Our Views: Dog shootings offer lessons others could heed

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Thursday, August 8, 2013

Janesville police are wrapping up reports on a July 27 shooting of two dogs and will forward them to the district attorney's office to determine if charges are in order. This unfortunate incident could have been avoided.

Police said a man fired six shots at his neighbors' “pit-bull type” dogs in the 1400 block of Sharon Street. He killed one and wounded the other.

The man, whom The Gazette isn't naming because he hasn't been charged, told police he felt threatened when the dogs cornered him in his single-car garage. Dog owner Maria Ochs and her partner, Matthew Seitz, said he overreacted. Ochs told The Gazette that the dogs didn't attack the man and weren't threatening him. She said the dogs had been chasing a squirrel and that her neighbor shot them while they were responding to Seitz's order to return home.

Police Sgt. Mark Ratzlaff, however, said all six shell casings from a 380-caliber handgun were found well inside the garage, and this supports the man's version that he was in the garage when the animals confronted him.

The case is alarming and sad. No doubt, the shooting, which prompted nearly the entire shift of officers to respond, frightened the neighborhood. It's tragic that someone's pets were shot.

Ochs called the dog that survived a pit bull and the one that died an American Staffordshire Terrier. According to bulldogbreeds.com, the United Kennel Club says a Staffordshire is the same breed as the American Pit Bull Terrier, though not everyone agrees. Ochs said she rescued both dogs. One was deemed too small to sell as a fighting dog, and the other was used to breed fighters, she said. Yet Ochs, the mother of an infant and two other kids, said neither dog was violent.

Police, however, said the dogs apparently growled at the neighbor's wife while she was tending flowers between the homes. Ochs said the man once jumped on his trailer in a fearful overreaction when the dogs were playing in her yard.

Some people fear pit bulls, while many owners claim their dogs don't deserve their reputation for being vicious. Because Ochs knew the man feared her dogs after seeing him jump on his trailer, however, a conversation might have helped the neighbors avoid this tragedy.

Police Chief Dave Moore told The Gazette on Wednesday that reports suggest “essentially no conversation” between the neighbors.

“A healthy and honest conversation between neighbors would resolve many issues we have in our community,” Moore said. “I don't think we do that enough.

“Decades ago, issues between families and children were worked out between families. The culture of America today is to call the police. Had there been some healthy dialogue between the neighbors, then, yes, perhaps this entire situation could have been avoided.”

More important, no shots would have been fired had Ochs and Seitz, who moved to Janesville just last month, kept the dogs confined. City ordinance requires dogs to be on leashes or otherwise kept on the owners' property.

Moore said police issued no citation for an ordinance violation in this case for two reasons. First, police have no evidence that the dogs had left the yard before, and police typically issue a verbal warning after a first incident. The second involved empathy for owners who lost one dog and had another wounded.

Fair enough.

Moore said this isn't the only neighborhood where owners believe their dogs are no threat while neighbors think the animals are menaces. Those neighbors might well take lessons from this case.

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