Ottney: Doggone dogsWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
Last month, Blade ombudsman Jack Lessenberry addressed some of the negative feedback regarding Blade writer Keith Burris’ Feb. 15 column, “Woodville: Worst little town in Ohio?” in his March 1 column, “Additional info would have bolstered Woodville column.”
“You don’t have to be a dog lover to think there is something seriously wrong when a policeman shoots a Labrador retriever who is just walking up to him, something that eventually caused the dog to lose a leg,” Lessenberry wrote. “Blazing away with a gun at a dog ambling toward you is few people’s idea of farsighted police work.”
As has been stated numerous times in The Blade and elsewhere, Officer Steve Gilkerson’s statement about the Nov. 3 incident reads that the dog — an unleashed, unlicensed chocolate lab named Moses that approached him during a traffic stop — “did not stop when yelled at,” “continued toward me, with a look in its eyes that I would describe as focused on a target” and “did not seem interested in veering from its set path.” That doesn’t sound like ambling to me.
Granted, three witnesses to the incident — two from the stopped vehicle and one employee of Moses’ owners’ business — gave statements saying they saw the dog simply walking toward the scene. Two noted in their reports the dog was “just smelling the ground and wagging its tail.”
But when there are two versions of a story, either of which may or may not be factual and neither of which will ever be proven, why should either one be presented as fact? The he said-she said situation that was decided by four police chiefs, a firearms instructor and the Sandusky County prosecutor in favor of the officer was apparently decisively overturned by The Blade in favor of the witnesses.
A few weeks ago, I got some ribbing from co-workers after TFP ran several positive letters to the editor about my column (“Bully pulpit,” Feb. 22) responding to Burris’ column. It’s not that I didn’t also get criticism; I did. But those people declined permission to run their letters. One emailer stated: “You are not any better than The Blade if you don’t look into the dog and the dog’s history of attacks. Sugarcoat what you want. That is easy. True investigation, true reporting takes guts and persistence. Maybe the truth just isn’t what Toledo papers are interested in.”
Fair enough. For whatever reason, it’s never been reported that there is at least one prior incident on file with local law enforcement involving Moses. On Sept. 11, 2011, Ron and Kimberly Taylor, who live near Moses’ owners’ business on Route 20 called police after a dog without identification came onto their property. A sheriff’s office report states that the dog — later identified as Moses — “was acting aggressively” and “causing issues” with the Taylors’ animals. The report also states the dog had been seen on other occasions.
I recently spoke with Ron, who said he remembers the incident well as it happened during his daughter’s 7th birthday party. He said the dog attacked his female Great Dane, which caused his male Great Dane to jump in. “It had my female down and by the throat when my other dog came at it,” Ron told me.
He got all the kids inside before approaching the dog, which he said jumped at him and then chased him into his dogs’ kennel, where he managed to jump the fence and secure the dog inside before calling police.
When a sheriff’s deputy arrived, the dog was “barking and going nuts” inside the kennel, Ron said. The deputy advised Ron to keep it in the kennel overnight and notify animal control the next day. However, Ron said he became aggravated by the dog’s continuous barking so he decided to let it go. When it wouldn’t leave, he shot at — but didn’t hit — the dog with a paintball gun to drive it away. He said he watched the dog go to another neighbor’s property, where he saw owner Thomas Bischoff pick it up later that night.
Ron said the dog returned to his property weeks later and attacked his female dog again, but he didn’t call police. After that, he said he didn’t see the dog again for years until he recognized Moses on the news after the shooting.
Ron said he is friendly with Moses’ owners, Bischoff and Lauren Meyer, and has done business with them. But he’s frustrated Meyer blamed the incident on his dog being in heat rather than apologize for their dog being on his property. Bischoff is a “good guy,” he said, but needs to keep his dog on his own property. He also disputes “the narrative of poor innocent Moses.”
“The dog I saw that day, that was not a nice little puppy you were going to walk up and pet,” Ron said. “It was growling and barking like crazy. I don’t know [Gilkerson] but I see people trying to get a guy fired over a dog I’ve seen be very aggressive.”
Ron said someone from The Blade left a voicemail message last fall asking about the 2011 report.
“I called them back and left them a message, telling them the story I just told you,” he told me. “I never got a call back.”
The now-6-year-old dog is also once again unlicensed. According to the county dog warden, Moses was first licensed in 2011 and then again on Nov. 12, 2014. That license expired Dec. 31.
Moses’ owners did not return a phone call seeking comment. I guess I can’t say I blame them. This doggone story is getting mighty played out. But that’s a whole new (old) story.
Sarah Ottney is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.