Humane society donates to care of K-9 officers after Rocco's death

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When board members of the Butler County Humane Society heard of the line-of-duty death of police dog Rocco in Pittsburgh, there was outrage, sadness and determination to do something.

“It was immediate. It was intense,’’ recalled Marci Mustello, president of the nine-member board.

The first thing the nonprofit agency did was arrange for a funeral wreath to be delivered to the services for Rocco. Then, the board voted unanimously to redirect some of the funding it raises for the operation of its Connoquenessing Township shelter to the police agencies in the county that operate a canine unit. The decision reflects respect for both Rocco and the jobs done by the Butler County police canines, Ms. Mustello said.

During the humane society’s eighth annual formal dinner/dance fundraiser known as the Fur Ball, the agency presented $500 checks to police departments with canine officers: Hutch, in Lancaster; Chaos in Evans City; and Blade and Gunner in Butler City. The agency also presented a $900 bullet-proof protective vest for Bullet, the K-9 officer working the Butler County sheriff’s office.

The presentations were made Saturday, April 26, at the dinner/dance, which was held at the Butler Country Club in Penn. Some 217 people attended and close to $50,000 was raised for the agency, which has an annual operating budget of about $700,000.

“Our primary mission is to take care of the abandoned, abused, and neglected animals (who come into our shelter.) But, we wanted to reach out into the community and do what we could do to help with these valiant (canine officers) that do so much for us. They’re here for us. We wanted to be there for them,” Ms. Mustello said.

She said the incident involving Rocco’s death in Pittsburgh crystalized the importance of the animals.

“There was such a sense of sadness we felt that an officer was murdered in the line of duty. We all feel it when a human officer has lost his life but we felt it so sharply when this animal officer lost his life,” Ms. Mustello said.

The dog was stabbed Jan. 28 while attempting to apprehend a fugitive. Rocco, an 8-year-old German shepherd, underwent several medical procedures before dying two days later. At the Butler County Humane Society’s board meeting in February, the decision was made to make the first-time contributions toward the county’s dog officers. Ms. Mustello said the vest for Bullet will offer a degree of protection for the animal when on duty. The donations to the other department can be used either toward the purchase of vests or for care and upkeep of the dogs. She said she hopes to make additional contributions in coming years.

Butler County Sheriff Sgt. Harry Callithen, the handler of Bullet — a 3.5-year-old German short-haired pointer — said the humane society’s donation of a protective vest is “certainly appreciated.” A four-year employee of the sheriff’s office, he’s been Bullet’s handler since the dog joined the department about two years ago. Bullet’s duties include drug detection, especially in the county prison and in schools, as well as providing assistance in the searches for missing people.

Ms. Mustello said Rocco’s death was “tragic — a crime against an innocent, beloved servant of the law which has brought about unthinkable sadness to animal lovers everywhere.” But she said the death proved to be “a catalyst for something positive” — the purchase of Bullet’s vest and the contributions to the other K-9 officers’ care.

The Butler County Humane Society cares for nearly 2,000 homeless dogs and cats annually.

Karen Kane: or 724-772-9180.

Karen Kane: or at 724-772-9180.

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