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Dog, Once Defended In Florida, Euthanized In Tennessee

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Published:   |   Updated: June 1, 2013 at 04:46 PM

TAMPA - In the end, a reprieve wasn't enough to save Zeus, the German shepherd from Nokomis who bit a Verizon worker last year and was condemned to death. The dog, amid huge public outcry in Sarasota County, was granted a pardon, and while it looked like the canine was on his way to living a real dog's life, fate intervened.

The circumstances are unclear, but those close to Zeus say they have confirmed that the dog bit a child in another state and that he was summarily euthanized. This after thousands had been spent to overturn a Sarasota death penalty imposed last year. One attorney said she put in 90 hours of legal work to save Zeus from the needle.

The Florida case drew widespread attention because of a court case in which Zeus' owners pleaded for his life. A hearing master had ordered the 5-year-old dog, who had been rescued a few years earlier in Georgia, be put down as a dangerous animal.

But the public outcry and some fancy legal footwork sparked mercy in the courts, which gave Zeus a second chance at life. Everyone was happy.

Jennifer Deitz, a Tampa animal rights attorney who represented Zeus' appeal on behalf of the Sarasota in Defense of Animals organization, said the dog had suffered through a hard life.

Zeus' public battle for his life began when a Verizon worker visited his home in Nokomis in March 2007.

The worker had been warned by Zeus' owners, Ana and Gilbert Otero, not to approach the dog, who was in the house, but the worker said he had a way with dogs and made a move to pet Zeus, who responded with a bite to the arm.

Zeus was purebred. The Oteros got him from a German shepherd rescue group in Georgia, so no one knows how the dog was raised until that point. And no one knows for sure why Zeus bit the repairman.

The Oteros took the wounded utility worker to hospital and later that day, and animal services took Zeus, declared him a dangerous dog and set a hearing to discuss possible euthanasia, Deitz said.

"They couldn't afford an attorney," Deitz said of the Oteros.

They were very upset and contacted Sarasota in Defense of Animals, which hired an attorney, not Deitz, to defend the dog.

A hearing master declared Zeus dangerous and set a date for the execution within 20 days.

An appeal was filed, and Deitz took over the case.

She argued that the dog was not dangerous, and a county court judge "split the baby," ordering that Zeus still be designated dangerous but overturned the death penalty. Zeus was going home. The Oteros had to comply with certain court orders, like always having a muzzle on Zeus whenever he went out for a walk.

Gilbert Otero died suddenly within months of the dog being returned, and his wife was moving to a condo that didn't allow dogs, Deitz said, and had to get rid of Zeus.

She turned Zeus over to the Englewood Animal Rescue Sanctuary, which proposed training to adjust Zeus' temperament so he could be adopted out to a good home, Deitz said. The sanctuary arranges "adoptions for life" - close to 300 a year, according to an April newsletter - and operates a no-kill shelter for animals.

Everything was legal, Deitz said, "The only requirement was that the county must know where the dog was going."

In February, she said she received an e-mail.

"I was working late. It was a sad e-mail that said Zeus was dead," she said. "The circumstances were unknown."

Deitz found out that somehow the dog had been transferred out of state, adopted by a family in Tennessee.

"I would not have recommended that," she said. "The dog was given to a family I never met, and I don't know how they ended up with the dog. Zeus still needed more help. He had been in jail for so long, his master had died, he had some issues."

She doesn't know the circumstances surrounding the bite in Tennessee. She knows a child was bitten and taken to the hospital. Zeus was taken into custody and summarily euthanized, she said.

"He simply was put down," she said. There was no hearing.

"It breaks my heart to know that that poor dog lived a hard life," Deitz said. "He had difficulty understanding humans and then he was put down at a young age. He was not a dangerous dog, not in my opinion. He had a good temperament. He was high-strung, but he did a lot walking and running," and that controlled the anxiety.

She said she got to know Zeus during the time she defended his life. She petted him and allowed her child to play with him as well.

"He made a very big impression," she said. "He was very close to my heart. I worked tremendously hard to save his life because I loved that dog."

Officials with the Sarasota in Defense of Animals organization are angry about the outcome of the case. The group spent thousands of dollars to defend Zeus and keep him alive.

Sarasota in Defense of Animals President Elise M. Matthes, in an e-mail to TBO.com, said she is upset that Zeus was turned over to the Englewood group and questions the procedures by which the dog was adopted out.

"This whole case has many mysterious circumstances that probably will never be revealed," Matthes wrote. "It is unfortunate that our animal protection organization was not contacted in the disposition of Zeus."

A representative for the Englewood Animal Rescue Sanctuary could not be reached for comment this morning.


Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760 or kmorelli@tampatrib.com.

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