ST. GEORGE— A police shooting of a dog named Loki last Sunday remains under investigation by both the St. George Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office. The St. George Animal Shelter and family have addressed placement of excess dogs that had been kept in addition to Loki at the owners’ home. In addition, Best Friends Animal Society has stepped in to accept Loki and tend to his medical needs and care.
The history of the family involved, their dogs and neighbors reveals a pattern of similar incidents, including dogs biting people, dogs allowed to roam free of constraint and an excessive number of dogs maintained at their residences. While not all neighbors agree, neighbor concerns and complaints over the family’s dogs, both at this residence and previous ones is not new.
A St. George Police officer responded to the neighborhood of 1500 West and 1400 North last Sunday, when dogs were reported running loose and causing concern to neighbors. The officer observed four dogs and shot at one of them three times when the dog aggressively charged him, according to police statements.
Resident Sherrill Brinkerhoff, who said she owns Loki, has lived at 1563 West 1400 North in the neighborhood for 13 years. It is a a quaint, but by no means quiet neighborhood, in St. George. She is not the only dog owner there. Three “Beware of Dog” signs can be seen hanging on fences around yards throughout the neighborhood and dogs can be heard barking from inside neighboring homes and backyards. Brinkerhoff’s residence is home to extended family from time to time as well as many dogs.
A U-haul trailer was still attached to a truck parked in front of Brinkerhoff’s house, Wednesday, evidencing the move her son Kolten Winder had just made to come live with her. Winder had arrived the day before with his fiancé Chelsea Chiacchiera, two children and a dog, Dexter.
Dogs over limit, neighbor concerns
The City of St. George has a two-dog limit on residences and includes provision for dog owners to apply for a kennel license if they wish to maintain more than two dogs at a given residence.
This family of dog owners tends to watch each other’s dogs and considers them all one in the family, Chiacchiera said, accounting for some confusion in who owns what dog. As of Sunday, there were eight dogs at the house.
Following is a breakdown of the dogs, their owners, and current placement:
- Brinkerhoff had five dogs of her own: Loki, Ellie, Sassy, Jesse, and Reggie
- Loki is now in the care of Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab; Ellie and Sassy were taken in by another family member of Brinkerhoff to live elsewhere; Jessie and Reggie remain with Brinkerhoff and were never impounded
- Brinkerhoff was dog sitting a dog for her son who recently left for a mission with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Chloe
- Chloe has been taken in by another family member to be taken care of until Brinkerhoff’s son returns from his LDS mission
- Brinkerhoff was dog sitting another dog for a son’s girlfriend: Franky
- Franky was impounded and remains at the shelter, waiting for Brinkerhoff’s son’s girlfriend to come pick him up
- Winder and Chiacchiera just moved in Saturday with their dog: Dexter
- Dexter remains at the Brinkerhoff home with Winder and Chiacchiera, being allowed to stay with them there temporarily while they look for their own separate home
Ultimately, it was Chiacchiera who said she was cited for failure to control a vicious animal – Loki, for whom Brinkerhoff claimed ownership.
None of the dogs are licensed with the City of St. George.
History and issues
This is not a new or isolated incident with this family. City Attorney Shawn Guzman said that citations have previously been issued for too many dogs in that home. According to a statement issued earlier this week, neighbors told police that the dogs have acted aggressively towards them in the past.
Records kept by the City of St. George include multiple criminal citations against members of this family.
- Between 1999 and 2006, Brinkerhoff, then named Winder, was cited five times for animal-at-large / attack / cruelty, and four times for two license violations each, at various other addresses.
- In 2007, Chiacchiera was cited at a different address when Angela Billmire was bitten by Chiacchier’s pit bull on the upper left leg, on the back side by her butt. According to the incident report, “The owner of the dog Chelsea stated the dog was getting aggressive and had bitten two other people the previous week. She turned the dog over to animal control.”
- In June 2012, Brinkerhoff’s dog, Sebastian (identified as Sabastain in the police report), bit neighbor Jim Brey on the back of his calf one night while Brey was on the sidewalk in front of her home. The dog was quarantined because animal control found Brinkerhoff’s yard not secure enough to ensure home quarantine. Winder and his family told St. George News about Sebastian. They said he was vicious and they had to put him down.
