Hundreds pay respects to slain city police dog



A service dog named Gracie helped Catherine Pusateri walk several blocks from their Oakland apartment Friday morning to the funeral service for Pittsburgh K-9 officer Rocco.

They came so that one working dog could pay tribute to another working dog, said Ms. Pusateri, a retired clinical microbiologist. She has a rare form of brittle bone disease that has caused 65 fractures in her lifetime. The 7-year-old Labrador retriever-beagle mix provides "mobility assistance" to help Ms. Pusateri walk, and retrieves her cane and other objects when she drops them.

Gracie was calm, steady and not at all intimidated as 168 K-9 vehicles brought canine and human officers to the funeral for the German shepherd that was stabbed Jan. 27 while trying to apprehend a suspect.

Police dog Rocco remembered by officers, citizens

In a ceremony befitting an officer of the law, slain police dog Rocco was remembered in a solemn ceremony today by officers and citizens alike. (Video by Doug Oster; 2/7/2014)

After traveling in a slow procession from the Pittsburgh canine training facility in Highland Park, K-9 dogs and their partners lined both sides of the long entrance to Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland. Most had black tape or bands over their badges -- a sign of respect for a fallen officer.

Five officers in the color guard -- three holding flags for the United States, Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh -- stood at attention as retired canine handler William Zeglowitsch played bagpipes. Rocco's picture and his cremated remains were carried into the hall, followed by Officer Phil Lerza, who was Rocco's partner, his wife and their two children.

Suburban police officers, firefighters, Pittsburgh Animal Control officers, constables, search and rescue dog handlers, emergency medical technicians and other first responders filed into the service.

Hankies and tissues came out of pockets and purses when Pittsburgh police Officer Elizabeth Vitalbo sang "The Lord's Prayer." Emotions ran high throughout the 45-minute service as officers paid tribute to Rocco and his partner.

K-9 dogs "live for the praise of their handler," said Allegheny County deputy sheriff Maria Watts, a K-9 officer. "Rocco stood strong with his handler, and he never backed down."

Jeffrey Deschon, a city K-9 officer, thanked the staff at Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Ohio Township "for the care they gave Rocco" for two days "as well as for the way they treated officers and family members."

PVSEC rented a bus to take 32 veterinarians and staff members to the funeral.

Cassie Scappino of Castle Shannon said she was in a local hospital with her newborn son when she learned of Rocco's death. A life-long dog lover who works as a pet sitter, she said, "I just had to be here for Rocco."

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto did not attend the services because he was out of town on a five-day vacation that had been planned since November, said chief of staff Kevin Acklin.

Former Pittsburgh police Chief Dom Costa, now a state legislator, attended wearing his chief's badge partially covered with a black band. He noted that local legislators on Friday introduced "Rocco's Law" which would impose stiffer penalties on people who severely injure or kill police animals.

Others who attended include county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publisher John Robinson Block, acting Pittsburgh public safety director Michael Huss, fire Chief Darryl Jones and state Rep. Adam Ravenstahl.

City council members in attendance included Dan Gilman, Bruce Kraus, Deb Gross, R. Daniel Lavell and Corey O'Connor.

Also there were officers from Pennsylvania state police, Penn Hills, East Pittsburgh, Warren K-9 unit, Butler County sheriff's office, Bethel Park, state constables, Port Vue, Coraopolis, Aspinwall and McKees Rocks.


Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-722-0087.

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