Hound's Hell

As tough as life has been for young Bruiser Tesar, don't expect him to talk about it, even to a grand jury.

Bruiser has a good excuse for his silence. He's a 15-month-old labrador retriever. Houston police and city Animal Control officials can talk, but they are refusing to say much about their treatment of this household pet on what turned into a night of terror July 16.

Bruiser was a mere puppy when he had his first calamity, by colliding with a car. Evidence of that accident is apparent. With a poorly mended fractured pelvis, the canine cannot walk normally.

Deborah Tesar, 33, rescued the limping stray more than a year ago. She has to take Bruiser in for regular visits with an animal orthopedic surgeon, who has recommended bilateral hip replacement for the handicapped hound.

"His hips are so bad that he is unable to jump," Tesar says. "He is a disabled dog. He even walks funny. I have to help him into bed at night."

On July 16, Tesar discovered a burglary when she returned to her home in the Heights. Missing were a VCR and camera. Tesar notified police, and Officer J.M. Dexter, accompanied by another officer, arrived about 7:30 p.m. to investigate and file a report.

Tesar said she saw their separate patrol cars pull up, and started to greet them, then decided not to interrupt their conversation outside.

A few minutes later, she heard their knock on the door, which "riled up" Bruiser and her three other dogs. Tesar said she opened the door only slightly to talk to the officers, but Bruiser managed to wiggle through. While Dexter's partner stayed on the porch, Dexter began backpedaling to the driveway and then into a neighbor's yard as the 84-pound Bruiser kept approaching him.

Tesar said she was momentarily distracted by the commotion of the other three dogs at her side. She looked again at Bruiser, sensing what was about to happen next.

"I saw in [Officer Dexter's] face that he was panicked," says Tesar. "So I said, 'Don't shoot my dog!' He made eye contact with me, and then shot my dog twice."

One bullet from his handgun hit Bruiser in the shoulder blade. A second ripped straight through the dog's neck. Bruiser yelled and yipped his way toward the crawl space under the house to moan and lick his wounds.

Tesar recalled her shocked reaction and words with Dexter's partner.
"Is he dead?"
"Probably," the officer said.

Shook up about the shooting and too scared to view the remains, Tesar went back inside and asked her cousin Larry Baird to check on the dog. He found Bruiser badly wounded, still hiding under the house. Baird said neither officer responded to his questions about where the bullets struck Bruiser, as the police retreated to confer with each other. The discharge of a police weapon requires reviews and investigations by the officer's sergeant, lieutenant and the Internal Affairs Division.

"I guess the officers walked away to get their story straight by the time Internal Affairs arrived," says Tesar.

Dexter did not return calls for comment. A police spokesman said the shooting occurred after Bruiser "began chasing Officer Dexter into the next yard and was in the process of attacking [him]." Police veterans say officers usually avoid such confrontations by backing away and warning owners -- at the first indication of barking or growling dogs -- to safely secure a pet before they will enter the premises.

"If an officer feels that his life is being threatened by either a human or animal, he has the discretion to take whatever appropriate action he feels necessary to protect himself or anyone else who might be around," a police spokesman said.

Tesar concedes she could not see her dog's face at the time of the shooting, but cannot accept that the officer had to fire two shots into such a disabled dog. She expresses even more disbelief at the events that were to follow that night.

Her burglary was put on the back burner while investigators arrived within 30 minutes to probe the shooting scene, with the pooch victim -- or perpetrator -- still cowering under the house. A defiant Bruiser still refused police requests to come out.

Tesar said police assured her the dog was alive and that he would be taken care of. Authorities gave her three options: She could leave the dog under the house, authorities could pull the dog out with a wire harness or she could have them sedate the dog and then pull him out.

She agreed to the sedation, then bent down to call Bruiser toward her while a police officer shined a flashlight in Bruiser's direction. After the dog stared into the light for a few seconds, his head fell and his eyes shut.

"I'm sorry, Ms. Tesar," said one of the officers, "but your dog just died."
About three hours after the shooting, Bruiser, bloodied and infested with ants, was pulled from the crawl space and found to still be breathing. Tesar refused to sign custody over to the city when he was taken away by Animal Control workers, but she did give her consent for euthanasia if necessary.

"After everything that had happened," Tesar says, "that's really what I wanted." She said authorities assured her a veterinarian was on call at Animal Control and would contact her about Bruiser's status. As police prepared to leave, Tesar had to remind them of one last request -- to make out the burglary report.

"Oh yeah," one of the officers replied. She said that report only mentioned the VCR, not the camera.

She heard nothing from Animal Control or a vet, so Tesar called the number given her. It was only a recording that advises callers to contact the police dispatcher concerning an animal.

"Like I was really trusting them now," says Tesar.
At 11:35 p.m., an Animal Control representative informed her that no vet would be arriving until the morning. She said she vividly recalls the exchange:

"What do you want me to do with your dog?" the voice on the other line said.
"Take him to the dog emergency room!" Tesar yelled.
"Sorry, Ms. Tesar," said the voice. "I cannot do that."
"Then I'm going to go pick him up," Tesar said.
"I can't let you do that, either," said the voice.

Tesar, at this point, insisted that "nothing was going to stop me" from picking up the dog. She drove to the gate of Animal Control and met a security guard and night employee who directed her to the truck that had picked up the dog. She located Bruiser in a small compartment, "in a pool of blood, with flies flying around him."

The workers said they would get in trouble if they assisted her in the dognapping from the facility, but finally helped carry Bruiser and load him into her car.

Tesar sped away to the Animal Emergency Clinic off the Katy Freeway. Pat Banks, the vet in charge, declared Bruiser to be in critical condition and counseled her that treatment would be expensive.

"I don't care," Tesar told him. "Do what you have to."
The clinic sent out an emergency call for dog blood donors. Around 1 a.m., several dog owners began arriving with dogs to donate for Bruiser. The successful "blood drive" was credited with saving his life.

He had a stint in doggie ICU and was released four days later. The cost of saving Bruiser was more than $1,200.

A spokesman for city Animal Control insisted that the pound has a vet available for paging, around the clock. The Animal Control representative refused to discuss the incident or why medical help was not requested or received for Bruiser.

Tesar said the city has refused to pay the claim she filed for reimbursement of the vet expenses, and says animal activists and some others are urging her to file a lawsuit if necessary.

Meanwhile, Bruiser is reported to be making progress toward a complete recovery, even though he "is not his old puppy self," Tesar said.

He allows other dogs to lick his wounds. And he does not get as excited when he hears a knock at the door.

E-mail Russell Contreras at russell_contreras@houstonpress.com.

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