The funeral for Rocco, the Pittsburgh police dog that died last week from a knife wound he suffered while trying to apprehend a suspect, will begin at 11 a.m. Friday at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland.
The service is open to the public, but priority seating will be given to law enforcement officers and their families. Cameras will not be permitted at the service, which is expected to last until about 1 p.m.
Rocco's handler, Officer Phil Lerza, originally asked that the funeral be closed to the public but changed his mind after numerous calls and emails and an outpouring of support from the public.
"The tremendous show of support has deeply touched the Lerza family and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police," said a prepared statement from the police bureau.
Friday morning, Pittsburgh police officers will gather at the bureau's canine training academy on Washington Boulevard in Highland Park to form a processional. About 10 a.m., they will leave the academy in a procession to Soldiers & Sailors. The police bureau has not announced whether Washington Boulevard, Fifth Avenue or side streets will be closed during the trip to Oakland.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is unable to attend the funeral. He issued this statement Thursday:
STATEMENT OF MAYOR WILLIAM PEDUTO
In a private ceremony at 6 p.m. today in the Mayor’s Office Mayor William Peduto presented the flag of the City of Pittsburgh to Officer Phil Lerza and his family, and delivered the following remarks in honor of fallen K-9 Officer Rocco:
When a Pittsburgh officer dies in the line of duty, it is customary to present the family with a flag of the city.
Officer Rocco was a police dog who died defending three uniformed officers, and his family was that of Zone Five Officer, Phil Lerza.
Officer Lerza was one of the three policemen Rocco died defending, and he was himself injured while capturing the fugitive who killed his partner Rocco.
Because of a long-standing commitment to a loved one, I must be out-of-town during tomorrow’s memorial service.
But I did not want to leave without first paying my respects, and the respect of our city, to Rocco and to the good people who became his family during the time he served us.
The night Officer Rocco died, I went to the Veterinary Clinic and stayed with Officer Rocco, the Lerzas, and the police officers who gathered to be with a comrade on his final watch.
There were many older officers, big, tough veterans, men and women accustomed to seeing hard things.
Not a single one of them left that clinic without a leaking heart, torn by both grief and admiration, and with eyes filled with tears in a city that soon joined them in their grief when the word of Officer Rocco’s passing was announced.
Pittsburgh showed its soul that night, a soul that shines with compassion, and recognizes the good not only in every human, but in every being.
Not every dog proves a perfect match for the job of protecting others.
The combination of control and courage needed in a canine officer are not found in every dog.
But Rocco measured up in every way.
He faced an assailant's knife without hesitation, without retreat, and with a loyalty that reached beyond mere "trait" and well into the realm of character.
There are 5,000 known species of mammal, but Rocco showed us why only one of them is known as man's best friend.
Rocco came to us from a breeder in the Czech Republic. Like so many others in our city, he had his origins in another land, and his heart in Pittsburgh.
It was a Czech-born writer, Milan Kundera, who spoke of dogs as our last link to paradise.
He said: "They don't know evil, or jealousy, or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace."
Rocco is now at peace, and we can only pray that the old saying is true - that all dogs go to heaven.
Surely, with Rocco there, Heaven is a safer, happier place.
I am sorry that my plans must take me away from the city tomorrow, but please know that Rocco, the Lerzas, and every man and woman who protects our city will be in my thoughts and prayers.
So, on behalf of the citizens of Pittsburgh, with gratitude and humility, I present this flag of our city to the Lerzas - Rocco's family.