Heroic Rocco: The killing of a police dog calls for justice

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Four Pittsburgh police officers and a sheriff’s deputy were assaulted Tuesday night while trying to arrest a man in Lawrenceville on four outstanding warrants. One of the city officers happened to be a canine — and, viciously stabbed, he was the most badly injured.

Thursday evening, that officer died — an 8-year-old German shepherd named Rocco — and city police mourned their loss.

That dogs are considered officers under the law was not foremost in the thoughts of the man police held responsible. John Rush, 21, of Stowe, may wish he had considered it. Hurting two-legged officers is trouble enough. Hurting and killing a police dog that took a fatal blow for his partners makes a claim on everyone’s sympathies. For that, city flags should drop to half-staff and the canine officer should be accorded full honors.

Fellow officers understand such sacrifice; they quickly set up a fund with their credit union to cover his medical expenses. But the city will pay the costs of Rocco’s surgeries, which makes sense for any officer injured in the line of duty.

Rocco’s tragic death is bad news for the man charged in the attack. Previously convicted of a statutory sexual assault and charged in a violent home invasion last month, he now has much more to answer for.

Hurting a police canine is a third-degree felony with a penalty of three-and-a-half to seven years in prison. The law isn’t equal for the two types of officers, but taken together with the penalties for aggravated assault of human officers, a first-degree felony, this brutal behavior should earn Mr. Rush many years behind bars. He deserves nothing less for harming an animal trained to serve the public.

He must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Any claim by counsel that Mr. Rush acted in self-defense rings hollow because the man was trying to evade police; such a plea would be disallowed by any self-respecting judge. If convicted, Mr. Rush’s prison sentences should be consecutive, not concurrent. Let him be penned up in a cell to bark at the moon. Let him howl with regret over his cruel crime.

Dogs do not volunteer to fight humanity’s battles, but, when they are injured or killed in the line of duty, humans have an obligation to get them justice.

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