ST. PETERSBURG — Joseph McGinley noticed the two dogs in the street Wednesday night and immediately slowed down.
He didn't think anything until, moments later, he saw a young man call to the pit bulls, who ambled over. As McGinley slowly drove past, he glanced in his rearview mirror.
"I heard the pop, then I saw the flash," McGinley said.
One of the animals, a one-year-old white pit bull named Tatiana, ran off, yelping. So did the man.
McGinley — at a stop sign about 50 feet away near Second Avenue S and 53rd Street — put his car in reverse and called 911.
"Honestly, I thought he had thrown a firecracker at the dog," McGinley said. But when he got back to the spot where the man and dogs were standing, McGinley didn't find the remnants of a firecracker. On the ground was a shell casing from a .380-caliber gun.
"I couldn't believe it," McGinley, 30, said. "He shot the dog."
Minutes later, the dog's owner, Chaz Smith, appeared.
Smith said he recognized McGinley's description of the shooter as Shawn Guizzotti, his 20-year-old neighbor. Smith said he sometimes sees the young man hanging outside, but has never had any trouble with him.
"I really, really don't know why he did it," Smith said, adding that he is torn between being upset that someone hurt his dog and empathy for a young man he hopes has not ruined his life with this mistake. "Sounds like he had a gun and wanted to use it. I'm sad on both ends."
The bullet that struck Tatiana went through her right shoulder; she is expected to survive. Smith said his dogs rarely get out of the yard.
Authorities said they quickly located Guizzotti, who led officers in a short foot chase, according to Mike Puetz, police spokesman. He was arrested on a charge of animal cruelty but more charges could be added.
Records show Guizzotti was released from prison last summer after serving a little more than a year for battery and drug charges. He was out on bail for a burglary charge from January.
McGinley, who said he has an older pit bull of his own, called the incident "senseless."
He said Smith's dogs were docile and that he initially figured Guizzotti was their owner because they approached him in such a friendly manner.
"They weren't aggressive to him at all," he said. "For anybody to hurt an animal for no reason, they need to be punished."