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The case of a dog named Rolo

There’s a German Shepherd named Rolo who is awaiting a new court hearing. At his original one, the judge ordered euthanasia stemming from an incident in summer 2007. Rolo has been in doggy jail ever since. The second hearing was slated for January 11 but has been pushed back to February 25. I’m not sure why. The incident in question was Rolo’s “first offense,” if that’s what you want to call it, and he may die because of it.

Feel free to read the information posted by Rolo’s supporters at

I’ve read the newspaper articles. I’ve read the court
transcripts, but I still don’t know for sure if Rolo actually bit the
woman after he got loose or if he just scratched the heck out of her. She was holding her child at the time. I’ve asked around, but no one I know seems to know. And, I can’t find any actual testimony (only quotes in newspaper articles) from the woman herself.

Being a reporter, I know how that kind of victim interview can go, so it’s very tempting to use a Freedom of Information Act request to get copies of the original emergency personnel and animal control reports. It would be hard to get, but I’d also be interested to see the victim’s medical records following the incident. What kind of immediate care did she need?

So, again, I’m not sure I understand what really happened, and because of that, I wonder about this euthanasia order. Either way, my heart breaks.

His owner has a lawyer now, which should help. I can only hope the lawyer has gotten copies of the original sources of information. And, I can only hope he/she has gotten a qualified behaviorist to evaluate Rolo. Because no matter what, Rolo deserves a fair shake.

Rolo’s owner and supporters have held regular rallies, trying to muster support for his case. We saw her protesting on a street corner while out running errands recently. We honked and waved because we feel so badly for her situation.

Rolo got loose. Something happened. And, now, he may die.

That said, there are some key lessens here:

Even one mistake can be too many (especially for big dogs). Remember, small dogs are “feisty.” Big ones are “vicious” in many people’s eyes.

Impulse control training is critical for dogs at any age and of any size.

Boundary training (like at fence gates) is critical for dogs who live along pedestrian walkways.

There is more to dog training that traditional “obedience” training. Dogs are easily conditioned to certain things (like barking at people going by).

And maybe most importantly:
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation (and I hope you don’t), seek legal counsel immediately.

As a sort of conclusion, I’ll say that the first time I met one huge German Shepherd friend … he blasted straight at me, jumped up, and crashed into my face with his — mouth open. I turned away from him, said “Off,” and then “I felt teeth, Mister, settle down.”

Now, if I didn’t know dogs as well as I do, that probably would have scared the crap out of me. But, I understood that he was a very typical, very vocal adolescent German Shepherd. He had some impulse control issues at the time, but he meant no harm. He’s just a big boy.

Over the last 18 months or so, our training group has helped his handler, by turning away from him and not engaging him in any way unless he’s behaving right. He can still be a bit rambunctious at times, but a simple “Easy” gives him good feedback. I truly believe he is a spectacular dog. I often joke that if I was a teenage girl and he was a teenage boy I would want to date him. He’s that neat.

But, to a different kind of person, with different experiences, the first encounter may have been something else entirely.

I truly hope that this new jury/judge get the information they need to make the right decision for Rolo — whatever that is.

Roxanne Hawn

Trained as a traditional journalist and based in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, USA, I'm a full-time freelance writer for magazines, websites, and private clients. My areas of specialty include everything in the lifestyles arena, including health and home, personal finance and other consumer interests, relationships and trends, people and business profiles ... and, of course, all things pet related. I don't just love dogs. I need them in my life. Seriously.