The death of a Waverly dog shot after entering another man's yard last week has left a grieving family with more than $4,000 in veterinary bills.
Copper, the 9-year-old Vizsla, grew up with Luke and Kerry Ropte's two children, 12 and 8. On Saturday, the two cried and screamed when told of the dog's death.
"(Dogs) get so damn close to you," Luke Ropte said Monday. "You always tell yourself it’s just a dog, but you don’t picture them having to go through this.”
A pellet from a high-powered air rifle tore through Copper's body Aug. 18 and left him with internal injuries. He died four days later.
Copper was off the leash and running around Waverly Intermediate School's football field about 7:15 p.m. while the family practiced football, Luke Ropte said.
Then, the dog wandered into Gary Furtwangler's backyard at 14630 Folkstone St., according to the Lancaster County Sheriff's Office.
Investigators believe Furtwangler, 56, fired his Gamo pellet rifle at Copper, hitting the dog in one of his hind legs. Copper ran back to his family, Ropte said. They had heard a gunshot and saw the entrance wound but no bleeding.
The Roptes took Copper to the veterinarian, and the next day, surgeons removed 8 inches of his intestines.
Copper’s veterinarians said the pellet traveled through his body and lodged near his neck but missed most of his vital organs, and they were optimistic about his recovery. But he struggled and the Roptes took him in again on Saturday. They gave the dog a blood transfusion and tried to pinpoint the source of the internal bleeding and possibly remove the pellet.
The active, 63-pound dog that loved to hunt didn’t survive the surgery. His family buried him in the backyard with some of his toys and mementos from the children.
It’s been hard getting the kids to go to sleep since then, their dad said.
Ropte said he feels guilty he didn’t have Copper on a leash, but that it had never been a problem before. Lancaster County Sheriff's deputies ticketed him for having a dog running at large.
And on Monday, prosecutors charged Furtwangler with first-offense animal cruelty, a misdemeanor punishable by as much as a year in jail.
Chief Deputy Jeff Bliemeister said investigators believe Furtwangler has had problems with other dogs in his backyard before. Bliemeister said Copper did not charge at him.
Furtwangler didn’t respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon.
Luke Ropte said he’s willing to forgive Furtwangler and that he understands some people don’t like dogs.
"But that doesn’t give you the right to shoot them,” Ropte said.
He's not sure if they'll get a new dog.
Right now, he said, they've got more than $4,200 in unexpected medical bills.
Pam Hoffman, founder of the Sadie Dog Fund, has pledged to help with the bills. People can contribute at sadiedogfund.com or send donations to 2224 Heather Lane, Lincoln, NE 68512.
Longterm, Luke Ropte wants to build a dog-run in Waverly so dogs have a safe place to play.
"You don’t want your dog dying like this," he said.