ST. PETERSBURG — A week after a 9-year-old mutt named Smoke was felled by a deputy's bullets, the animal's death has provoked public outrage and led to investigations by police and animal advocates.
Why did the deputy use a firearm instead of pepper spray or a Taser?
How could the treating veterinarian let the chow-pit bull mix go home with two bullets in his body?
Law enforcement, animal advocates and others have fielded angry calls and e-mails since the dog's owner told her story to the St. Petersburg Times and its Web site, tampabay.com.
On Monday, an animal rights society ended its investigation without finding wrongdoing. But that's not likely to quell the unrest.
"Something's got to be done," said Smoke's owner, Lee Ann Hutts. "How could all of this happen?"
It began last Tuesday night when deputies went to Hutts' Suncove Apartments mobile home at 28th Street N, looking for the source of a burglary call.
Hutts came to the door with Smoke, who began barking. Deputy Robert McGuire told Hutts to secure the dog inside while he questioned her outside. But the dog got back outside.
McGuire said he feared Smoke was going to bite or attack him, so he drew his gun from his holster and shot the dog twice.
Hutts drove the bleeding dog to Noah's Place 24-Hour Medical Center, where he was bandaged and given drugs for head and shoulder wounds. Hutts couldn't afford surgery and took Smoke home after a few hours.
Smoke suffered and bled all night, said Hutts. A veterinarian with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals euthanized the dog Wednesday morning because he was nearly dead, said SPCA investigator Connie Brooks.
Brooks said the SPCA gets involved any time a law enforcement official shoots an animal. In this case, she spoke to the McGuire's supervisor and determined the deputy's use of a firearm was justified.
Pinellas sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said McGuire had little choice but to shoot after he repeatedly asked Hutts to put the dog inside.
"The dog was aggressively coming toward him and adopted a posture where the deputy thought he was going to be attacked," Pasha said.
According to Pasha, pepper spray and Tasers are not effective against animals that are low to the ground and constantly moving.
(St. Petersburg police also discourage the use of Tasers on attacking animals, said police spokesman Bill Proffitt, and using a firearm is allowed when necessary.)
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Should the veterinarian have done more?
Ken Brown, a spokesman and supervisor with Noah's Place, said the emergency veterinary staff treated Smoke by giving him pain medication and bandaging him.
The staff suggested surgery, which Hutts could not afford, and also asked her if she'd like to euthanize Smoke.
Hutts declined and left with the dog and a list of charitable organizations that might be able to help with surgery costs, Brown said.
Hutts disputed this Monday, saying the Noah's Place staff never offered euthanasia as an option. She said Noah's wanted $3,000 for surgery, while Brown said it was more like $500.
That isn't the only dispute. Brown said Smoke was stable and could walk, while Hutts said the dog was clearly suffering.
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The SPCA closed its inquiry by saying no one showed blatant cruelty toward the dog, including the deputy who caused his demise.
"He felt bad," sheriff's spokeswoman Pasha said of the deputy. "It didn't have to happen. He said, 'I enjoy animals just as much as the next person.' "
Hutts said she and other family members are so distraught they plan to leave town. They're hoping to move to Kentucky next month.
Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8452.