James Harrison's former dog dies of cancer

In his youth, the red pit bull was a controversial dog who bit the 2-year-old son of James Harrison as well as the boy’s mother and another woman. Back then his name was Patron, and his very appearance scared many people. He looked as imposing and powerful as the Steelers linebacker who owned him.

There was public outcry in May 2009 from people who said the dog should be euthanized. MK Kain and her husband, Ray, thought the dog deserved a second chance, and he proved them right.

He was given a new name — Mecca — and a new life, and he was loving, loyal, obedient and happy for the rest of his life.

“I would love people to know that this dog got a second chance and made the most of every second. He loved life,” Mrs. Kain said earlier this week.

Mecca, 9, died Feb. 11 after a yearlong battle with cancer.

Mr. Kain called Mecca “my best buddy” and a “gentle giant.” In a Facebook post, Mr. Kain said, “What I mostly want to do is clear his name.”

At the Kain residence, Mecca got along with their four big rescue dogs and enjoyed greeting visitors who came to the house.

“He was especially excited when children visited. He loved them,” Mrs. Kain said.

He weighed 110 pounds at his peak, which is very large for a pit bull. His size and low-key personality suggested he might have been part mastiff, said Mrs. Kain, who has trained and rehabilitated hundreds of dog since 1990. Most had aggression problems, and some had bitten people.

Patron came to the Kains after the attack because a Steelers official knew Mr. Kain, who at that time was a Pittsburgh police officer. The couple said they never saw the dog show aggression toward people or other dogs.

They already had five big dogs in their modest-sized West End house, so they placed him with an unmarried man who didn’t have children, and they visited him frequently. That man re-named the dog Mecca and cared for him until his own health failed. Mecca went back to the Kains four years ago.

Mr. Harrison has never agreed to an interview about the May 2009 attack, but details are in his biography, “Never Give Up,” written by his agent, Bill Parise, and former Post-Gazette writer Bill Moushey.

In the book, Mr. Harrison said he trained the 2-year-old dog to listen only to him. Friends and relatives were told to never let the dog out of his kennel when Mr. Harrison was not around.

The little boy’s mother and a massage therapist were at the house. Someone let the dog out of the kennel, the child fell and cried, and the dog attacked. The women were also bitten.

When Mr. Harrison returned to his house, police officers were present, and the child and the women were being put into ambulances.

“An enraged Harrison’s first thought was to go into his house and get a gun. ‘I told police I was going to put the dog down right there,’ ” Mr. Harrison told his biographers.

When police told Mr. Harrison he would be in trouble if he shot the dog, he backed off, and the dog was sent to an animal control facility.

“While he loved the animal, he did not want to give it the chance to harm another child,” according to the book. “As the days passed, Harrison rethought his decision because he didn’t believe the dog was inherently bad.”

When the dog was returned to the Kains by his second owner, he became especially attached to Mr. Kain, who has retired from the Pittsburgh police and is now a police officer for Chatham University.

Mecca followed him everywhere and especially liked riding with Mr. Kain in the front seat of his truck.

In December 2009, many people were happy to read in Pet Tales that Patron had been “saved.” But a few sent nasty emails to me and Mrs. Kain, calling us “crazy” and other words that could not be printed in a family newspaper.

The dog would attack again, and the blood of his future victims would be on our hands, said people who didn’t sign their names on emails and blog posts.

The Kains spent $15,000 on cancer treatments at Ohio State University and Pittsburgh Veterinarian Specialty & Emergency Center in Ohio Township to buy Mecca an extra year of life, and it was a good year. But then they had to let him go.

“MK and I took him in to give him another chance in life,” Mr. Kain wrote on Facebook. “But truly he gave us another life. ... I will miss him with all my heart.”

Linda Wilson Fuoco: lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3064.