Pitbull owner says he shot dog to protect family during attack

ST. MARYS - The owner of the pitbull found shot last week in the Lake City area said the dog was "family" to him and he shot it because it was attacking his fiancee and would not respond to his commands to stop. Jeremiah Wickett, 35, of Lake City, said he had raised the dog, Ganja, a six-year-old half-pit bull, half-bull mastiff, from a puppy. He said he and his fiancee, Michelle Oertly, 34, also of Lake City, were standing on their front porch on the afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 18 engaged in a play "wrestling" match when the dog attacked Oertly, latching on to her left leg. "He took her off her feet, took her to the ground. He shook her like a toy, shook her back and forth," Wickett said, adding that the dog often engaged in the wrestling play with them and had never exhibited this behavior before. "He always grabs you, when you're wrestling and stuff, but he's not biting you," Oertly said. "This time, he latched on and he pulled me right down to the porch on my stomach and he started shaking his head and almost dragging me, shaking his head back and forth. I was screaming at the top of my lungs." Wickett said he gave the command to stop, but the dog did not disengage. At that point, he said he felt he needed to take further action to protect Oertly. "He wouldn't release. So I went and got the gun. I shot once in the air. When I shot once in the air, he released and come for me. He come for me and started to get my foot. He broke the skin-- there's about two inches of broken skin. I got my foot out before he could lock his jaw on me. I jumped back and he was still coming. That's when I shot him the first time. He stopped, but then came after me again. That's when I shot him again. I downshot," Wickett said. "At that moment in time, that was no longer my dog. That dog had lost something." Wickett said following the incident, the dog ran out of the yard and after being assured that Oertly was okay for the time being, he followed it. He said a neighbor driving by while the incident was taking place stopped and said the dog was along the road. He followed the blood trail and continued to search for the dog for about two hours, until he felt it was getting too late and he needed to get Oertly to a medical facility for treatment. At that point, he said, his father, Tom Wickett, who lives at the same residence but had been at work and was not there at the time of the incident, arrived home from work and took over the search for the dog. "My dad then picked up the search after I did," Wickett said.Tom Wickett said he drove around the back roads continuing to look for the dog, and responding to a neighbor who said it had been spotted in a yard, said the dog was gone when he got there. He said when he was arriving home from work on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 19, he saw a truck from the Humane Society parked in the neighborhood, but didn't realize they were there for his son's dog. "It didn't register right away," he said. Jeremiah Wickett said after bringing Oertly home from the emergency room Tuesday, he resumed the search "for hours." Both Jeremiah and Tom Wickett said after they couldn't find the dog after that time, they still planned to keep looking for him, but before they could continue, the Humane Society had come and retrieved it. According to a document provided to The Daily Press by Oertly, she had visited the emergency room at DuBois Regional Medical Center on Tuesday, Oct. 18 for a dog bite and was released with instructions to follow up with them and a specialist at Elk Regional Health Center. Additionally, the document said that the State Department of Health, which collects information about dog bites, would be in contact to get more information about the incident. "The hospital went through its procedures and contacted them, as they are supposed to do," Wickett said.Oertly said she went for a follow-up to a physician on Monday, Oct. 24. She said she did not have a physician's report with her, but that she was told the tissue around her ankle and calf was "crushed" and that she is not to put weight on the foot at this time. A report issued by the Elk County Humane Society on Thursday, Oct. 20 said Elk County Humane Officer JoAnne Smith was investigating an incident in which a dog with a large wound in its right shoulder had been found on private property in the Lake City area. According to the report and information provided for a story that appeared in the Friday, Oct. 21 edition of The Daily Press, the dog, a male, brindle-colored pitbull, had sustained a shotgun wound at close range, and due to the extent of its injuries, was humanely euthanized. The report also said the wound appeared to be two to three days old and that it was not believed the dog had been shot the day Wickett said the incident occurred.