Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Shop owner on dog: 'I know for a fact he saved our lives'

Virginia Beach

When Rico woke from his nap Sunday evening, he was ready to play. But the two men who had entered GFY Clothing, a screen printing shop on South Birdneck Road, were in no mood for fun.

They spotted Rico, a year-old pit bull, and one of them shot him in the head with a .45-caliber handgun. Despite the injury, Rico attacked, clamping onto one of the men’s arms and buying the shop’s employees enough time to escape.

“I know for a fact he saved our lives,” said Chuck Smellinger, 34, one of the shop’s owners. “It was amazing, because I’ve never seen him act out aggressively.”

The bullet struck above Rico’s left eye and exited through his chest, hitting one of his back legs. Fortunately, it didn’t pierce his skull.

“The vet said, 'You’ve got a super dog,’” said owner Christopher Selby, 31, who adopted Rico a few weeks ago from his previous owner, who couldn’t care for him anymore. Selby was out on a date at the time of the shooting, and Smellinger was dog-sitting at the shop.

Rico was back home by Wednesday and, other than feeling drowsy from his medications, is the happy-go-lucky puppy he was before the shooting, Selby said as the pit bull sat on his lap at GFY Clothing.

“He’s still cool, he still wants to cuddle and play,” Selby said.

It’s unclear whether the canine will regain full vision in his left eye.

For now, the city has agreed to pay for the dog’s medical bills, which totaled more than $900, Selby said. But he’s working to raise money in case he’s asked to repay the costs.

Rico is a hero

Rico’s heroic act speaks well for pit bulls, especially because he didn’t attack first, Smellinger said.

“Anyone who has a pit bull and doesn’t fight it will tell you they’re the smartest, coolest dogs,” Selby said. “It’s 100 percent the image and the owner and the socialization and how they’re raised.”

Rico will make an appearance at Saturday’s fundraiser, sporting a sparkling “bling-bling” collar, Selby said. “He’ll be treated like a hero for the rest of his life.”