State, shelter intervene to save 'dangerous' dog

What happens when police respond to a domestic incident, find a man suffering from bite wounds and a dog so wound up they have to fire a Taser to subdue him?

Who do you think goes to jail?

Right. The dog.

Not only that, this "dangerous" animal face the very real prospect of being destroyed.

That scenario nearly played out in Lancaster County this week.

Last Friday police in West Hempfield Township responded to a call from family members reporting a domestic disturbance and found a man suffering from bite wounds. They also found a black Labrador Retriever they described as  "out of control."

Officers were forced to use a a Taser because the dog was "still going ballistic" when they arrived, said Sgt. Russell Geier.

 Police said the adult male dog, who attacked the man during a domestic dispute, was taken to the police station and held under quarantine.

State dog warden Dick Hess, who handles dangerous dog cases, came out to observe the dog said after the quarantine he would be taken to Lancaster Humane League and "most likely be euthanized," said Geier.

Meanwhile, the dog, who we now know is named Zeke, had settled down and was behaving normally - even with Taser probes still stuck in him, Geier said.

The idea Zeke would be destroyed upset animal loving officers who were forbidden from having any contact with him during quarantine, Geier said.

That's when dog law advisory board member Tom Hickey (and founder of the advocacy group Saving Puppies) and Main Line Animal Rescue founder Bill Smith stepped in.

Both contacted Michael Pechart, executive deputy secretary for the Department of Agriculture, and made an appeal for Zeke. The owners surrendered their dog to Smith and he was taken quickly to the incomparable Metropolitan Veterinary Associates in Norristown, where vets removed the Taser's stingers (like metal fish hooks for those who have never been Tased) and gave him a health check.

Zeke is doing fine at the Chester Springs shelter, Smith said.

Sgt. Russell Geier said the incident is under investigation and it is not yet clear whether the unidentified man will be charged with domestic abuse and/or animal cruelty.

The incident raises many questions about the protocol in such situations both at the state and county level. Most often cases of dangerous dogs involve an owner who wants to protect their animal and ends up going to court to defend them.

In those cases it's up to the magistrate to determine the dog's fate. 

In Zeke's case he was essentially an orphan. Who was to plead his case and to whom?

A spokeswoman for the Lancaster Humane League said the shelter did not get involved because West Hempfield was among the number of municipalities who did not sign a contract with them to provide animal control services.

Yet Lancaster Humane provides countywide animal cruelty enforcement through its humane officer.

Hickey said while such incidents are rare he wants to make sure wardens understand their role and that innocent dogs aren't destroyed for trying to protect their owners.

"It's a happy ending," said Hickey. "It seems in this case the dog was trying to protect its owner and the state protected the dog."