Pittsburgh man arrested in dog's death

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Pittsburgh police Officer Christine Luffey whistled out the open window of her cruiser, hoping that the dog she heard barking in the distance would appear.

She had just finished lecturing a Carrick woman, in whose yard neighbors found a sweltering puppy, about the dangers of leaving dogs outdoors on hot, humid days like Tuesday, when she heard another dog yelp. She rushed to find it.

She found no distressed dog as she moved down the narrow street, but Officer Luffey was taking no chances on a day when the temperature reached 96. She didn't want to see another case like that of Tyrrell Herbert, 26, of Mount Washington, whom she charged Tuesday with a misdemeanor count of animal cruelty after his 7-month-old pit bull, Loca, died in the blistering heat.

"That dog died a very brutal death," Officer Luffey said. Officers found the dead dog tied in the middle of Mr. Herbert's yard without water or shelter on a 95-degree day this month. "It literally baked to death in the sun."

While that was perhaps the worst case of animal cruelty she has seen this summer, the recent heat wave has her and other officers chasing scores of calls for overheated pets. The Herbert case, she said, underscores the problem.

"The call volume is tremendous," Officer Luffey said. "We've received calls at police stations, we've received them through 911. ... It's truly been a battle this summer."

Officer Luffey received four calls for unattended hot dogs on Tuesday alone; she sought help from humane officers while she arrested Mr. Herbert. Outside the Carrick home where neighbors said they had been giving water to a dog that had been left outside from dawn till dusk, Officer Luffey said she tried to tell the homeowner that letting pets sweat in the sun is a crime.

"I tell people, if you want to know how a dog feels in this heat, go inside, put on your heaviest winter coat and stand in the sun for five minutes," she said.

Deadly cases like that of Mr. Herbert's dog usually result in misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty. But nonfatal cases that are sometimes just as heart-wrenching typically generate lesser summary charges.

In one such case, Officer Luffey plans to charge Jaquay Sears, 29, and Steluchia Miller, 19, with a string of offenses after officers found their six pit bulls in wire crates in the sun, suffering severely and covered in filth. Humane officers seized those dogs along with three others discovered outdoors.

"If I think a dog is in trouble, I take it," Officer Luffey said. "We don't want to find any more dead dogs."

West View police charged a man with animal cruelty earlier this summer in the death of an American bulldog he walked on a scorching June day.

"He took the dog for a long walk during the day and the dog began to collapse," said Kathy Hecker, a humane officer with Animal Friends. "What happens in heatstroke is the organs get cooked and start to shut down."

When the dog's back legs began to give out, the owner dragged it, she said. The dog's paws were burned, torn and bleeding from the hot asphalt.

Experts caution pet owners about exercising animals at all in hot, humid weather and advise limiting outdoor activity to mornings and evenings. Overweight or older animals can be more prone to heat illnesses, as well as short-nosed breeds like pugs, boxers and English bulldogs.

"You want to make sure that you're not overexerting them," said Gretchen Fieser, spokeswoman for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.

She said healthy dogs can be walked safely in short 10- to 15-minute bursts with access to shade and cool water. She also suggests indoor play, such as fetch down a set of stairs in your air-conditioned home if your dog is in good shape and needs to release energy.

Kenton Rexford, veterinarian and partner at Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty and Emergency Center, said the hospital treats at least five dogs a week with heat-related illnesses when temperatures near the 90s.

Most dogs survive if they are cared for appropriately, but often suffer from complications such as blood clotting disorders and other problems caused by stress placed on their bodies.

"People don't understand that heat kills and if it doesn't kill, it does brain damage," Ms. Hecker, of Animal Friends, said. "People need to take it seriously."

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Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. Taryn Luna: 412-263-1985 or tluna@post-gazette.com. First Published July 18, 2012 4:00 AM


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