As canine Officer Rocco felt the explosion of pain, which surely followed the knife that sliced through his muscles to penetrate deep into his body, did he also experience a shock of bewilderment that, instead of being rewarded as always for doing exactly what his humans asked of him, he was being terribly hurt? Would he ever have perceived the people to whom he committed his love, obedience and trust as being willing to put him in harm’s way?
Underneath the tributes to Rocco’s heroism, the pageantry of his funeral, the city flags flown at half-staff, lay two simple truths: Dogs are willing to do pretty much anything to please their humans; humans are willing to expend the lives of dogs to protect their own.
Unlike human police officers, Rocco neither understood nor had the option of choosing whether to accept the risks involved in what he was trained to do. To him, as to any dog, his “work” consisted of behaviors he’d been taught to associate with treats, praise and play as rewards for doing well. Undoubtedly, he excelled in this and likely experienced a canine pride in his accomplishments. But the fact remains that when he went to his fatal encounter with the armed fugitive, he could not know that this situation was drastically different from his training exercises and that this man was dangerous and deadly.
One can scarcely imagine the degree of grief Rocco’s handler, Officer Phil Lerza, is experiencing as he faces the future without his beloved companion. He, too, has been hurt by an antiquated and, some would say, primitive value system which ultimately views animals in terms of how they benefit us and skews our treatment of them accordingly. Rocco lost his life trying to protect humans. The question is: Who was protecting Rocco?
THOMAS and REBECCA AUBLE