Must Reads: Some called him Cujo, others knew him as The Dog. But in this Utah town, all knew him as a killer
Some took to calling him Cujo. Others dubbed him Zorro. At least one named him Jack. For most around these parts, however, he was simply known as The Dog.
His tan and dark fur coat was, for a German shepherd mix who hadn’t had an owner in two or three years, remarkably well groomed. Early on, his presence was barely noted. He ran amidst other dogs — including a small mob of yipping Chihuahuas — that roamed the streets and fields without leashes or cares.
But as summer peaked, something changed in The Dog.
Few were suspicious of him at first, when some chickens were found dead in the neighborhood. Could’ve been foxes or even an overly aggressive badger, local animal control thought. It wouldn’t be the first time chickens fell prey to something wild, residents said.
Then Chandler Caldwell’s goat, Buddy, was found dead on the farm at Roots Charter High School. And an 8-month-old goat was missing — the remains found later in a field. A mother goat that survived was found with a huge chunk of her hindquarters ripped out.
Soon, sheep were found dead. More chickens, too. Piglets. The carnage was costly. Students at Roots Charter take out loans to buy the animals and — with about 40 animals dead —The Dog’s savagery had cost them more than $7,000.
But more troubling for Tyler Bastian, the school’s principal, was this: The dog wasn’t killing for food. It seemed to be killing for fun.
“It was pretty nuts,” Bastian said. “We’re an urban farm in the middle of the city and to have a situation where a dog is aggressive enough to take down an alpaca — it was pretty mind-boggling. Not only taking it down, but ripping it to pieces. It was also disturbing for the students.”
Nobody knew exactly where The Dog came from, how old he was or how he ended up in this urban-rural community west of Salt Lake City.
There were rumors that it belonged to a homeless man who either died or was swept up when authorities broke up a nearby encampment. It could’ve been abandoned, some thought. Most agreed The Dog had been roaming the area for two years, gradually becoming more feral.
The Dog was smart and cunning, though, said Layne Morris, community preservation director at West Valley City. Not only had he found residents who would look out and occasionally hide him, he slowly learned to recognize the animal control trucks and personnel in uniform.
He proved to be increasingly difficult to nab.
Richard Horrocks, a 72-year-old resident who lived on a corner near where the dog could be seen trotting down the road, half-wheezed with laughter as he recalled the attempts to catch The Dog as the months wore on.
“You’d see seven dog catcher trucks all lined up trying to get him and it was like a cartoon,” he said standing in his yard with two dogs running around a patch of squash and dried corn stalks. “Keystone Kops. That dog had them running in circles.”
Morris said not all the neighbors were helping shelter the dog, however. He said the area where the school stands also happened to be a place where generations of cock fighting fowl were raised. The Dog had taken out some of those prized roosters and a few of the owners had formed hunting parties to track it down.
Other residents had placed a bounty on The Dog, and there were fears the hunting parties might get out of control.
Officials wanted to avoid something out of “Jaws,” in which a flotilla of disorganized recreational boaters headed out to sea to catch the deadly shark. Morris said there were reports of cars trying to hit the dog as it ran in the streets. Eventually West Valley Animal Services brought in more manpower to help.
And still, The Dog kept killing.
Students tried to protect their animals, showing up early and staying late to watch over the livestock. The school’s farm, located on the property of a country music radio station, was set up with surveillance cameras.
Sarah Hilton, a programmer at the station who worked overnight, remembered leaving her building at 2 a.m. and seeing “all these parked cars with their headlights on aimed at the animals” on the farm. She said the students would sit on the hoods of their cars, keeping watch.
Nate Cable took to camping in the fields around the farm. He and several other students had fashioned a dog catching snare made with PVC pipe and wire.
Nate, 17, said one night he encountered The Dog by accident.
It was dark and he heard a low growl as he walked to his parked car.
“He was close,” Nate said. “I dropped everything, including my hat. Then he picked it up and started to walk away with it. Then he dropped it and disappeared.”
One day The Dog killed Olivia Davis’ sheep.
Olivia , 17, saw the sheep when it was born in December and named it Demeter — the Greek goddess of agriculture. She said she came to Roots Charter because she had struggled at the public high school after her mother died five years earlier.
She saw a chance at raising livestock and working with animals as a way to work through her grief and it gave her a sense of purpose. Demeter was her first sheep, and she had big plans for her. There would be fairs and shows and a future.
Then she got a call.
“I was at home. I had been sick that day and my best friend called me and said The Dog had attacked,” Olivia said. “My friend said, ‘You have to get here.’”
When she arrived at the farm, Demeter was dead.
“It was like my whole world crashed down,” she said.
She said she hated The Dog with the kind of loathing reserved for an unrepentant killer.
Bastian said the school beefed up security and brought in a llama and a donkey — both known as guard animals that could kill the dog if it entered the pen.
The donkey in particular came highly regarded — boasting a resume that included a coyote it had killed in northern Utah. His name was Gus, and the reputation of his powerful kick preceded his arrival.
“One kick and that dog would be dead,” Jake Winkler, 17, said of Gus.
Jake, who owned a dairy cow named Carol, said the hired protection appeared to help. The Dog seemed to steer clear of the farm’s new muscle.
But away from the farm, The Dog was even more brazen. There was a report he had gone after a child, who fended off the animal with his bike. Morris said that was a signal they needed to redouble their efforts.
Morris said cooperation among the neighbors wasn’t always easy.
“There is a certain rebellious streak — a little bit of those on the edge and independent, the don’t-tell-me-how-to-live-my-life flavor to that area,” Morris said. “Which I respect and we try to respect that a little bit when it comes to ordinances, but there were some people who were deliberately sheltering that dog even though they knew full well the dog was a problem that needed to be resolved.”
City officials made their move official in September: They intended to destroy The Dog.
In a memo Morris issued to West Valley City Police Chief Colleen Jacobs and the city attorney, the animal services division requested permission to euthanize The Dog in accordance with American Veterinary Medical Assn. guidelines. Gunshot is listed as an appropriate method, according to the organization.
Morris said it wasn’t an easy call, noting that West Valley City operates a no-kill shelter.
“We’re not in the business of euthanizing animals,” he said. “We’re in the business of giving animals homes. It was a difficult for our staff because they work in animal services because they love working with animals.”
But the reported — though unverified — attack on the child left them no choice, he said.
On Oct. 11, Morris said a former law enforcement officer who used to train German shepherds with K-9 units reported The Dog ran past him into a field near a church not five minutes from where the school farm was. Officials said The Dog had been tracking sheep.
The officer, Morris said, used a shotgun. The Dog was dead in moments. “It was a humane way to go,” Morris said. The officer’s name was not made public. Morris said the officer felt conflicted, “but knew it had to be done.”
While the students at Roots Charter were relieved, not everyone reveled in the news that The Dog was dead.
“I was sad because a life had been taken. ... But I was also happy because it means the dog won’t kill anymore.”
Had The Dog been killed the day after her lamb had been found dead, Olivia said she would’ve been “ecstatic.” Now, she felt torn.
“I was sad because a life had been taken. The dog was living its life,” Olivia said. “But I was also happy because it means the dog won’t kill anymore.”
Bastian said some of the farm animals still remain a little skittish. Caldwell said the goat injured by the canine is allowing people to approach her now. Carol, the dairy cow, and a few of the alpacas are settling into old routines.
Flocks of chickens squawked in the early morning chill, and summer had given way to fall. Nearby, Gus the Donkey munched on hay and Cuzco the Llama stood guard next to him, looking over a fence toward an open field with wild grass, twisting trees and hidden places where The Dog once lived.
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