BREMERTON, Wash. — Zeus is a big dog who loves peppermints. From watching him bound across the yard with other dogs at Aislinn Ertzberger’s home outside Poulsbo, you would never know the 2-year-old Mastiff’s insides are full of birdshot.
On July 23, Ertzberger arrived home to kids and dogs dancing around her feet, eager for treats. While on the way to the house Zeus, spotted a rabbit and chased it.
Ertzberger told her son Clayton to go fetch Zeus, and a minute or two later she heard a gunshot.
“I set my stuff down on the counter and then ‘bang,'” she said.
She rushed outside to check on her horses and then saw Clayton, 12, running and then collapse, calling out Zeus’ name. A wounded, bloodied Zeus followed. Ertzberger, a licensed EMT, said Zeus stopped breathing. She revived him, but he was weak.
Clayton said he doesn’t remember much about those moments.
“I choose not to remember,” he said as Zeus lied on the floor. “I’m glad he’s alive.”
The neighbor, who has been charged with misdemeanors, told a Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputy that he had an ongoing problem with dogs in his yard. He told the deputy he wasn’t threatened and didn’t feel the dogs were aggressive. According to reports, he said he shot above the dogs.
Zeus suffered a collapsed lung and will be considered in critical condition for the rest of his life, Ertzberger said.
The neighbor, Dale E. Hardesty, 61, did not return a phone call last Friday seeking comment. On Sept. 1 he pleaded not guilty to a count of second-degree animal cruelty. He is also charged with aiming or discharging a firearm or other dangerous weapon, a crime that describes shooting in an area that might endanger a person.
Ertzberger shudders to think that Clayton could have been hit by birdshot.
Since the shooting, the family has struggled to return to their previous life. The kids don’t as readily go to certain areas of the property to play, and Zeus, described as lovable and good-natured, is wary of men and has to see Ertzberger shake their hand before he will relax.
“He’s never been like that before,” she said.
He still loves running with the family’s other dogs and quickly warms up to strangers, but his energy levels are erratic and he has yet to gain back the weight he lost after being shot.
“This family has been terrorized,” Ertzberger said, saying Zeus had served as the family’s doorbell, alerting them to somebody at the gate. Now he is anxious and prefers to lie on her bed and stare out her window.
“He doesn’t work the way he used to,” Ertzberger said. “He’s no longer our siren. He barks at everything.”
On top of that, the financial burden has set the family back. Zeus’s vet bills were the equivalent of three mortgage payments. She does not know Hardesty and said she wouldn’t recognize him if she passed him on the street. But Ertzberger said if he had complained to the family about dogs, or after the shooting had approached the family, they would have remedied the problem and it would have helped put their minds at ease.
Their yard is fenced, but Ertzberger believes Zeus, while chasing the rabbit, dove under a wire section and escaped.
Hardesty admitted to the deputy that he shot his shotgun after seeing two dogs in his garden, but he claimed he first yelled at them. The two dogs started to run off and then shot above them, he said.
The deputy doubted his story, believing he shot at the dogs at a much closer distance.
“I asked Dale why he had shot the dog even after he yelled at them and they were already running back to their home,” the deputy wrote. “He stated he was tired of the dogs getting into his yard. I asked if the dogs were threatening or acting aggressive at all. He stated they were not, reiterating they were just in his garden and he was tired of them being over there.”
The deputy noted Hardesty fired toward a neighbor’s residence.
“Dale showed an extreme lack of responsibility by shooting at a dog which was running away from him and firing the round towards his neighbor’s residence,” the deputy wrote.
Ertzberger also questions Hardesty’s account, as recorded by the deputy. She is doubtful that in the amount of time Zeus was gone he could have made it all the way to Hardesty’s residence — which can’t be seen through the brush while standing in her yard — and as an experienced hunter, she said patches of blood on the ground indicate Zeus was shot on her property. She is also confused about the allegation that two dogs were on Hardesty’s property, as her three other dogs were accounted for at the time of the shooting.
All the heartache the family endured has been exacerbated by the cost of vet care. Ertzberger has started a Facebook page and has been raising money to put toward a fund that helps families pay for vet care in cases like Zeus’s.
Clayton is Zeus’s person, Ertzberger said, but he has formed a strong bond with each family member. The thought of losing him still rattles them.
“He’s the heart of this family,” she said.
Information from: Kitsap Sun, http://www.kitsapsun.com/