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Pinellas Sheriff's Office pays $5,000 after deputy shoots family's dog

LARGO — As a visitor approached his private enclosure at Tampa Bay Veterinary Specialists Thursday afternoon, the dog hopped up off a blanket, hobbled a few feet and cozied up to her.

Movement was a struggle for the 7-year-old pit bullterrier named Kobe.

His right hind leg, from which a bullet was removed last week, was protected by both a bandage and a splint.

"He's so sweet," said Amy Jones, patient advocate at the clinic. "Everyone here is really attached to him."

On the morning of May 7, Kobe was shot once in the leg and once in the chest by Pinellas County sheriff's Deputy Dana Persha at the Clearwater home of his owners, Barbara and George Garcia.

Persha was assisting a Department of Juvenile Justice officer trying serve a warrant for Sergio Garcia, the couple's 17-year-old son. Persha fired at the dog because it charged while barking and growling, Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cecilia Barreda said.

George Garcia, 39, insists Kobe is a gentle dog, calling him a "Labrador trapped in a pit bull's body." And his 15-year-old daughter, Valentina, who was talking to the authorities at the home's front door when the incident occurred, provided a different account.

"He was just sitting there barking," she said. "When (Persha) shot him, I stood there kind of in shock. I went to pick him up and take him inside."

Barbara Garcia, 39, arrived home a short time later and was told by authorities about the shooting.

Barreda said Garcia was told she could leave to take the dog for medical attention, but didn't do so immediately.

"They said, 'You can go,' but instead, she came out with a camera," Barreda said.

Kobe is scheduled to have surgery today.

The Sheriff's Office twice offered up to $5,000 to cover the dog's medical expenses.

"There was no impropriety on the part of the deputy," Barreda said. "We felt this was in the best interest of the animal. The shooting was at 6:30 a.m. and by 11 (the money) had already been offered. We acted very quickly because we felt it was important to try and reach out."

The Garcia family did not accept the first offer because it required them to say they wouldn't sue the Sheriff's Office in the event the damages exceeded $5,000, said John Trevena, attorney for the family.

The second, which Trevena said was tendered Thursday and did not include such a provision, was accepted.

"We're not trying to get pocket money," George Garcia said. "I'm trying to get the dog the treatment he needs performed. I don't have the money if it's more than $5,000. I've got five kids I'm trying to feed."

Jones said it was her understanding the dog's injured leg would be amputated. But George Garcia said that wasn't true, insisting the family has opted for a second procedure, one in which the leg can be saved.

The price difference in surgical options could be significant.

The amputation would cost less than $5,000, Jones said. The other procedure likely will exceed that amount because it will require considerable aftercare.

All told, Kobe has been in care for eight days.

No member of his family has visited him yet because "it would be too painful," George Garcia said.

Kobe spends much of his time sitting alone in his enclosure. The bullet was removed from his leg the day he was shot. He's now on antibiotics and painkillers.

"This dog is such a sweetheart," Jones said. "Even when he came in wounded, he was wagging his tail."

Keith Niebuhr can be reached at kniebuhr@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4156.

Pinellas Sheriff's Office pays $5,000 after deputy shoots family's dog 05/14/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 14, 2009 8:45pm]
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