Roc heading to rescue shelter; Council votes unanimously amidst communication concerns

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rock, the 4-year-old pit bull labeled a dangerous dog by the Austin City Council, is heading to a rescue shelter. Herald file photo

Rock, the 4-year-old pit bull labeled a dangerous dog by the Austin City Council, is heading to a rescue shelter.
Herald file photo

A 4-year-old pitbull is getting a stay of execution after the Austin City Council rescinded its order to euthanize Roc the dog during a public meeting Monday.

Though not everyone agreed with the way things came about, the council unanimously voted to release the dog to Ruff Start Rescue, a Central Minnesota-based animal rescue program.

The vote comes after more than a month of controversy stemming from the council’s decision to declare Roc a dangerous dog, which attracted attention from animal rights activists from across the country.

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Mayor Tom Stiehm proposed the shelter after weeks of pushback from the dog’s former owner, as well as animal rights advocates out of New York.

The Austin City Council declared Roc a dangerous dog on July 21 and finalized its findings to euthanize him on Aug. 3.

Roc has allegedly attacked or threatened residents in northwest Austin four times since 2013. He reportedly jumped on a man walking near the 600 block of Sixth Avenue on July 1 and tried to bite him, according to police reports.

The man only suffered a slight scratch on his face, however. Yet the dog never bit anyone during his encounters.

Roc’s former owner, Sofia Smith, hired an attorney to stop the euthanization from happening, but Ruff Start Rescue volunteers were approaching the city at the same time to test Roc’s temperament to see if he could be fostered out to a new home.

Chris Maddox, a board member for Ruff Start Rescue and the organization’s bully breed coordinator, said Roc tested quite well on seven exercises to determine whether he was an aggressive dog.

“He’s just a goofy, big pitbull, which understandably is a concern when you have him running loose about town,” Maddox told the council Monday.

According to Maddox, Roc will be placed in a foster home in central Minnesota and retrained to be adopted out. During that time he will be fixed, microchipped and receive up-to-date vaccinations.

As part of the agreement, Roc can never return to Mower County as he’s still considered a dangerous dog within the Austin city limits. Maddox assured the council Ruff Start Rescue staff would ensure Roc’s future owners knew about the dog’s past.

Information concerns

Though the council voted unanimously to give Roc to Ruff Start Rescue, not everyone was pleased with the way the decision unfolded in the public eye.

Jeff Austin

Jeff Austin

Council member Jeff Austin took Stiehm to task at the end of the council’s work session for revealing the proposal to the media last week before the council knew about the idea.

“During this past week I would have appreciated knowing a little more about what was going on,” he said. “I didn’t appreciate the fact that you got so much face time in the media about the dog before we made a decision.”

Austin was concerned Stiehm may have manipulated the council into voting to spare the dog through making his proposal public before the council knew about it.

“If we would not have voted to amend the agreement tonight, even after you told everyone we were going to save this dog, I think that would have made us look bad.”

Stiehm never promised the council would save the dog during interviews with local media, but rather said he was going to propose sending the dog to a shelter at Monday’s council meeting.

Council members Michael Jordal and Judy Enright also expressed concerns about not knowing about the proposal beforehand.

Stiehm countered he wanted to keep the public informed about the dog as the controversy surrounding Roc grew. Stiehm first discussed letting a shelter take control of Roc several days after an attorney representing Smith had filed a temporary restraining order against the city on Aug. 7 to stop Roc’s euthanization.

In addition, Stiehm said he didn’t want to violate open meeting laws by individually informing council members about his proposal.

“I wanted the community advised on this decision,” Stiehm said.

He also invited Austin to contact him in the future with questions on particular issues. City staff advised council members they could send out a memo to inform each other on issues as long as they didn’t receive feedback, which would break state open meeting laws.