Sunday, June 4, 2017

Florida: After dog attack takes his beloved dog Jordy's life, owner's quest for justice doesn't go far

FLORIDA -- When Bill Braitsch set out for his daily walk along Gandy Beach with his dog, he never imagined that it would be the last walk of 4-year-old Jordy's life.

Braitsch, 54, said he saw a large dog tied to a stake in the sand near a red sport utility vehicle. He said a woman called out "it's okay," as they walked by.

Then he saw the other dog sprinting toward them.

It lunged at Jordy, he said, and tore into the 7-pound dog's belly.

"I couldn't get him out of his mouth," Braitsch said.

Jordy's abdominal wall was ripped open. Braitsch said he injured his hand trying to save his dog. Then he saw the other dog's owners quickly pack up and leave.

"My hand was dripping blood, my dog screaming," he said. "They didn't even care."

Hours later, Jordy, a rescue dog, had to be put down.

That was May 26. Braitsch then set out to see justice done for Jordy.

His quest did not go well.

"I look out my window and see people walk by with their dogs," he said. "If they only knew what could happen."

• • •

After the attack, Braitsch scooped up his crying dog and called 911. He read to the dispatcher the license tag of the other dog owner before the red SUV drove away.

He said Pinellas sheriff's deputies arrived and told him the dog attack was a civil matter. They told him to call animal control — the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.

Braitsch said he raced to a veterinarian. He was told Jordy should be euthanized.

Then he began looking for the owners of the dog that killed Jordy. He started on Facebook and the neighborhood website Nextdoor.

He warned others about walking their dogs on Gandy Beach. He also posted a fuzzy, far-away photo of the red SUV and asked people to share it in hopes of finding the dog's owners.

"I can't believe my buddy is gone," Braitsch wrote.

It has been shared nearly 2,200 times.

• • •

Four days after the attack, Braitsch said he was finally contacted by Pinellas County Animal Services.

There was already confusion. The incident took place in Pinellas County. But Braitsch and the owners of the other dog both lived in Hillsborough County.

At one point, both agencies told the Tampa Bay Times that the other agency would handle the investigation.

Turns out, the Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center ended up handling it, said Hillsborough County spokesman Todd Pratt, because the other dog might have to be quarantined in its home county.

There was another wrinkle: the results of Hillsborough's investigation would be sent to Pinellas officials, who would decide whether to levy civil fines or criminal charges.

Before Jordy's death, Braitsch didn't know how the law handled dog attacks.

He didn't know that Florida has some of the most comprehensive dog laws in the country, or that it would take two different county governments to investigate one dog attack.

It's the kinds of things most dog owners don't think about, Braitsch said, until their dog is attacked.

• • •

It was Thursday when Hillsborough investigators showed Braitsch a photo of a dog.

They asked if he could positively identify it as the dog that killed Jordy and bit his hand.

Braitsch thought the attacking dog might have been a German shepherd mix. But the dog in the photo looked like a pit bull terrier mix.

That's when Braitsch realized he couldn't be sure that the dog in the photo was the one that had attacked him.

"It just happened so fast," he said.

• • •

Braitsch felt like the burden of proof had fallen to him, and he had little evidence to offer.

He now wishes that he had taken more photos so he could identify the dog, or its owners, without any doubts. He wishes he could give animal control what it needed to pursue the case.

But Braitsch said it didn't feel right to point his finger at a dog if he couldn't be absolutely sure that it was the one who had attacked Jordy — especially if the other dog ended up being euthanized.

"It wasn't enough," he said. "I thought just having the bare minimum I could go through the process. The whole situation is so many steps."

Nearly a week after his Jordy died, Braitsch signed a waiver. He would no longer pursue the dog attack case.

"Every day I think about this, it's opening up the wound," he said. "I had to stop."

Editor's note: The woman who owns the red SUV was identified in a Pinellas dog bite report obtained by the Times. Hillsborough investigators said her brother owned the dog, but did not identify the dog owner. The Times asked both Pinellas and Hillsborough officials for the investigative report into Jordy's death. Pinellas officials said they could not turn it over because Hillsborough County had it. Hillsborough officials declined to release it.

(Tampa Bay - June 3, 2017)