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Owner of decapitated dog hopes to save other pets

One two pit bulls rescued by Cook County Sheriff's Police from dog fight Maywood relaxes cage Animal Welfare League Chicago

One of two pit bulls rescued by Cook County Sheriff's Police from a dog fight in Maywood relaxes in a cage at the Animal Welfare League in Chicago Ridge, Illinois, Wednesday January 5, 2011. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 16, 2011 1:27AM

Animal cruelty is against the law.

Let’s start there.

If you witness someone who is torturing dogs and cats, treat that person like he or she is harming a helpless child and call 911.

This may seem like unnecessary advice, but it isn’t.

Last week, someone stole a 7-month-old German Shepherd out of a yard in the Austin neighborhood, and three days later the dog turned up dead — its head in one trash can and its body in another.

Needless to say, the dog’s owner was devastated.

“They took the dog to fight a pit bull and chopped the dog’s head off,” he initially told me.

The heinous act has struck such terror in this community; the owner asked that I not use his name.

“People around here are scared. The kids around here know that they are fighting dogs back there all the time,” the man said, referring to a vacant building in the 5400 block of West Van Buren.

According to the Chicago Police, someone walking in the alley in the 5400 block of West Gladys last Monday discovered the body of the decapitated dog in a trash can.

“We are hard-working citizens of Chicago and somebody can steal my dog and cut my dog’s head off and nothing is being done about it,” the dog owner told me.

“That is frightening. If they will cut off a dog’s head, they will cut off a person’s head.”

A police source in the Austin area told me that within the past eight months, officers have recovered at least 10 dogs from the same vacant building this owner believes his dog was taken to. “I’ve reached out to representatives of CAPS [Community Alternative Policing] and residents,” the police source said. “There is only so much we can do. We need people to come forward and no one has come forward.”

Late Friday night, police arrested a 16-year-old and his 24-year-old brother in connection with the crime. Apparently after the dog was taken from the owner’s yard, it was sold for $10. When one of the buyer’s dogs attacked the stolen dog, the juvenile brought the dog outside, decapitated it with an ax, and tried to pull a tooth out of its head, according to Chicago Police News Affairs.

The boy, who allegedly admitted to the acts, was charged with two felonies — aggravated cruelty to an animal and animal torture. He’s being held for psychiatric evaluation, a police source said.

Derrick Hargrett, 24, of the 5400 block of West Van Buren, the owner of the pit bull, was also charged, with three misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals and three misdemeanor counts of animal owner duties. Police are looking for others who may have been involved.

“The whole crew was into dog-fighting,” the source said. “Something is wrong with a person mentally if you can chop a dog’s head off,” the dog owner said.

Given the number of shootings in Austin, it’s amazing that police were able to make any arrests. Frankly, police are nearly overwhelmed with trying to execute search warrants for murderers and other criminals in the same neighborhood.

That’s just an unfortunate reality. But this crime also exposes another danger. The same aggressive pit bull that was being used to maim and possibly kill an innocent house pet could have gotten loose and injured or killed a neighborhood child.

Despite a new ordinance that is supposed to force banks to secure and maintain foreclosed properties, many decaying properties like this one in Austin are being taken over by undesirable elements. And these criminal squatters are making it difficult for legitimate residents to enjoy their own homes.

“There have been several dogs missing in this area, and I am also hearing that someone is catching cats and [gouging] their eyes out,” the dog owner said. “All of a sudden, these things are happening. If these are the kind of people that are coming into the neighborhood, we can’t stay here. We have worked too hard to have to live like this.”

Despite their fears, this family decided to speak out with the hope of saving another family’s pet.

“My concern is the person who did this could do something else. We don’t know what this person is capable of,” the dog owner said.

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