There are a few mantras in advertising that prove their truth time and again, despite what some people may want to believe. “Sex sells,” is one of them. Another is, “You can’t go wrong with puppies and kids.”
|K-9 Officer Rocco|
But in Pittsburgh this week, one “puppy” named Rocco struck a nerve throughout the entire city for a completely different, more serious reason. Rocco was a canine officer in the Pittsburgh Police Department. In law enforcement, police dogs are considered actual police officers. Their handlers are considered their partners. In this context, Rocco last week sacrificed his life in the line of duty, protecting his partner and others.
Here is what happened. On Tuesday night, The Allegheny County sheriff’s office was looking for a 21-year-old convicted sex offender to serve a bench warrant. The man was spotted on Pittsburgh’s busy Butler Street. When confronted by a sheriff’s deputy the suspect was said to have “lunged toward the deputy’s gun then began hitting him in the face.”
From there, the suspect ran into a nearby home and was cornered in the basement. Pittsburgh Police officer Phil Lerza and his canine partner Rocco responded to the call. After a warning, Rocco was sent in to flush the suspect out of hiding. At that point, the man attacked K-9 Rocco with a knife, critically stabbing the dog. The suspect also stabbed arresting officers while violently attacking them as well.
For two days, the dog lingered in an animal hospital, receiving surgery and an iffy prognosis.
Last night Rocco succumbed to his injuries. But what happened next is something that even if you may have seen it before, you never get used to it.
Social media exploded with heartfelt outpouring of support from people around the city, the region and the country for Rocco and his fellow officers. Within hours, the Mayor of Pittsburgh declared that all flags be flown at half-mast in honor of Rocco.
Local media converged on the animal hospital where Rocco died, and a seemingly impromptu procession commenced. A bagpiper played. Rocco on his gurney was draped with a U.S. flag and escorted past a saluting and tearful contingent of police officers, standing in silent attention as he passed. Then, almost as if it had been planned and practiced, a quiet motorcade of police vehicles, lights flashing, took Rocco to Oak Crest Pet Crematory.
The media picked up on the power of this story and went nearly wall-to-wall with coverage. Facebook pages were created by stations for the stated purpose of giving the public an outlet to send support. Many of those condolences were accompanied by peoples’ photos of their own pets with signs that expressed condolences.
Any time a public figure – even a K-9 police officer – passes away the media has a sense of its role. As television stations, newspapers and Internet sites pursue their mission of gathering and disseminating information, they also know that they play a role in a public grieving process.
A cynic might say that this is good for ratings and readership, and this is true. But there is a social value in all of this. It’s a reminder to a community that it hasn’t become so desensitized to the everyday violence we see on the news that we’ve lost our humanity. And nothing it seems can help a community rediscover its heart like the loss of an innocent and loyal police dog like Rocco.
This is not a time for shameless self-promotion on the part of the media or anyone, but public demonstrations of support, respect and gratitude are not without their place.
It is with this in mind that this son of a former Pittsburgh Police officer wishes to extend his heartfelt gratitude and condolences to Officer Lerza and his partner who risk their lives to protect their community. Rest in peace, Rocco.