HEBRON – A pit bull was shot after an alleged attack on a police officer, but its owners say the 2-year-old family pet wasn’t vicious and didn’t deserve to die.
The dog had a reputation in the neighborhood. Animal control reports show neighbors had concerns about the dog since 2016. In one report, a Hebron police officer predicted the animal would get shot if no action was taken.
That fate became reality earlier this month when Hebron police officer Christopher Robert responded to a call regarding a loose dog March 13.
Zeus, a pit bull owned by Jose Botello and Lorena DePaz, of the 1160th block of Maple Avenue in Hebron, had escaped.
The tale diverges from there.
Neighbors said the dog was bothering children who had just gotten off at a nearby bus stop.
DePaz said the dog just wanted to play and wasn’t aggressive.
“When the kids got off the bus, he ran that way,” DePaz said. “But he just wanted to play. He loved kids. … I called him in, and he came inside right away. Someone called the cops.”
When Robert went to the house to talk to the owners, Zeus got out again and jumped up at the officer. The dog bit his leg and left hand, according to animal control reports.
Robert then fatally shot the dog. He fired his weapon four times but only three rounds discharged, records show. DePaz said she had been at the door with her infant daughter when the officer began shooting. Her toddler was at the window, watching the scene.
“He didn’t even give him a chance,” DePaz said.
Robert said the animal bit him on the calf and then went for his face.
“I pulled my leg free and began to back away from the dog,” Robert wrote in a police report. “The dog then jumped toward my face and I was able to avoid being bitten again. ... this dog then again jumped toward my face and bit my left hand. Now in fear for my life and/or continued injury/great bodily harm to myself I drew my pistol and fired four rounds at the animal in a downward angle away from the house.”
Robert was taken to the hospital after the incident and had “scratches and abrasions” on his leg from the bite, according to the police report.
Botello acknowledged that Zeus had gotten out of the house before, but said it wasn’t abnormal to see an off-leash dog in the rural neighborhood where they live. He also said Zeus had bitten DePaz once, on the face. The couple said Zeus had just gotten too riled up from playing when it happened.
“He wasn’t aggressive,” Botello said. “I have seen dogs running around in the neighborhood and didn’t call the cops. I don’t want problems with anybody.”
Hebron police did not respond to multiple calls to the department requesting comment.
Records show animal control responded to at least a dozen reports about Zeus between 2016 and 2018. Most revolved around the dog barking or getting loose and intimidating passers-by and neighbors, records show.
The dog underwent rabies testing and observations several times after incidents, records show. Final tests on the dog after his death showed no sign of rabies.
Before the fatal incident, a Hebron police officer told animal control that if the dog kept up its behavior then the police would have to shoot it.
“[The officer] stated that Jose Botello’s [dog] is always getting loose and going after people and their dogs. … [The officer] would like a dangerous dog investigation done and stated if the dog keeps getting loose and going after people they may have to shoot it,” state animal control reports from Aug. 30, 2016.
But a dangerous dog investigation launched by the administration showed “insufficient evidence” to declare Zeus dangerous under the Illinois Animal Control Act and McHenry County ordinances, records show.
Police at one point in 2016 assigned an officer to canvass the neighborhood. The majority of neighbor complaints occurred in 2016. There was little to report about the dog until fall 2017, when Botello failed to mail registration and vaccination confirmations to animal control, records show.
The next incident left the dog dead.
A neighbor – Skip Craker – said he had problems with the dog and its owners for years.
He said the dog constantly got out and “harassed” its neighbors. At one point, he used bear repellent to chase Zeus off when the dog got between his son and wife, he said.
“We had a brutal time,” said Craker, who lived next door to the family for a couple years until they moved across the street. “It’s a really strange situation. I have never seen anyone so blatantly irresponsible.”
The ongoing nature of the nuisance was what bothered Craker the most, he said.
“I think animal control did absolutely nothing for us,” he said. “Why do we have to wait until some child gets mauled? Because that is what is going to happen.”
Animal control officials directed most questions to the Hebron Police Department.
Veterinary Public Health manager Maryellen Howell said in a statement that her division operates within the scope of Article VI of the Public Health Ordinance, which has been adopted by the McHenry County Board of Health and McHenry County Board.
“In this context, it is important to note that all complaints that we receive are investigated and the measures indicated by Article VI are adhered to,” Howell said in the statement. “Veterinary Public Health continuously works to strengthen Article VI to better serve the McHenry County community.”
Howell offered the public tips on how to deal with an unknown or aggressive animal.
“An injured or scared animal may also respond aggressively,” she said in the statement. “If the animal is aggressive, remain calm and still. Don’t run. Don’t turn your back. Avoid eye contact. Back away slowly. Use a soft, soothing tone of voice. Staring at an aggressive animal in the eyes or smiling may only provoke the animal. Once away from the situation, call law enforcement, who will contact animal control if assistance is needed.”