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Protesters call for ‘Justice for Totti’ after dog’s death

Lisa Shirk, of Bellefonte, holds a sign on South Allegheny Street on Monday, calling for justice for Totti, the Department of Corrections drug detection dog who died after being locked in a squad car for more than two hours.
Lisa Shirk, of Bellefonte, holds a sign on South Allegheny Street on Monday, calling for justice for Totti, the Department of Corrections drug detection dog who died after being locked in a squad car for more than two hours. nthomas@centredaily.com

“Honk for Totti!” shouted a woman with a hand-lettered sign on Monday in front of the Centre County Courthouse in Bellefonte.

A passing car obliged. So did the next passing car.

The people gathered on South Allegheny Street kept shouting Totti’s name. When a man strolled past, he asked who this Totti person was.

But Totti isn’t a person. Totti is the name of the 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, a Pennsylvania Department of Corrections drug interdiction unit dog who died July 7 after being locked in a car at the end of a training session at Rockview state prison. The dog’s handler realized what happened after two hours and 29 minutes, according to a DOC release.

The protesters announced their gathering on Facebook during the weekend, after Rockview increased security on Wednesday. DOC spokeswoman Amy Worden said the move was made due to possible protests.

So why protest at the courthouse?

Part of it was about following the law. Organizers like Justin Wian and Lisa Shirk, both of Bellefonte, said they were acknowledging that stopping cars and gathering on the prison grounds was a bad idea.

They also were taking the case to the courthouse for another reason.

“We demand justice be done,” Shirk said.

“And this is where someone is going to make that decision,” Wian said.

That someone is District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, who said Friday that she has requested an investigation. DOC Secretary John Wetzel opened an investigation last week.

Parks Miller has taken a hard line on animal abuse in the past. She was named one of the top 10 animal defenders by the Animal Legal Defense Fund in 2015.

“Justice should be served. (The handler) should be incarcerated for the murder of a K-9, a fellow officer,” said Mike Arrington, of Bellefonte. “As far as I’m concerned, dog lives matter.”

One of the recurring questions among protesters was not about how the dog could have been left in the vehicle, something law enforcement frequently warns against for both pets and kids, but why it took so long for the animal to get assistance.

Reed Doerr, of Milesburg, and his wife, Nancy, want answers. Not just about the more than two hour time frame for Totti to get out of the car, but the reason for the lag in time between getting the dog out of the car and going for help and why a closer veterinarian wasn’t used.

“I think the officer that had charge of that dog needs to be punished in some way,” Reed Doerr said.

Not all of the protesters brought a sign or shouted a slogan. Some didn’t even want to give their names.

“This is my sign,” said one man, pointing to the well-behaved black dog he held on a blue leash.

The DOC is looking at safeguards to make sure that other dogs do not suffer Totti’s fate, according to a statement.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce

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