Dog survives shooting, burning in Worland

2013-02-17T23:45:00Z Dog survives shooting, burning in WorlandBy KELLY BYER Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
February 17, 2013 11:45 pm  • 

Bo the dog came home with a bang.

Hearing a thud, Abby Redland opened her door, and her three-year-old blue heeler bolted inside. He was bleeding from his face and back and appeared to be covered in mud.

“You could see in his eyes, he just, he needed help and he knew it," she said.

As Bo calmed down, Abby and her husband could smell fuel and realized it was not mud but third-degree burns covering the dog’s small body.

“His hair was still melting together and falling out,” she said. “He was literally still smoldering.”

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Earlier that day, Redland's neighbors Genieveve Gerber and her 18-year-old son, Wesley, returned from nearby Worland with Chinese food. It was shortly after noon on Saturday, Dec. 15.

As they pulled into the driveway, they spotted a dog in the chicken coop southwest of their house. The Gerbers had previously lost chickens to dog attacks. Now the chickens, turkeys and ducks had flocked to a corner of their pen and were squawking in fear.

Wesley grabbed his .17-caliber rifle and ran around the house, stopping at the northeast corner. The dog jumped the coop's 3-foot-high wire fence and ran toward Wesley, who shouldered his rifle and took aim.

A shot sounded in the crisp air and the bullet pierced the dog’s cheek. Wesley's second shot hit the dog in the back and struck it down. Its slight frame dropped to the ground between the birds' enclosure and Wesley.

“He didn’t think twice about, he was protecting our home,” said his father, Mike Gerber, in his son's defense.

Wesley saw the dog’s red rabies tag, realized it wasn't a stray and panicked, according to a report filed later with the Washakie County sheriff.

The dog was Bo.

Wesley dragged the dog out of the backyard, away from the Gerbers' two-year-old Airedale, Bella, and carried the gun inside to ask his father what to do.

Wesley's shots had awoken the elder Gerber, asleep after working a late shift. Thinking the dog was dead, Mike Gerber told his son to get rid it the same way the family had disposed of their 45 chickens killed between October and December.

“I said ‘burn it’ because we have had other predators come around, and even our chickens that the dog had killed, how we got rid of them was we just burned them,” he said.

So Wesley grabbed the dog by the scruff, carried him less than 20 yards, and put him in the burn barrel that stands alone in the Gerbers' front yard.

Wesley doused the supposedly dead dog in gasoline and lit a match.

“The next thing you know, the dog comes popping up out of there in flames,” Mike Gerber said.

Gerber come outside in his housecoat and watched from a distance as the very alive dog ran in a flaming circle.

Wesley, who has been hunting for 12 years, had never seen anything like it, according to the sheriff’s report. He thought Bo was a “devil dog” when he jumped out of the barrel.

The Gerbers ran inside to get their gun and truly put the dog down, but when they got back outside, it was gone.

Less than 10 minutes had passed since the family had nothing on their minds but a Chinese meal.

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The Gerbers tearfully went to the police about 2:45 p.m., more than two hours after the incident. Mike Gerber said they spent that time thinking and praying about what to do about shooting and burning their neighbor's dog.

“I wish it never happened,” he said. “The decisions being made were made fast. Maybe if they would’ve been thought through more clearly, we would’ve done things differently.”

The Gerbers said Bo had “tormented” their chickens, although no chickens were harmed the day Bo was shot and burned at 873 West River Road. The Gerbers haven't lost any birds since two were killed Dec. 13 - two days before the incident.

Under Wyoming law, dogs can be killed if they threaten or harm livestock.

But Redland said she never witnessed Bo return home with blood or feathers on him and received no prior complaints. She often saw her dog playing with the Gerbers', either at her residence or theirs.

On Dec. 15, she didn’t realize Bo left the property. Her trailer house sits about 300 yards southwest of the Gerbers' home, across a field.

No criminal charges have been filed against the Gerbers, and the Washakie County Attorney’s office refused to comment on the case.

Redland says she may pursue a civil lawsuit to pay for more than $2,500 in veterinary bills. She and her husband were planning to move, but will do so sooner due to Bo’s injuries and the fear of what could happen outside her door.

“It’s not about them shooting him. They had every right to shoot him if he was in their chickens. We understand that,” she said. “It’s the fact that they burned him and then they did nothing for two and a half hours.”

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Minutes after Bo thumped against the Redlands' front door, Steven Tharp received an anguished call. The veterinarian could barely recognize Redland's garbled voice, he said, but knew it was an emergency. The Redlands rushed the dog to the vet, with Abby’s husband still in sweat pants and slippers.

“And here came Bo,” Tharp said. “He was semi-comatose, in frantic pain, flailing.”

The dog smelled like burnt hair. His body language showed he was in shock, as were his owners.

Tharp pumped fluids into Bo's veins and gave the dog a heavy-duty pain medication equivalent to morphine.

The medicine didn’t help. Bo spent the next 24 hours at the clinic under anesthesia. Tharp and his staff covered the dog in ice and stitched up his face, but the wound in his back was too large to close.

The veterinarian initially doubted Bo would recover, but after examining the dog, his outlook improved. The dog’s worst burns were on his belly and back legs, but blue heelers have a thick undercoat that protected his top half from burns.

Bo stayed in the clinic six more days. He couldn’t make the 6-inch step into the clinic’s kennels, so he was given a bed on the floor.

“He was able to walk, but he wasn’t able to bend his legs at all because of the burns in between them,” Abby Redland said. “So he kind of walked really stiff-legged.”

She spent a few hours visiting with Bo each day, even though she couldn’t touch him. When Tharp discharged Bo, the dog returned every few days for checkups and remained heavily medicated for weeks.

Bo was unable to lie down on his own for 44 days, and Redland said he would cry at times because of the pain. His hair continued to fall out, exposing the damaged skin that blistered and fell off, like the tips of both his swollen ears.

After five laser treatments and ongoing checkups, the dog’s condition improved.

“He just slowly healed,” Redland said, but Bo never lost his friendly temperament.

Bo, now short-furred with cropped ears, eagerly marks his territory and greets strangers with a wag of his tail, two bullets and one burning later.

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