Remember Rocco, but keep grief in perspective

February 8, 2014

In the last week or so, many tears have been shed around the region for Rocco.

Rocco was the 8-year-old Pittsburgh police K-9 who was killed by an assailant whom the dog was attempting to subdue Jan. 28. The German shepherd who came from the Czech Republic lingered for two days before succumbing from a stab wound and, in the days since, there’s been an outpouring of grief for the canine.

While we have no doubt that much of this outpouring has been sincere – many people feel a sentimental attachment to their pets and appreciate the unstinting loyalty of their dogs – we couldn’t help but feel that much of the anguish and lamentation was over the top, with the pathos descending into bathos and the outrage translating too often into showboating.

Flags were flown at half-staff in Pittsburgh at the order of Mayor Bill Peduto. Donations cascaded into various funds in order to memorialize Rocco. Legislation was introduced in Harrisburg by state Rep. Jesse White to increase the penalties for killing a police animal in the line of duty, and similar legislation was proposed in the state Senate by Matt Smith of Mt. Lebanon. A petition turned up on the White House site urging that penalties be increased on the federal level. Brookline District Judge Jim Motznik initially set bond at $1 million for John L. Rush, the 21-year-old Stowe man accused of stabbing Rocco and injuring three human officers in the incident. Setting bail that high was later denounced by a common pleas court judge as “magisterial grandstanding.” Rocco’s Friday memorial service, at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland, received full-court press coverage from television and other media.

One news story even went so far as to state that “no one can replace Rocco,” as if Rocco weren’t just one of a stable of dogs maintained by the Pittsburgh Police Department, but a creature possessed of magical powers like Lassie or Toto.

It costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $8,000 for departments to purchase a dog and somewhere between $10,000 to $15,000 to train them for various tasks. That’s not pocket change, but that doesn’t rise to the level of “irreplaceable.”

What also makes the effusion of grief for Rocco discomfiting is how the officers who were injured in the attack have been ignored. One officer was pounded in the head several times, another was punched and a third was himself stabbed two times. Where are the fundraisers for them? Who even knows their names?

Carry out the most simple Google search, and you can find news story after news story and web page after web page about fundraising efforts, dinners and benefits for police officers, sheriff’s deputies, park rangers and other law enforcers who have been severely injured in the line of duty and face not only infirmities and rehabilitation but also the loss of income for themselves and their families. This newspaper has run stories about fundraising drives like these, and they spring from the best of intentions. We only wish that such efforts were greeted with as much attention and support as that which has been afforded Rocco, who was not a human being with family, friends and a host of obligations, but a dog who was trained to carry out specific duties.

So, yes, mourn Rocco. But we should put more of that energy into appreciating the officers behind the dogs and lend them a helping hand when they are harmed while protecting us.



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