The Baltimore police officer who rescued the pit bull that was set on fire last week has a pit bull herself.
The pup's name is Blu, and is chocolate-brown with white markings, silky fur and green eyes.
"He's a cutie," Officer Syreeta Teel said, showing off a picture on her iPhone of her pet slobbering a wet kiss on her face. "If anyone did that to my dog, I'd be crushed."
Last Wednesday, two days before her own dog's first birthday, Teel turned her squad car around a corner, saw smoke and an animal similar to Blu in flames.
"We just pulled up and saw the dog in the middle of the street, rolling around and on fire," Teel said. "It was screaming. I pulled my sweater off and tried to put the fire out."
The officer noticed people standing around. "I asked if anybody saw anything, but nobody did," Teel said.
It's a refrain heard across the city, frustrating officers who feel under siege and alone in caring, spouted by people by rote whether the person actually saw anything or not.
Asked again on Tuesday if anyone in the neighborhood saw the dog being burned, Teel said with a laugh: "Of course not."
Then she added, "The dog, he just stood there, helpless."
Perhaps "Stop Snitching" now extends to animals.
Teel chatted on Tuesday while standing near an overgrown, litter-ravaged alley on Presbury Street in West Baltimore, a red-brick housing development on one side, a strip of empty, boarded-up rowhouses on the other, most of their steps broken and turned to small piles of rubble. Residents ducked questions about the incident, and the street emptied quickly when Teel pulled up in her marked squad car.
But the case has generated plenty of outrage on Internet talk boards and in the comments section of Unleashed, The Baltimore Sun's pet blog.
The animal was kept alive for a few days and was euthanized during the weekend. Most commentators suggest punishment more appropriate for medieval times, but prosecutors are restricted by what's on the books now, and the most serious charge that can be brought is aggravated cruelty to animals, a felony that carries a maximum three years in prison, a $5,000 fine and counseling. Prosecutors were hard-pressed to remember an animal cruelty case in the city that got beyond the district courts; in 2002, a jury acquitted a man of killing a toy poodle with a pickax for urinating on the edge of his lawn.
He surely didn't have these message-posters on his jury:
"Hopefully Karma will prevail and the monsters who did this, and those that watched and did nothing, will suffer a similar fate," a woman who identified herself as Audrey wrote to the Unleashed blog.
"Can we not ban this breed of human?" Gisselle asked.
"In a city that is no stranger to new lows, this one really stands out," Mark wrote. "The innocence of an animal like Phoenix getting caught up in what can only be described as the evil side of human nature is what makes this so revolting."
On Tuesday, Teel was still out on the street, pushing for leads as the reward offered through the Baltimore Rescue and Care Shelter climbed to $8,500, more than is typically offered in attacks involving people.
Teel has spent five years on Baltimore's streets, and the Western District is one of the city's highest crime areas. She is assigned to the district flex squad, which allows her to target crime without being tied to answering emergency calls. While standing on Presbury Street, she took out her phone to show off pictures of her dog.
"I've never seen anything that bad happen before," the 25-year-old officer said. "I was hurt. It was crying and yelling. ... It's a puppy, she can't help herself. It's hard to see people get killed, it's hard to see children get shot, but to see a dog actually on fire is worse."