If conclusion-jumping was a Winter Olympics event, both the police and the press would be deserving medals for their handling this week of an incident in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, that saw a dead woman’s Rottweiler locked up as her suspected killer.
The facts of the case are these: Carolyn Baker, 63, was found dead at her back steps, wearing only a thin polyester nightgown and boots, with bite marks on her arms and shoulder.
Here are just a few of the headlines (online versions) that followed over the next two days:
Of course, headlines are never the whole story; and sometimes the whole story isn’t the whole story, as was the case with these.
Instead, as it turns out, the police and, in turn, news media, may have jumped the gun — perhaps a little too eager to place blame on a dog because of his breed, which is, of course, nothing new.
While pit bulls have taken their place as Public Enemy No. 1, Rottweilers have long been victim to the same kind of negative stereotyping. Zeus, maybe, is just the latest.
Subsequent reports, like this one in the Cleveland Plain Dealer eventually gave the family’s suspicions given some ink — namely that 9-year-old Zeus, rather than being the stone cold killer police and the news media were portraying him as, may have merely been trying to rescue his owner after she collapsed in the yard.
The Cuyahoga County coroner’s office has yet to rule on the cause of Baker’s death, but her family believes she had another stroke or heart attack when she went into her yard to bring her dog inside late Saturday, and that Zeus tried to pull her to safety after she collapsed.
It wasn’t until 3 a.m. Sunday that a next-door neighbor called the family to tell them Zeus was in the Baker’s front yard barking. The dog had gone through a hole in the back fence. After letting the dog in, Baker’s husband found his wife at the bottom of the back steps.
Cleveland Heights police said Baker had severe arm and shoulder injuries and bite marks. While police intitially suspected Baker was “mauled” by her own dog, Baker’s family insists the bite marks aren’t from an attack, but from Zeus’ attempts to rescue his master.
“[Zeus] only locked onto her shoulder trying to bring her in,” said Baker’s son, Rinaldo. “My mom weighed about 200 pounds. The dog just grabbed her and tried to help her out. She had no clothes on or he could have grabbed that. There were no marks on her face, nowhere else.”
“That was her dog,” Rinaldo Baker said. “If we were to go upstairs that dog would run past us and go upstairs to be with us. But if my mom were to go upstairs, knowing how she can barely walk, Zeus would sit and wait for her to go up first and then he would go up. That’s a good dog.”
Zeus is being held at Pepperidge Kennels in Bedford pending the results of the autopsy. The Baker family wants him back.
“If Zeus wasn’t out there we wouldn’t have known till later on that something was wrong because he was the one who alerted somebody,” Carter said. “If he had ways of getting somebody to notice earlier, things may have been different than what they are now, but he did the best he could as a dog.”
Posted by John Woestendiek February 12th, 2010 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, bite, carolyn baker, cleveland heights, conclusion, coroner, county, cuyahoga, dead, died, dog, dogs, journalism, jumping to conclusions, law enforcement, libel, marks, master, maul, mauled, mauling, media, news, owner, pets, police, press, rescue, rottweiler, slander, stereotypes, zeus