Champaign police investigate why officer shot at dogs

CHAMPAIGN — Kathy Saathoff is most anxious to find out why a Champaign police officer felt the need to break up a dog fight Saturday with a gun.

Police Chief Anthony Cobb said members of his department are working to find out the same thing.

"We should have everything resolved pretty quickly," Cobb said of the incident Saturday night in west Champaign that left Saathoff's chocolate Labrador dead and the pit bull that attacked it locked up, still unclaimed by an owner.

About 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Saathoff's daughter, Kelsey Markou, 18, was walking their Labrador, named Dog, near the corner of John Street and Crescent Drive.

"She had just turned the corner onto Crescent and was heading south back to our house," said Saathoff, who lives across the street from Centennial High School. "A pit bull came from across the street from the apartment complex on the corner of John and Crescent."

The pit bull had no collar or tags. She doesn't know who owns it and said neighbors had also seen it previously but never with a person.

Saathoff said her daughter was trying to hurry back home with Dog, who was on a leash and wearing a pinch collar, when the pit bull started moving aggressively toward him.

"My dog is not a fighter. He's a cuddler, a sweet dog who loved to play with other dogs. He's never aggressive to other dogs. He probably didn't know what to think at first," she said of the 5-year-old Labrador that her family has had more than four years.

When the pit bull started going for Dog's throat in a field a few yards from the street, Saathoff said, Kelsey reacted.

"She didn't have a phone on her at the time. She's kicking the pit bull trying to get it off. There wasn't a lot of people out. A gentleman walking ... called 911, and he came over and tried to kick the dog," Saathoff said.

Saathoff said Kelsey eventually let go of Dog's leash because the pinch collar was keeping him from defending himself.

When the police arrived, Saathoff said, Kelsey told the officer which dog was hers and where the pit bull had come from.

"He got 5 to 6 feet away from the dogs and just started shooting at them," Saathoff recounted what her daughter had told her.

Although the number of shots fired has not been released, Saathoff said her daughter estimated there were eight.

Dog was hit in the neck by one of the shots and died there. An animal control officer got the pit bull and took it to the county animal pound where it has been since Saturday night.

"He'll be held for seven days to see if an owner comes forward to claim him," said Stephanie Joos, director of Champaign County animal control.

The dog sustained injuries, she said, but remained in stable condition Tuesday. If no one claims the dog, it will be euthanized, Joos said.

Saathoff said her daughter ran home to get her after the shooting. They took Dog to the University of Illinois veterinary clinic, where she said a necropsy was done.

"Our dog died from a gunshot wound. Our dog didn't die from a dog fight," she said of the preliminary results her family received from the veterinarian.

Saathoff said her family wants to know why the officer felt he needed to use a gun to break up a dog fight, especially knowing at least one of the dogs was a family pet.

"Our biggest issue is that we don't understand why there weren't other nonviolent means tried first," Saathoff said.

She said Kelsey told her she did not feel personally endangered by the pit bull, and the dogs were tangling in the field at the southwest corner of the intersection, a few yards away from the sidewalk and street.

"I want them to be accountable and really look at the way the situation was handled. We're traumatized, and I have a daughter that's going to be traumatized the rest of her life. She'll never forget it. She hasn't been sleeping. That's a hard pill to swallow," Saathoff said.

Cobb has declined to identify the officer who fired the shots while the police are working on their internal investigation. Any time a duty weapon is discharged, there is a review to see if the officer followed departmental policy, the chief said.

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mattd149 wrote on November 21, 2012 at 8:11 am

Maybe the officer needs to shut the other eye next time.  If it takes someone 8 shots to hit a dog from 5 feet away maybe police officer isnt the job they were cut out for.  Then to hit the wrong dog even makes it more disturbing.  CPD needs to come out with a name and reassurance that they are no longer on the force as it is unsafe for them to carry a weapon. 