- In October 2012, neighbors Shanna and Kyle Crosby complained about the dogs at the current Brinkerhoff home. According to the incident report, the Crosbys said: “As people started walking close to the residence the dogs would start barking and run out into the street after the people.” On investigation, officers identified one each of the following breeds at the home: sheltie, hound mix, black lab, German short hair mix, little mix-breed, and an extremely large pit bull / mastiff mix. There were also two puppies in the residence.
The family, their dogs and the Sunday incident
A door was accidentally left open due to the move, Chiacchiera said. She said she had been sleeping and Loki and Dexter let themselves out and began wandering the yard and the street area in front of the home. St. George Police said there were four dogs loose when they arrived.
“I woke up to three gun shots,” Chiacchiera said, consistent with the police statement that three shots were fired when the dog charged the officer.
“I don’t think the cop should have shot the dog,” neighbor Irma Gonzalez said. “What I saw was the cop near the truck and the dog was far away. Three shots is excessive.”
“I went into our kitchen, and there was blood everywhere,” Chiacchiera said. She walked into Brinkerhoff’s bedroom and found Loki bleeding and immediately rushed him to a veterinary clinic; the City of St. George paid the bill, she said.
Neighbor Irma Gonzalez said the dogs have never been aggressive with her or her own dogs. She said she questions why police responded to an animal control issue and fears how this was handled and is keeping a watchful eye on her own pets.
The officer used a hand gun in self defense, St. George Police Sgt. Sam Despain said; ”the officer was protecting himself at that point, the outcome was what it was, he really was just protecting himself.”
Chiacchiera did not witness the shooting and has only heard secondhand stories from neighbors. But she said one story she was told was that an elderly couple was taking a walk Sunday morning, when they saw her dogs they crossed the street as a precaution and called the police because the dogs seemed unattended and are widely known as an aggressive breed.
Loki, the dog involved in the current shooting incident, is a 15-pound, medium-size blue heeler/pit bull mix, a “friendly and curious dog,” Chiacchiera said, as the family gathered around three of their other dogs Wednesday. See Ed. note.
While his daughter, Jasmine, kissed their pit bull Dexter, egging him on for a friendly wrestling match in the front yard on Wednesday, Winder watched. He wouldn’t have vicious animals around his 9-month-old baby and his 5-year-old daughter, he said, and related the story of Sebastian who the family previously owned and had to put down because he was vicious.
Many of the dogs in the family are or have been of the pit bull breed. Pit bull is not actually a breed but a stereotype, Best Friends Director of Animal Care Judah Battista said during a reunion of adoptive owners of “the Vicktory Dogs” – dogs rescued from the Michael Vick dog fighting operation. What is referred to as a pit bull is made up of a variety of breeds, Battista said: Stratfordshire terriers, American bulldogs, and others. The stereotype comes from dogs that have been bred to be used as a weapon, he said. But, many of the breed’s owners, such as those who adopted the Victory Dogs, credit their bad reputation to poor upbringing, hostile environment, and argue the breed has received a bad rap and are not by nature vicious dogs.
On Wednesday, Chiacchiera said that Loki was in critical condition and still needed surgery for a wounded front right paw and rear left paw. He was hit by three bullets, one of which grazed his lip after going through his nose, she said. The family needed to come up with $2,000 for the dog or decide to have him euthanized (no requirement to euthanize the dog has been imposed by authorities) and the family was seeking donations to cover the surgery.
St. George Animal Shelter’s manager, St. George Police Sgt. Ivor Fuller, said Loki was not in critical condition and had not been sedated. He had been given pain pills to keep him comfortable.
“The injuries were to his legs,” Fuller said, “he had casts on and was able to move around and did not act like he was in any pain at all.”
Loki has since been taken into the care of Best Friends Animal Society.
“The owners released the animal to us, and we released the animal to Best Friends, who now has custody of Loki and is taking care of all his medical needs and they will place him in their facility,” Fuller said.
Today, Loki is in Las Vegas in surgery, Best Friends Media Representative Barbara Williamson said.
“We did accept the dog,” Williamson said, “and as part of the dog being accepted to Best Friends we agreed that he will not be adopted into St George or Washington County.”
She said such stipulations are not unusual.
Brinkerhoff has yet to be charged with anything. Chiaccheria has been charged with failure to control a vicious animal, dog at large and failure to license.
Ed. note: For point of reference, Best Friends Animal Society provided this link for dogs classified at 0-25 pounds. See here. Verification of weight of Loki pending.
St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic and Assistant Editor Mori Kessler contributed to this article.
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