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Jeannette officer kills charging pit bull that cornered letter carrier

| Friday, April 27, 2012, 7:13 a.m.

A Jeannette police officer shot and killed a pit bull Monday morning, after the dog reportedly held a mailman at bay for 15 minutes and then lunged at the officer.

It was the fifth dog shot by police officers in Westmoreland County in the last two months.

Jeannette police Chief Jeff Stahl said two pit bulls cornered the mailman in the 500 block of Gaskill Avenue at 9:46 a.m.

When canine officer Justin Scalzo and Cpl. Shannon Binda arrived, one dog charged Binda as he was getting out of his car, Stahl said.

"He was able to get one round off from his sidearm," Stahl said. "One shot, the dog went down. The officer did not have a chance to retreat. There was nothing he could do."

The owner of the dog was cited for disorderly conduct after officers say he threatened to kill police because of the shooting. A woman restrained the other pit bull.

According to DogsBite.org, a national dog bite victims group, Pennsylvania is fourth in the nation in the number of pit bull attacks — 18 — in the first six months of 2009. The most were in Ohio, followed by Florida and Texas.

Nationally, of the 88 fatal dog attacks the organization recorded from 2006-08, pit bulls were responsible for 52, or 59 percent.

"I think a lot of people don't understand how many police officers have to shoot these dogs for public safety reasons," said Colleen Lynn, the founder of DogsBite.org, based in Seattle.

In 2008, Pennsylvania came in fifth in the nation for the number of pit bulls shot — by police officers or citizens — to ward off attacks. Pennsylvania had 20 out of 373 such shootings, according to DogsBite.

"The primary argument out there today is pit bull owners who say ... 'I raised my dog well, it won't attack.' Our side is, you can't deny genetics," Lynn said. "They will never be poodles."

After the Jeannette shooting, Stahl and the dogs' owner, Andre Crosby, hurried to the scene. Crosby screamed at the officers and threatened them, Stahl said.

The chief said he pulled out his Taser and ordered Crosby to stop.

"He was yelling that we killed his dog," Stahl said. "He said he should shoot us like we shot his dog."

Crosby was cited for disorderly conduct. "We know he's upset, but we can only let it go so far," Stahl said.

He said Crosby was put into a police car and calmed down, eventually apologized to police and was released.

Crosby did not return several messages requesting comment.

Gary Hoffman, from Hoffman Kennels in Delmont, said Crosby will receive four citations: one for allowing dogs to run at large, which carries a potential $100 to $500 fine; two citations for failing to have his dogs licensed; and one citation for failing to have one dog vaccinated for rabies.

Hoffman said he investigates 25 to 30 animal bites a month in his Westmoreland and eastern Allegheny territory. The number has not changed much in recent years, he said.

"The big difference is dogs have gotten bigger and tougher," Hoffman said. "Now when we go to quarantine (a dog after a bite), it's a 50-, 70-, 80-pound dog."

Some pet owners are unprepared for the size of some breeds and are surprised when a dog suddenly turns aggressive, Hoffman said.

"Thankfully, my officer did not get hurt," Stahl said. "How (the mailman) kept them at bay, I don't know. It's just unfortunate we were put in this situation again."

Postal Service spokesman Tad Kelley said carriers are told to use their satchels as a buffer between themselves and aggressive dogs and typically carry pepper spray. It was unclear whether the Jeannette carrier, who was not identified, used either defense.

"Our carrier continued delivering his route without further interruption once the police contained the dogs," Kelley said in an e-mail.

Additional Information:

Westmoreland County kills

In the past 2 months, police officers have shot and killed five dogs in Westmoreland County:

• On Aug. 15, Jeannette police shot and killed a 150-pound Rottweiler that wandered from its yard and lunged at an officer as he and an animal control officer tried to place the dog in a confinement noose.

• On Aug. 29, police in North Belle Vernon shot and killed a bulldog that attacked a man and woman walking two Malteses.

• On Sept. 20, Latrobe police shot two pit bull mixes after they attacked and killed a Shih Tzu in a neighbor's yard. The owner surrendered three pit bull-boxer mixed breeds that were euthanized.

• On Monday, a Jeannette police officer fatally shot a pit bull that lunged at him after the dog cornered a mailman for 15 minutes.

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