ZeusZeus, the Otero’s German Shepherd that in March bit a Verizon repairman, has already been sentenced to death but between appeals to the Governor and massive public support, the decision regarding his final fate has been postponed.

Although it is undisputed that Zeus did bite, and although the judicial system says that’s all it take to hand down the death sentence, his supporters don’t see this case so ‘cut and dried’, so ‘black and white’. Again and again, they point out reasons why Zeus should be spared, they demonstrate and appeal to whomever will listen and they show up in court.

Arthur Schwarz suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from a year spent fighting in Iraq. Schwarz says that his boxer, Pearl, helps him cope, and that the two are like “Velcro.”

As a service dog, Pearl was allowed in the courtroom here where the fate of Zeus, a 90-pound German shepherd, was being considered Friday. A judge ordered Zeus to be put down after the dog attacked a phone repairman in March, but the dog’s owners, Ana and Gilbert Otero, are appealing the ruling.

Schwarz, 44, of Bradenton Beach, said Zeus’ case caught his attention.

He is not alone. The case has reverberated from Tampa to North Port. More than 30 people were in the courtroom on Friday to support the dog, and last week dozens picketed the county’s animal services shelter on his behalf. Many of Zeus’ supporters acknowledge that they do not know the details of the March 22 attack that put Verizon repairman William Flick, 23, in the hospital. What they do know is that they want the dog to live.

“I think Zeus is standing in for a lot of things people want to fix in the world right now,” said Sarasota psychologist Cynthia Bailey.

Often, it is the travail of an individual person or animal, like Zeus, that captures the public’s sympathy, she said, especially when the case involves a “warm, fuzzy creature.”

Because of that, the dog is getting a lot of public sympathy these days, despite his apparently aggressive actions. “We don’t like to think about animals that attack you out of nowhere,” Bailey said.

Sarasota County moved to put Zeus down after his unprovoked attack sent Flick to Venice Regional Medical Center with torn jeans, a hole in his boot and multiple bite wounds. On Friday, Judge Phyllis Galen gave attorneys until July 16 to provide her with memos describing what they think should happen in the case.

The Oteros want another hearing, opening the door for Zeus to avoid deathGilbert and Ana Otero and come back home instead, though with restrictions such as a muzzle.

The county says that under Florida law Zeus must be killed for the attack.

People at Friday’s hearing cited many reasons why Zeus should be spared. Some implied that the dog was protecting the Oteros. Others argued that what happened was not really an attack at all. Another factor garnering people’s sympathy is that Gilbert Otero, a disabled veteran, says the dog is an important comfort for him, adding patriotism to the fervor.

“In our country, vets are getting everything taken away from them,” said Patti Cooper, a 44-year-old homemaker from Sarasota County at Friday’s hearing to show her support for Zeus.

To Cooper and other Zeus supporters, Sarasota County is the real culprit.

“I don’t think this dog is getting a fair shake,” said Sharon Wilhelm, a 50-year-old dog trainer from North Port who drove over for the hearing.

The final fate of Zeus remains to be seen. The Oteros’ attorney, Jennifer Dietz, said that if the judge refuses to grant a new hearing, they will appeal to a higher court.

Outside the courthouse on Friday, television crews bombarded the Oteros, giving them another opportunity to talk about Zeus as if he were a missing child — something Bailey calls “anthropomorphizing.”

“He is not a vicious animal,” Ana Otero said of the dog. “He is just a puppy that needs some training.” (Herald Tribune)


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