RIVERVIEW — For six days, two bullets remained lodged in Vader's body.
One struck the seven-year-old Siberian Husky mix in the chest, piercing his lungs and shattering his left leg. The other lay just beneath the dog's skin, forming a visible bulge in his back.
His owners say it shouldn't have happened. The private security guard who fired four rounds at the dog, and his owners' home, was standing more than 30 feet away when he saw the dog bound out the front door and began shooting, they said.
"The second bullet hit his back when he was trying to run away, and when it hit there wasn't even enough force for the bullet to get lodged in there," said Kelley Hill, who lives in the house off Hoffner Edge Drive where her boyfriend, David Zimmerman, has raised Vader since he was a puppy. "If he had shot him at close range, if the dog really had been attacking him, that gun would have blown him to pieces, right? He wouldn't even be here."
Hill said the dog has had to endure a complicated surgery and a grueling, week-long schedule of in-patient medical treatments. But on Friday evening, the couple finally got to take Vader home to his brothers — a German Shepherd named Bear and a Jack Russell terrier named Hunter.
"The treatment he needed was so complicated there was only one vet in the whole area who said they could do it," said Hill, 32. "We went back and forth with our choices, whether we should find a way to pay for it and hope it worked or if we should just say forget it and put him down. But then we both realized that, no, we have to try. We don't have any children, and none of this was his fault. We had to save him."
A host of neighbors helped the couple set up a Go Fund Me page — Justice for Vader — to help raise money to cover the mounting medical bills. By Friday evening, the page had raised nearly $3,000 of its $15,000 goal.
When he saw his owners Friday, Vader seemed poised for a full recovery. But for the neighbors who witnessed the shooting, recovery will take some time.
It was just before 1 a.m. on Aug. 8 when Zimmerman, 51, got up to let his three dogs outside before bed. Vader was the first out the door and Zimmerman was just a few steps behind when he said he heard the first of four bullets whiz past his body toward his front door.
A licensed gun owner, Zimmerman bolted to his truck and raised his gun toward the guard, whom he said was dressed in black without any visible identification.
They remained locked in a stalemate, Zimmerman holding the guard at gunpoint until deputies arrived and confiscated his weapon, he said. A forensics team struggled to find the two shell casings that didn't strike the dog, the couple said. But a subsequent investigation revealed a small divot where a bullet may have struck the ground in Zimmerman's neighbor's yard.
And the other bullet? An HCSO investigator discovered it this week, lodged in the couple's front door.
A Hillsborough County Sheriff's spokesman confirmed Friday that there is an active investigation into the incident.
Kimberly Fagan is a neighbor of the couple in the sprawling Summerfield Village subdivision. She had never met them, but on Wednesday night joined a large crowd assembled in the community club house for a homeowners association meeting. From 6:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., the group debated what to do next.
Critical Intervention Services has provided security at Summerfield off and on for 10 years, but their contract expires in October.
Hector Rodriguez, chief of protective services for CIS, said the security officer who shot Vader is currently on administrative leave pending the results of the investigation. But even if his actions are ultimately determined to be "justifiable force," he will not return to patrolling Summerfield, Rodriguez said.
The guard, who has 10 years experience in the U.S. Army, was ticketing a car for violating a no-parking overnight rule just before the shooting. Rodriguez said the dog came out of a side door and ran directly toward the guard.
"It was a beeline straight to him," said Rodriguez, who said the guard had nowhere to retreat.
"He's a dog lover and he was emotional after the event," Rodriguez said.
Contact Anastasia Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.