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’s 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 non-violent means tried first,” Saathoff said.
She said Kelsey told her she did not feel personally endangered by the pit bull and that 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,” said Saathoff.
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.