PALMETTO -- Telling a crowd of 60 supporters that "Buck and Bill are with God," a clear-voiced Karen Erskine ended one phase in her life and said she will now begin another one, to find out why her two Australian Shepherds had to be killed at 7 p.m. Thursday and to make sure it doesn't happen to other dogs in Manatee County.
"Don't forget. Don't let go. Honor Buck and Bill," Erskine told the crowd of many animal lovers, many of whom had spent from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday with her at Manatee County Animal Services, where her dogs have been quarantined since 2012, watching as her frustration built at not being able to find am 11th-hour legal situation to save her animals.
"I wouldn't want to be a person working in the office of Manatee County
Public Safety, which contains Animal Services, after the full facts of this case gets out into the world," Erskine added.
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Erskine did find an attorney in Arkansas late Thursday who agreed to help, but the attorney told her later that there was no immediate way out of the predicament.
"We are done legally," Erskine told the crowd at that point. "Manatee County has to change its mind or the dogs are dead."
Many in the audience were clearly upset.
"When I heard they were going to kill the dogs Wednesday I spent the day crying," said Tana Johnson, 19, of Parrish. "I just know they are wonderful dogs. I will never forgive this. It's the most unjust thing I have ever witnessed. I am used to people's uncaring about pigs, cows and goats, but these are dogs, man's best friends."
Buck and Bill had been ordered to be put down after they attacked a child on his bike, leaving severe bite marks to his legs.
An order from the court stipulated that Erskine's veterinarian had until just before midnight Thursday to perform the euthanasia or the county would do it.
Ann Pilson, a Manatee County spokeswoman, said that the county was following state law and that many people who have weighed in on the issue don't really know the severity of the bite.
"The bite report shows that the child who was attacked received serious injuries," Pilson said. Erskine, who would get to be there when her dogs died if she had her own veterinarian do it, struggled to find a vet willing to kill the dogs Thursday, but finally found one in Sarasota who arrived at 6:07 p.m.
As the crowd pressed forward around her after the dogs were dead, Erskine described the final moments and brought many in the crowd to tears.
"The two boys were magnificent," Erskine said of her dogs. "They did everything they were supposed to do. I told the vet to do the two of them together and do it quickly. The vet was wonderful. The dogs went to sleep and I immediately felt their souls leave their bodies. They were ready to go. They were tired of this, too."
Erskine said a Manatee County Sheriff's Office deputy who was there to keep the peace was crying and whispered to her that he was sorry and wished her well.
"The only snag in the whole thing was that when the vet had the catheters in the dogs but not the drugs, my phone rang," Erskine said.
Erskine said the call was from former Sarasota County Commissioner Annmarie Hill telling her that she had a friend who had gotten someone in to see Florida Gov. Rick Scott and that the governor was considering a pardon for Buck and Bill.
Erskine said she asked Manatee County Public Safety Director Ron Koper Jr. , who was in attendance for the euthanasia, if she could have five minutes in case the story was accurate.
"Mr. Koper said that we had to proceed," Erskine said.
The Herald was not able to reach Koper late Thursday to verify Erskine's story about Scott. Erskine also said that Koper told her that he would be the one to put the dogs to sleep had Erskine not found a vet to do it.
"Ron Koper is a paramedic, and he was going to do it himself," Erskine said.
Again, the Herald was not able to verify this fact.
While the death of the Australian shepherds had some beautiful aspects, like the description of their passing and the support from the crowd with a grieving owner, there was also some anger reaching a boiling point.
Dayna Joiner wanted to know why the dogs, without a history of violence except for one incident, had to be put down.
"They had one strike against them, not three, and served 400 days," Joiner said.
"Aren't we supposed to be a no-kill county?" asked Debbie Wynkoop.
Lynn Peters of Manatee County said that she didn't understand why Manatee County just wouldn't let the dogs go to live in another state behind locked gates, as had been offered by one man.
"Muzzle them, file their teeth down, send them away forever, but don't kill them," Peters said. "A child molester gets treated better than this."
As a Manatee County official, perhaps Koper, left Manatee County Animal Services in a county-owned white SUV around 7:40 p.m., the crowd let it by but yelled in protest at the vehicle.
Erskine said she was bouyed all day by the support she received from the community.
"I couldn't have done this without you," a tearful Erskine told the crowd.