was knocked down by a dog from behind, three hefty boys couldn’t remove it, and my hand was chewed through my coat pocket, it could be considered an ‘attack,’” I responded, hotly. “And I won’t subject these children to any more danger. Do I have to keep them indoors for their protection?”

     We notified Stoney’s owner that he was to be removed from the premises, or they would be evicted. They took Stoney to a nearby farm.

     That week, when Stoney’s owner took her sons and two neighborhood girls to visit him, he attacked one of the girls. Her face needed fifty-five stitches externally, and seventy stitches internally. Fortunately, the attack missed her eyes and her nose.

     These incidents raise many questions.

     How does a person determine if a dog is vicious? At what point should a dog be declared vicious, in spite of an owner’s claim to the contrary?

     Should the adoration of a pet owner hold more weight than the safety of a child, or any other age human being, especially when the animal demonstrates a propensity towards viciousness? How do you deal compassionately with the pet’s owner while protecting human beings?

     What is this culture of dog adoration that makes its owners blind to the reality of a vicious dog? How does a parent protect a child who is drawn to a dog with a propensity towards violence?

     Do law enforcement officers have a right to kill dogs which they deem a danger? Finally, did authorities “overreact” when they shot and killed Bob Petrillo’s pet pooch, Rocky?

     If you can answer any of these questions, or if you have an opinion, please respond in the comment box below.








  1. From: “Aaron Nutter”
    Subject: Jeannette dog shooting
    Date: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 7:49 PM

    Mr. Peirce,
           As an animal lover, I cannot help but read your article in disgust. The Jeannette dog shooting is a sad situation that I believe requires more in depth research. The fact that an officer shot and killed a dog that was posing no threat what so ever to anyone is bizzare. Police officers have a variety of tools such as OC (pepper spray) and Tasers, these various non-lethal methods should have been used before going strait to the most severe, yet unnecessary tactic. If I understand your article correctly and what some of the witnesses stated (who were not involved in your article), the dog was cornered in the police cruiser. Why not use the snare, which is on a 5′ pole that keeps officers out of any harm or better yet, allow the owner to take control of the animal. There are various un-answered questions and unclear facts that make up this story. I just cant get over how anyone, police officer or not, can get away with shooting a dog that is
    running away scared, if in fact the dog was vicious like stated, it would have attacked when it was scared, not deficated in the cruiser.
          I know alot of people probably have the same response to this situation, and that being “it’s just a dog”. And my response to that is that it was someones dog. Some people have children and some people have dogs and I believe, based on your report, the police officer was 100% in the wrong in this situation.

    Comment by Debbie & AARON — August 20, 2009 @ 1:12 pm | Reply

  2. I don’t buy that a dog owner doesn’t know his animals personality. Most time he does and fosters it. The complicating factor is that some people are petrified of we canines. My most vicious move is a tongue slurp applied to any part of a prospective new friends bod. Still some people are scarred for a while. Until you humans realize what canine aggressive behavior is and what it isn’t I’m afraid there isn’t a good answer.

    Visit me @

    Comment by sandysays1 — August 20, 2009 @ 1:17 pm | Reply

  3. I concur that there are two sides to every story. The basis of my posted response was the article written in the Tribune Review on August 18. My intent was to respond, not to do intensive investigation.
    However, my experience was that the dog owner could not see her dog as vicious, in spite of the fact that I was attacked while just standing still, and ultimately a child was much more viciously attacked.
    I understand that people love their dogs. Somehow, though, that love must have a perspective. And that is why I found that the Jeannette situation and my situation both brought to fore the questions which I raised.
    and i must agree with the comment above from sandysays1: I’m afraid there isn’t a good answer!

    Comment by carolyncholland — August 20, 2009 @ 4:14 pm | Reply

  4. By the way, Aaron, I haven’t run into the name NUTTER around this region. Does your genealogy perhaps take you back to the Maine-New Hampshire boundary at the Piscatauqua River basin? Carolyn

    Comment by carolyncholland — August 20, 2009 @ 4:17 pm | Reply

  5. I can completely agree that dog owners do not see their pets the way others do. My neighbors have two full grown german shepherds. They have attacked every dog in our neighborhood. Recently one dog needed emergency vet care caused by the injuries incurred by both german shepherds. Three people witnessed the attack and the case is going to be heard by a judge soon. I am praying the dogs are deemed dangerous. They have both lunged after my children. My son has been scratched on his shoulder when the male came from behind and jumped him. The female has run after my son on his bike and lunged toward him, luckily my son was able to get away. Last evening the female chased my 7 year old daughter up a tree terrifying her and my elderly neighbors who witnessed the entire event.

    What do the owners have to say. The first thing they proclaim is that it didn’t happen that way. They don’t think my daughter was ever in any harm. They believe their dogs would NEVER hurt a person. We’re stumped. Since the dogs haven’t torn my children to shreds YET, I can only report that the dogs were not under control when they entered my property.

    I believe that as they hunt all the smaller dogs in the neighborhood, eventually the children will not be safe either.

    Which brings me to the question: What is this culture of dog adoration that makes its owners blind to the reality of a vicious dog?

    I believe there are wonderful, responsibe people who take care of their dogs and there are irresponsible people who have no business owning dogs and don’t properly train them. The latter are my neighbors. They leave the female chained outside during all kinds of weather. She barks and barks and barks. But it’s not a normal bark. She sounds distressed. I wondered why they would own two such difficult dogs. The answer is breeding. The have bred them even though the male has hip dysplasia.

    I think that somethimes the dogs are only as good, or bad, as the people who own them.

    Comment by Krista Werner — November 9, 2009 @ 1:11 pm | Reply

  6. Krista
    Thank you for sharing your situation. It seems like it has reached an emergency proportion. Hopefully it will get resolved before any child gets harmed.

    Carolyn C. Holland

    Comment by Carolyn C. Holland — November 9, 2009 @ 7:27 pm | Reply

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