BROOKSVILLE - Last week, Rocky the Great Dane got a second chance when Hernando County Animal Services and his former owner allowed an independent behaviorist to evaluate the dog, called dangerous by some and harmless by others.
On Tuesday, the independent behaviorist recruited by rescue groups and an Orlando attorney confirmed what they initially couldn't believe to be true - that Rocky was "aggressive" - and recommended euthanization.
The dog was surrendered to Hernando County Animal Services on June 1, about a year after he was adopted to Tara Coburn Cornell, of Mondon Hill Road.
Cornell said Rocky had bit her and other members of her family and wanted him euthanized to ensure he wouldn't seriously hurt anyone else.
Animal advocates in Hernando County and across the country heard about Rocky and decided he needed another chance. Within days, the Save Rocky the Great Dane Facebook page had more than a thousand likes and more than $1,000 of donations to pay for his lawyer, Dawn Berlanga-Helms of Orlando, who has successfully intervened against other dogs facing euthanasia.
Berlanga-Helms, who ultimately took on the case pro bono, said she selected John McGrath, owner of JM Canine Services, to perform Rocky's evaluation. Berlanga-Helms said the certified behaviorist, from Chuluota, has a Great Dane of his own, and he brought his dog to interact with Rocky.
McGrath completed the evaluation at 9:50 a.m., and his brief report reads, in part: "I fully evaluated from the cage only and interviewed the owner for a good 40 minutes getting and (sic) insight on Rocky's past behavior biting with other people ... found out very quickly on he did show aggression when I stayed near the cage door several times and my professional opinion he should be euthanized he can not be trusted around anyone if he goes back to his owner or adopted."
Berlanga-Helms said she was "truly heartbroken" by the findings, and was convinced something happened to the dog after being placed in his new home.
"My understanding is that within days of Rocky being in the home he exhibited aggressive behavior," she said. "Either get help or turn the dog over for rehabilitation until it gets worse, don't leave the dog in the household for a year and hope he gets better."
Rocky's legal advocate said there are positive takeaways from the story.
"That we got to the point of evaluation is amazing," Berlanga-Helms said, adding that public awareness was raised.
"If Rocky had been in a better frame of mind, we would have saved him."
Hernando Today previously reported that a rescue group was ready to relocate Rocky to a 7-acre property where he would be the only dog.
On Thursday, a press release sent out by Hernando County public relations said Rocky had bit the owner and family members on five separate occasions and had "unpredictably turned aggressive." Citing future harm or injuries, Dr. Lisa Centonze and Animal Services decided it was "in the best interest of public safety to honor the owner's wishes and humanely euthanize Rocky."
"We do not want to take a chance that another person or pet gets injured by this dog," the release stated.
On Tuesday, Hernando County Community Relations Coordinator Brenda Frazier said that although Centonze was out of the office this week, HCAS would not wait for her return to euthanize Rocky, since the independent evaluation has been completed.