Owner charged after dog dies in cold near Belleville

News-DemocratJanuary 9, 2014 

A chained dog near the intersection of South 23rd and South Belt West in Belleville died during the recent extreme cold temperatures. The dog's owner was arrested and charges are being pursued after the animal died from being left out in the coldest weather in 30 years, St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said. Read more here: http://www.bnd.com/2014/01/09/2996268/dog-dies-in-freezing-weather-near.html#storylink=cpy

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— On Sunday night, Steve Rosen heard a "strange" howling sound.

"At first I thought it was the wind," said Rosen. But he became worried, he said Thursday, because he thought it might be a neighbor's dog he had occasionally been feeding and caring for during the past few years. The dog was kept on a chain outside in a doghouse.

There was a padlock on the dog's collar, Rosen said.

Robert E. Dickerson, 48, of 401 S. 23rd St. near Belleville, was charged Thursday afternoon with misdemeanor cruelty to animals. St. Clair County Associate Judge Heinz Rudolf set Dickerson's bail at $5,000. He remains in the county jail.

St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said that more charges could be possible pending further results from an examination of the dog's body.

"We'll know in a few days if we can charge anything further," Kelly said.

Rosen knew the dog only as "Bud" -- the name he gave it. The owner kept the dog outside in all kinds of weather, Rosen said.

Rosen called the Gateway Pet Guardians in St. Louis as a precaution, but a representative of the nonprofit organization couldn't locate the address.

And on Tuesday, when the early morning temperature in Belleville dipped to minus 16, Rosen again went out to check on his friend "Bud."

"But I didn't see any tracks outside the doghouse. The snow had drifted over and I called him but he didn't come out. I figured the worst had happened or maybe the owner finally brought him inside. But it was the worst."

Dickerson, the dog's owner, was arrested after the animal died from being left out in the coldest weather in 30 years, St. Clair County Sheriff Rick Watson said.

Part of the investigation involves a necropsy, which is similar to an autopsy.

Dr. Adam Stern, a board certified veterinarian in pathology and works for the University of Illinois Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, described a death by freezing.

"Once the body temperature starts to drop, cardiac arrhythmia occurs, then the heart fails," Stern said.

A dog left in extreme temperatures will experience painful, stiffening muscles and may have trouble breathing, Stern said. "Hypothermia is very stressful to a human or an animal."

The Sheriff's Department continues the investigation of a complaint of aggravated cruelty to an animal related to the death. The complaint came from the 400 block of South 23rd Street near Belleville, Capt. Scott Weymouth said.

The dog, a Chow mix with dark fur whose name was not known to law enforcement, was found on Tuesday in the doghouse in the side yard of the home, Watson said.

Deputy Greg Hipskind found two metal bowls filled with ice and covered in snow, Weymouth said.

St. Clair County Animal Control Director Jim Jacquot said Thursday that his office had not investigated any complaints at the address.

"Bud" might have come close to being rescued. Jennifer Upton, who with her husband, Paul Galanti, volunteers as a rescue worker for Gateway Pet Guardians, was out on Monday night in subzero temperatures rescuing dogs in East St. Louis.

"It was a crazy 24 hours," she said. "We picked up three dogs, including one that had been injured badly by a pit bull." Upton said that night she checked her voice mail messages and learned that Rosen was concerned about "Bud." But there was a miscommunication regarding the address of the house.

Finally, on Tuesday evening, she got on her cellphone with Rosen, and he talked her to the right address.

She said she found the doghouse against the side of the house, covered with bushes that Upton cleared away. Then she shined her flashlight inside. She was still talking to Rosen.

"Steve, I see him in there, he's dead," she told Rosen.

"I was heart broken," Upton said, "it was like 'what if,' what if I had gotten there in time. There was no way to tell when he died. Just that he died alone."

Upton said that the law requires only a doghouse-like shelter and some straw bedding, which this dog had.

"But it's not enough in such colder weather."

Bud had battled intense heat and flea infestations in the summer, Rosen said, and had conquered winters before. But the record low temperatures were too much for him.

"He was always so happy to see me," Rosen said, of the times that he brought food and water to the dog.

"He was starved for attention. His owner paid no attention to him. It was like he was a tool. Something to be chained up so he could bark when people came into the yard."

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at gpawlaczyk@bnd.com or 618-239-2625. Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570.

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