3:52 pm Aug. 14, 2012
What a scoop! Cop Shoots Dog.
I just happened to stumble upon the scene at 14th Street while walking up Second Avenue around 4:30 p.m. Monday. Police cars, ambulance, wide-eyed crowds queuing up to yellow police tape. As I rounded the corner, I saw it: An orange bag in the street, just a few feet away from the curb. It enrobed the living dog like one of those cute outfits that affluent dog lovers parade their pets around in. Except that this dog’s brains were spilling out. Burgundy blood was on the sidewalk and the street.
A neat bundle of olive drab baggage was sitting a few feet away from the animal, on the edge of the sidewalk. I took it to be the belongings of a crusty punk. Crusty punks, drifters who combine the grunge of hippies and the combat-boot toughness of punk rockers, have been an East Village/Lower East Side staple for decades. On 14th Street, they traditionally squat near the corners of Third, Second and First avenues, panhandling with cardboard signs and empty cups. Often, a lone crusty punk will travel with a dog, for protection. But where was this dog’s owner? The sight of his belongings near the wounded dog was ominous.
(photo credit: MrEddieHuang on Instagram)
A few bystanders let me know that, just minutes ago, the police had shot the dog and that the dog’s owner was passed out, face down on the curb. An amateur reporter’s instincts kicked in. I saw no cameras (other than camera phones) or microphones around, and my mind leapt: I am the first reporter on the scene!
At that instant, a WCBS microphone glided past my shoulder, up to a mature woman standing inside the yellow tape cordon. A reporter in crisp dress shirt and press badge asked her who, what, when, where. Dammit. Well, I am the second reporter on the scene!
The woman, Larrisa Udovik, was distraught. I couldn’t make out what she was saying to the CBS reporter, just see her outrage and sadness, but a few minutes later she told me, “I was coming from an eye appointment so I had my pupils dilated, so I couldn’t see very well, but my husband told me, ‘Look at the police attacking the dog!’ He’s a dog lover—he grew up with dogs. 'They’re attacking the dog and the dog is only trying to defend his owner.' So I went a little closer to see, and as I got closer, the dog just went like this to me”—she indicated a nudge by brushing a hand against her knee—“The dog knew that I wasn’t attacking him, that it was the police, the enemy was the police. So he started barking at the police and they used the fact that he had brushed against me. It didn’t even hurt. I didn’t even know that he did it.”
An officer came up and got her attention. The detectives had more questions for her. Heading off with them, she spelled out her last name for me and volunteered her street address. “But please… I trust you more than these…”
Grinning conspiratorially, she gestured at the mob of patrolmen, detectives and captains behind the yellow police tape. Her husband stood by but didn’t want to comment, just offering that the situation was complicated, given that the cops had nothing on hand to tranquilize the dog.
I asked the WCBS reporter—didn’t catch his name—how he got word of the shooting so fast. He said he and his editors subscribe to a service that transcribes police scanner transmissions. A bystander beside him laughed at my cluelessness. “You can get all that shit, man, in real time, on the internet! There is nothing you can’t get through the net now. It’s all available.”
Melvin Felix, a young news intern for the The Local: East Village, had also raced down to the scene after a fellow reporter heard about a “police shooting” via a Breaking News Notice.
“He called me at N.Y.U. and said, ‘Get your camera and go over there,’" he told me.
Within 20 minutes, a few more reporters were on the scene, some with video cameramen, others with notepads and still cameras. Most zeroed in on one of the few eyewitnesses who had video footage, a jovial African pizza-shop worker who refused to give his name.
After getting the pizza man’s account, Felix watched his iPhone footage of Larrisa Udovik screaming at the police officers just seconds after the shooting. Felix persuaded the pizza man to send the video to his iPhone over Bluetooth, but the linkup failed. He then tried to have pizza man upload the video to Felix’s YouTube account, “but it would have charged him data charges, so he cancelled it.”
Undaunted, he remembered that he had a friend with a Blackberry working at Bite restaurant just across the street. Since the pizza man’s phone was a Blackberry, he figured a Bluetooth transfer would work this time. Failed. The clock was ticking. His editor was anxious to break the story.
“Then we tried BBM’ing the video." Didn’t work either.
Finally, Felix ran and got his “big camera” and re-shot the video from off the pizza man’s cracked Blackberry screen. He posted the video in this suboptimal form, just to get it out there, but was still searching for a more satisfactory solution hours later. As dusk approached, he was off to find a Blackberry data cable.
A female Daily News photojournalist loaded down with DSLR cameras approached another restaurant worker showing off his clips of the incident. After watching it, she said, “Dude! You wanna get some money for that?”
She wrote a name and number at the News on her notepad and slid it to him. Another bystander asked how much a video like that could earn.
“Around a hundred bucks, depends.”
“Ah, pretty good!”
I took some haphazard, grainy video of the reporters at work, just to augment my poor memory. I had emailed my editor about the incident, and felt the exasperation in his one-line response, “So write it!” But I knew early on that I wasn’t going to break this story, or even turn it in the same day.
Across the street, a crusty punk couple were sitting against a wall with a black dog. An elegantly dressed woman in her thirties was yelling at them.
“Listen, I live here! None of this kind of thing happened around here until you all got here. I’m sorry about your friend. Obviously, I feel terrible about what happened to the dog, but you can’t live on the street! You and your friends are making a mess of this place!”
She turned sharply and walked on.
They shrugged off the browbeating.
Linda Lynch, the female half of the couple, muttered, “Who is she? Crusties have been here probably long before she even got here.”
She explained that the man whose dog the police shot was their friend. According to her and her boyfriend, Rex Sandoval, that dog, named Star, was a trained seizure-alert dog. They claimed, as did a few other eyewitnesses who wouldn’t give their names, that the police kicked the man in an attempt to wake him up and shot the dog as it reacted naturally to a threat upon his master.
“There’s no reason to shoot a dog in the face, especially a dog that’s doing its job,” Sandoval said. “We were up the street, and a friend came up and told us he was having a seizure. We came up to help, and that’s when [the dog] got shot.”
He said his own dog, Mud Dog, was a seizure-alert animal as well, trained to bark when he’s in trouble. How can a homeless person afford such specialty training for his pet?
“If you have any kind of mental illness or physical disability, you just let [social service programs] know you have a dog and you’d like it to be a service dog, and they will help you put it through the training,” he said.
I heard a follow-up question over my shoulder and turned to see a petite woman in a vibrant dress and summer sweater. She wasn’t recording anything or taking any notes, but I found myself asking her, on instinct, “Which paper are you with?”
She said, “The New York Post” and quickly returned to her subjects. That’s the way real reporters do it, I learned that day. Keep a very nondescript appearance (Felix and I both wore plain T-shirts and backpacks) and don’t engage much with other journalists on the scene. You don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself and your interviewee when the pressure is on to beat the others to an exclusive.
The other thing I learned was to keep your portable technology as handy as the NYPD keeps its automatic weapons at the ready. In a more composed, professional way, the rush to get the story of a shot dog out to the people as fast as possible reminded me of the tourists and locals running down Seventh Avenue last Saturday, clamoring to record a mentally ill man’s last moments on earth. Professional or amateur, nobody wants to miss out.
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