SAFETY HARBOR — It's a suburban cliche: Wily dog burrows beneath fence, gets into trouble.
But Thursday the cliche took an odd twist when Emma, a 4-year-old chocolate Lab, escaped her owner's yard and ran into a hail of gunfire.
The man who shot her, 73-year-old Patrick Lauer, told authorities it was an ongoing problem and he was defending his daughter and granddaughter from an aggressive dog.
The dog's owner, 32-year-old Zion Wooldridge, said the dog has never been aggressive, even with his daughters, who are 8 and 11.
Emma was hit in both hind legs by a single bullet, but is expected to make a quick and complete recovery.
Authorities referred charges of animal cruelty and improper exhibition of a firearm to the State Attorney's Office.
Here's what happened, according to authorities and Wooldridge.
About 9:20 a.m., Emma managed to get off the pool deck and under the backyard fence.
Wooldridge, a technology consultant, was at home when he heard what sounded like a gunshot.
His house pool deck ends just a few feet from the side of his neighbor's house. Wooldridge stepped onto the deck to see what was going on and heard more gunshots.
He spotted Lauer standing just a few feet away — on the other side of the fence — firing at Emma.
Authorities said Lauer, who lives in Dunedin, was visiting his daughter, Linda Lauer, at her house.
He let fly all five rounds in his five-shot, .38-caliber revolver, according to Sgt. Jim Bordner, but only one round struck Emma.
When the shooting stopped, Wooldridge and Lauer started arguing across the fence as Emma managed to get back into her yard.
Wooldridge saw his dog was bleeding and broke off the argument to rush her to the animal hospital.
Both men called the Sheriff's Office to report the shooting.
Public records show that Lauer has a concealed weapons permit. A deputy on scene confiscated Lauer's .38-caliber and .25-caliber handguns.
"I'm p----- off," Wooldridge said. "The guy is firing a .38 in my back yard and I have children around."
This wasn't the first time Emma had escaped. A month ago, Wooldridge said, she got out when no one was home. Wooldridge said he was planning to put concrete blocks around the yard to prevent that, but until he could arrange that, he was keeping her confined to the pool deck. Somehow she slipped out.
At the animal hospital, Emma was brought into the operating room dripping blood all over. Veterinarian Don Woodman said her breed is so gentle that even in that condition she was wagging her tail.
The bullet passed through the left hind leg and lodged in the right, without hitting the bone in either leg. It was removed relatively easily and Emma should make a full recovery, Woodman said.
The veterinarian said these types of shootings are rare, but it was not uncommon to X-ray pets and find they had been hit with BB's without their owners knowing it.
Woodman said Emma would be held overnight for observation. He called her a "really lucky dog."
On Thursday afternoon, she sat in her cage at the hospital, both legs bandaged and tail wagging.
Jonathan Abel can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4157.