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Lisa Urso hopes to see a lot of Lebanon County residents gathering outside the city police station on Wednesday to protest a decision by three officers on July 6 to shoot and kill a stray dog that, based on video evidence, was restrained and wagging his tail at the time.

The 1-year-old rescue dog, a German shepherd mix named Gunner, was released from his family’s property, apparently as a prank by a passerby. The dog wandered into the backyard of another city property, where a resident called police to catch the dog and take him to a shelter. Instead, officers tased the dog, captured him using a catch pole and, once he was lying on the ground, shot him in the head.

The dog’s owner, Jacklyn Shughart, and her family have called on police to release the officers’ body cam footage to show exactly what happened. Based on footage shot by the resident who called police, the dog was not a threat.

Lebanon city police Chief Todd H. Breiner issued a statement on July 8 saying the dog was killed “as a last resort … to protect officers and the public from endangerment” after the dog “became aggressive” and bit the catch pole. Shughart argues the video that has been widely shared on social media shows a different story.

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Urso, of Jonestown, doesn’t have a personal connection to Gunner or the Shughart family. However, she told LebTown, she also has a German shepherd named Gunner — one of two shepherds in her family — and the story of this Gunner’s death “hit me pretty hard.”

“I didn’t know what to do with my emotions. But we have to have a voice, a voice for the animals,” she said. “What they did to that dog … what they did was horrible. We need to make a change to help other animals.”

She organized #JusticeForGunner as a protest to let city officials and police that the community is upset about the incident and will not quickly forget about it.

  • WHAT: #JusticeForGunner protest
  • WHEN: 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 13
  • WHERE: outside police headquarters at 735 Cumberland St., Lebanon

“They can’t cover this up. There’s a video out there,” Urso said. “We need to be present. I do not want any violence, I do not want anything negative to occur. But there are a lot of people out there who this story has touched. We’re hoping for a good turnout for this, because … something needs to happen to make this change. Moving forward, they need to know this is wrong.”

She said she hopes the three officers involved will see the protest, “step up and have a heart. But right now, they’re hiding. Total cowards.”

This image, shared on social media by Kimberlee Pichardo, was taken shortly before the dog, Gunner, was fatally shot by Lebanon city police. (Source: Facebook)

“We’ll walk out to the front, on the sidewalk area,” Urso said. “If you want to make a sign, that’s fine. I don’t have a plan for anything specific to happen. Maybe it’s just a place for people to gather and talk. We’ll all be there for the same reason, maybe it will help us to heal a little.”

She said that “Gunner’s mom and sister,” Jacklyn Shughart and Riley Major, plan to attend. “We want to come together, so they know they’re surrounded by people who care,” Urso said.

Urso said her Gunner is 9 years old, and she said she looks into “his big brown eyes” and imagines how she’d feel if it had been her dog in that situation. She also has a 4-month-old German shepherd/pit bull mix named Gemma, she added — her 14-year-old shepherd, Hunter, died recently — and four other dogs.

“I hope the Shughart family hires an attorney,” she said. “Maybe they can make (the police) release their footage.”

The event begins Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the HACC parking lot at 735 Cumberland St. According to the event page on Facebook, participants will “proceed to the sidewalk in front of the police station” for the protest.

“This needs to be peaceful,” Urso wrote on the event page, “just let them know it’s not right what happened and this cannot be left go without Justice for Gunner. You can make posters in support of him. Nothing nasty about police please. Please keep this peaceful.”

“I’m shooting for a big turnout,” she told LebTown. “We need them to know that we, as a community, aren’t going to go away. We can’t walk past this and say this is OK. Because it’s not.

“I want this to go national. I want Lebanon County to be held accountable.”

Gunner, in a photo provided by Jacklyn Shughart.

On Sunday afternoon, dog lovers and supporters participated in “One Last Walk for RIP Gunner” at Monument Park on 8th Street between Lehman and Cumberland. According to organizers, the event was open to dogs of all breeds, sizes and colors to show respect for Gunner and his grieving family.

A GoFundMe campaign has also been organized to help pay the Shughart family’s legal expenses. As of Monday afternoon, the two-day-old campaign had raised $290 towards a $10,000 goal.

Shelter offers funds, aid, & criticism to city police

The Davis Dog Farm, a nonprofit all-breed rescue shelter in Grantville, handled Gunner’s rescue and adoption. On July 6, after hearing what had transpired, the organization and several of its employees and volunteers posted angry messages about the way police handled Gunner’s case.

Soon, however, all posts were deleted, and officials at the shelter declined to comment.

On July 9, however, Davis Dog Farm sent a letter to Lebanon city Mayor Sherry Capello and police Chief Todd Breiner. The letter, signed by executive director Janea Davis and board president Deanne Houser, expressed frustration with the incident.

“Gunner was a sweet and innocent puppy who was fending for himself on the streets. Despite much abuse before his arrival at the farm, Gunner has shown nothing but love for all dogs and humans. Gunner received professional training and was a model citizen,” they wrote.

Click here to read the letter from Davis Dog Farm to the Lebanon city police chief and mayor in its entirety.

“At this time, we are requesting immediate disciplinary action in response to the incident on July 6, 2022, involving the stray dog (Gunner) that resulted in him being unnecessarily shot and killed,” they added. “We also request your cooperation in educating your department in animal behaviors as well as animal restraint to keep your officers and the dogs safe.

“We are appalled by the actions that took place on Wednesday, July 6, 2022, that cost sweet Gunner his life, and so we want to be part of the solution. Gunner did not have to die and certainly not under those circumstances. … We want to work with Lebanon City Police to provide better training and equipment in Gunner’s memory. Our rescue is not against our local police. In fact, we appreciate and support our police. The events that ended Gunner’s life have nothing to do with our views of the police but, rather, the senseless and cowardly acts of just a few officers in the department.”

Davis and Houser said they are willing to raise funds “to purchase proper equipment for the department as well as arrange for proper training because we certainly do not want anyone injured while trying to save a dog. In return, however, we are asking that you make an effort to serve the people and make this right. We are requesting that the officers involved be punished appropriately for taking A LIFE unnecessarily.”

They noted that they have read the chief’s statement but “respectfully disagree with the timeline and accounting of events” because, they said, “we also have the video footage, have been given eyewitness reports, and have firsthand knowledge of his temperament.”

The letter closed with a request for action against the three officers involved in killing Gunner.

“The community is rightfully hurt and outraged not only by the acts of these officers but the lack of response from their superiors,” they wrote. “Please show this community, the community that you work for to serve and protect that you hear them. Please do what is right and provide justice for Gunner — because his life mattered.”

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.