LLP0867 wrote on November 21, 2012 at 8:11 am

This is a such a sad situation for everyone. As a mom I would be devastated that my daughter had to go thru that and witness what she did all because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That poor girl will be effected by this as long as she lives. No one will ever begin to understand what she is going thru because most of us will never go thru this. I hope with time she will heal and be able to move forward. As a dog owner I cant imagine losing one of my dogs that way. It is our responsiblilty to protect our animals the best way we can, every way we can. To be unable to defend your animal to protect it would be terrible to go thru. Lastly the poor dog who be destroyed over this all because someone never took the time to love and treat this poor dog kindly. Everyone lost in this case.  

mankind wrote on November 21, 2012 at 9:11 am

You wouldn't expect a police officer to endanger himself to break up a dog fight. And I'm sure the officer was under a lot of pressure from the bystanders to save the lab, which would be in a heap of trouble facing a pit bull. But surely there was a better way to handle this than to just start shooting, especially when no person was in any danger (according to the owner). I think a little bit of dog training should be mandatory for officers, and if there already is, obviously it needs to be reinforced. This was a fight on neutral ground for both dogs. A dominant human presence should have taken their mind off whatever dispute they were having.

rsp wrote on November 21, 2012 at 11:11 pm

A few people have stated that the pit was seen running free in that area unattended. By being allowed to do that it would have had the chance to start thinking of that area as it's "territory". If that was the case it wasn't neutral to the pit and it would have been less likely to back down. I would like to know if there had been any calls about the dog in the past, if in fact in was a presence in that area. 

annabellissimo wrote on November 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm

I think this story underscores the huge problem that dogs are presenting in this community and most communities in the U.S.  Too many people have too many dogs and too many people are irresponsible about the dogs they have acquired. The dog waste everywhere is sickening. The dollars spent on dogs (and cats) and the nauseating ads showing dog and cat food (and other accessories and accoutrements) that is better than most humans in the world have is obscene. People out walking not one but two and three dogs is absurd. Dog parks, for crying out loud! DOG PARKS! The country has gone nuts. Then add to that already out of balance mix, the proliferation of pit bulls and other breeds and mixes that - for whatever reasons - are aggressive and vicious and devastating to those who are attacked by them, too often children, mail carriers, old people and people's pets - and you have pure insanity. To those already putting your fingers to keyboards in the ever-ready defense of the pit bulls ( and Rottweilers and all the other vicious breeds0, don't trouble yourselves. I think those arguments are monstrous, especially when they appear following articles detailing how a child has been mauled, traumatized or sometimes killed by dogs.  The proliferation of dogs in general in the U.S. and especially these killer breeds is out of control.  

annabellissimo wrote on November 21, 2012 at 2:11 pm

And just one other comment:  the number of people so eager to judge and "attack" the police officer versus attacking the real problem -  the vicious dog of the pit bull breed running loose - is astounding.  Yet it seems that whenever there is an article in any newspaper in the country involving yet another story of a pit bull ( or its vicious dog-ilk) attacking and mauling someone - usually a baby or child or old person or mail carrier - all the pit bull defenders rush to the defense of who? of what? THE DOG and THE BREED.  It's insane.  No sane person would ever cheer the ownership of lions, even when kept in a confined yard and only walked on a leash!  Lions eat PEOPLE. It doesn't matter that a lion has been treated nicely by some anthropomorphising human who names the lion, feeds it treats, sleeps with it and calls it a member of the family. It's a lion.  A pit bull - or its dog-ilk - is a killer animal and the breed has proven that over and over and over again across the country.  A recent news report was of a woman killed by her family's pit bulls in her house and she was, by all accounts, a kind and responsible "pet owner".  These are dangerous animals and not one more child or baby or old person or mail carrier or passerby should be bitten (or worse) by yet one more of these dangerous animals kept in "captivity"!  There should not be even one more case of someone needing a FACE TRANSPLANT because of pit bulls or their dog-ilk mauling another person! This is insane, people.  

