TARPON SPRINGS (FOX 13) - A family dog is making a miraculous recovery after it was shot in the chest by a Tarpon Springs police officer who said the dog tried to bite him several times.
The dog, a chocolate Lab-Besanji mix named Karuso, somehow got out of the family's backyard and went straight to Craig Park, which is about a block away, where his owners take him for a walk every day.
Someone called 911 and reported a pit bull that was loose in the park.
When an officer arrived, according to his report, he found Karuso sitting on a park bench. Chief Robert Kochen said the officer played with the dog first and then tried to corral him into the police cruiser, but the dog wouldn't get in on its own.
"Once the officer grabbed the dog [by the collar], he growled and tried to bite him," Kochen said. "The officer immediately released the dog and backed up and at that point, according to the report, the dog lunged at the officer in an aggressive manner and the officer took out his firearm and tried to protect himself."
The bullet hit Karuso in the chest and miraculously passed right through him without hitting any vital organs.
Minutes later, the dog's owners, Kelly Markham and her son, Tyler Markham arrived and learned an officer had shot their dog.
"I just started crying and saying, 'Why did you shoot my dog?'" said Kelly Markham. "I don't think I've ever cried that much in my lifetime."
Tyler Markham searched for his dog, who had run off after getting shot, and eventually found him hiding in the woods. He and his mother rushed their pet to the animal hospital.
"The whole time I'm thinking, 'This is the final moments with my best friend," Tyler Markham recalled, adding he's never seen his dog be aggressive toward anyone. "Karuso is the friendliest dog, has never, ever attacked anybody in his eight years of his life...just my best friend."
"[Karuso] has grown up with my children," Kelly Markham added. "Thank God he's OK because I don't know how my three wonderful kids would be able to handle losing him, especially this way."
The Markhams were amazed to find out Karuso's wounds weren't fatal and that he's expected to make a full recovery.
Chief Kochen said the Markhams are good pet owners and he feels awful about what happened, but he stands behind his officer's actions.
"He did not intend the situation to turn out like this but a lot of times in our job, when you look at circumstances, things evolve and change rapidly and that's what happened here. The dog really left him no choice. That's not what we wanted," he said.
Kochen told FOX 13 officers are trained to handle calls about dogs on the loose and, in his 28 years at the department, he can only remember two ending in the animal getting shot; most dogs are reunited with their owners without any issues.
"The vast majority of our calls for dogs end up very good," the chief continued. "I've told [Kelly Markham] I was sorry for what she had to go through. I have to support what the officer did per policy, even though we didn't want it to turn out this way."
The Markhams think officers should be required to go through additional training. They and the chief have been talking and, according to Kochen, are planning to meet about how to come to a resolution.
For the time being, Karuso is going to need to visit a veterinarian everyday to make sure his wounds aren't getting infected. His owners said it took four days, but Karuso is starting act like himself again.