Dog shooting leaves wounded spirits on Sharon Street
JANESVILLE—The owners of two dogs shot by a neighbor on Saturday night are angry and grieving.
The neighbor who shot the dogs was still shaken up hours afterward and appeared to have felt genuinely threatened by the dogs, police said.
One dog is dead, the other is recovering from wounds.
Janesville police Sgt. Mark Ratzlaff said he could remember only one other dog shooting in his 16 years on the force. That was when a police officer shot but did not kill an attacking pit bull in 2005.
Tearful dog owner Maria Ochs said Sunday that the dogs were chasing a squirrel into the neighbor's yard when the shootings occurred. She and her significant other, Matthew Seitz, say their neighbor overreacted to the dogs, which police described as “pit bull type.”
“It wasn't the breed,” Seitz said. “It was a man who was crazy afraid of dogs.”
Police see it differently.
“The dogs were unleashed, left their owner's property and charged toward the man, who retreated into his garage,” according to a press release police issued Sunday. “The man felt threatened by the dogs and shot them both. One dog was found dead in the garage. The other fled back to its owner and was taken to a veterinarian.”
The release continues: “All shots were fired within the resident's single-car garage, where the resident was cornered.”
The shootings took place in the 1400 block of Sharon Street on the city's near-east side around 7:50 p.m.
Ochs said Koda, the dog that survived, is a pit bull. Pepper, who died, was an American Staffordshire Terrier.
Ochs said she had rescued both dogs. One was almost drowned by its owner because it was too small to sell as a fighting dog. The other was owned by a man who used it to breed fighting dogs, Ochs said, but neither animal was ever violent.
Ratzlaff, relaying information from officers who interviewed the participants, said the wife of the man who shot the dogs told police she had been growled at while tending a flowerbed on the property between the two houses.
The family, with several small children, had been concerned, Ratzlaff said.
The husband was working in the yard Saturday and had taken a .380-caliber semiautomatic handgun out of his gun safe because of the presence of the dogs, Ratzlaff said.
Police originally had been told the neighbor had a rifle with him, but he was carrying only the handgun, Ratzlaff said.
“They are running at him, and he has no way of knowing—are they attacking me or are they chasing something else?” Ratzlaff said.
Ochs had a different version: “They were nowhere near him. They didn't attack him. They didn't growl.”
Ratzlaff said he is not accusing anyone of lying. He said it's common for people to remember events differently, especially when under stress.
'I feel for them and their loss, but at the same time, this whole thing could've been avoided if you'd just leashed your dog,” Ratzlaff said.
City ordinances require dogs to be leashed. Ordinances also forbid discharge of firearms, but that rule does not apply in the case of someone being threatened, Ratzlaff said.
The case was referred to the district attorney for review because of the sensitivity and because it doesn't hurt to have another person review an incident, Ratzlaff said, especially if there's any question of police bias.
Ochs said police were sympathetic to her until a detective arrived and told them that their neighbor was a Christian minister with no criminal record, and he would not be arrested.
“They're trying to make him out to be a good guy, and he's not. He unloaded a clip into these dogs,” Ochs said.
Ratzlaff said the man with the gun stayed in his garage to avoid a confrontation with his neighbors but emerged immediately when asked by police.
He shot six times, and all the shell casings were found well inside the garage, which supports his contention that he was in the garage when confronted by the dogs, Ratzlaff said.
Ochs maintains the dogs were shot outside the garage while responding to Seitz's order that they come home.
The neighbor was not at home Sunday and could not be reached for comment.
Ochs said she moved to Janesville from Indiana on July 8 in hopes of improving her family's economic situation. She has a 3-month-old baby and children ages 11 and 16.
Ochs said she had had little contact with her neighbor before Saturday's incident, and she hadn't noticed him carrying a firearm before.
The man once jumped up on his trailer, when the dogs were playing in the yard, in a move Ochs interpreted as overly fearful.
“We put all of our money into this move and starting my job, and now we have to find another place,” Ochs said.