82sage wrote on November 23, 2012 at 8:11 pm

 A popular tool today in industry is "Root Cause Analysis." Certailny the officer's actions are NOT the root cause of this issue. I am not suggesting his actions should be dismissed, it should be investigated and the appropriate fix put in place. What is the cause of this issue? Certainly not the teen walking the family pet on a leash. The dog being allowed to have it's run of the neighborhood is the issue. Being ALLOWED, people have reported having seen the dog before, never with it's owner. Was there ever any calls of this quesionable breed roaming free? How about holding 1st the owner of such breed of which most likely we will never know accountable. From here why is a dog roaming the neighborhood unreported if that is the case? If not or if it was reported why was it not dealt with to eliminate the risk in the neighborhood? Although I very much try to respect my fellow citi

zens decisions and rights I can not in any way understand the love affair with an animal. People are starving! Human beings less fortunate to be born in such a country are dying from lack of food. How much do we as a nation spend on feeding our pets? Not just pits, but labs, poodles, tabby's,..ect... For those running to defend the pets, or placing the same value on an animal as you would a human I am totally confused. Don't claim to be the sharpest knife in the drawer but while you are kissing your pet goodnight is there ever a thought on how many lives could be saved on the money spent on an animal? Food for thought from a different perspective...

curiousJ wrote on November 30, 2012 at 10:11 am

The assumptions that you spout, 82sage, are absurd. I love my family, but would I choose my dog over my child, most certainly not. Do I pay to feed and care for him, I most certainly do. Why do I do that? Well, first of all, he's a member of our family; he's not "just a dog" as some of your comments imply. Second, and more importantly, he protects my family. He lets me know if some ne'er-do-well is lurking around outside and up to no good, and he also lets that ne'er-do-well know that he'll protect his family and our home if necessary.

For the most part, animals learn what they live. If they are mistreated or abandoned, they feel fear and loneliness, and that has a cost. Just like guns don't kill people, people kill people; aggressive animals are not born, they are created by the person(s) around them.

My advice to you, don't ever adopt a furry family member, realize that you can't control anything but your own actions, and Grow the H Up.

RLW wrote on November 21, 2012 at 8:11 pm

I am sorry that your lab and daughter had to go through that and now one of your baby's is dead because a cop doesnt know how to stop a dog fight without using a gun.

There are way to many people who dont derserve to have pets because they dont take proper

care of them.It's a problem here in Rantoul also. I am so sorry for your loss. Mr. Cobb, please do the right thing and find justice for Dog the lab.

  Robin Winslow

delphi_ote wrote on November 22, 2012 at 1:11 am

It's completely absurd that this headline is worded "shot at dogs" and not "shot dog". A girl's pet died in front of her over this officer's decision.  You should be ashamed of burying this fact multiple paragraphs into the article.

Apparently, a police officer fired multiple shots in a suburb near a child to stop a dog fight, but I only connected those shocking facts after parsing a disjointed wall of marginally coherent sentences/paragraphs.  The News-Gazette can and should do better than this.

rsp wrote on November 23, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Both dogs were shot, not just one. She is a young adult, not a little girl. She is 18 years old. Don't make it sound like she can't cross the street alone. 

curiousJ wrote on November 30, 2012 at 10:11 am

Please do not lie. The pit bull WAS NOT SHOT, only Dog.

Marti Wilkinson wrote on November 25, 2012 at 2:11 am

As much as I support a citizens review board, I'm also inclined to think that this incident really needs to be addressed by the county board. Often, the police end up being called out to address issues with animals, when the animal control office is closed. Perhaps the county needs to consider having someone 'on call' who has been trained to properly handle these situations when they occur.

Sid Saltfork wrote on November 25, 2012 at 5:11 pm

At least have someone on call who is a better shot.  Someone with experience in breaking up dogfights; and getting cats and gorillas out of trees.  They should have no fear of snakes, rats, racoons, possums, and coyotes either.  Applicants for the job should not be restricted to Illinois residents.  A job search should include Alabama, Arkansas, and Texas.

What do other municipalities the size of C-U do about dogfights?  It must be a common problem.  What procedures, and policies do other municipalities follow for dogfights?

rsp wrote on November 26, 2012 at 8:11 am

I'm of the opinion that calls about dogs are way up. People have realized the danger of having all these animals running loose. There have also been a few calls about dog fights. I heard one call about someone had been bit. What I really find interesting is nobody is going out to some of these calls.