PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — So many Pittsburghers have been pulling for Rocco, but the hero police K-9 officer stabbed in the line of duty has passed away.
The dog died this evening at the Pittsburgh Veterinary and Specialty Emergency Center.
It was hour by hour for Rocco, at times he seemed to improve only to suffer setbacks.
But one thing is for sure, Pittsburgh is rallying around this fallen officer and Rocco has brought awareness to the importance of canine blood donations.
To say that Pittsburghers were pulling for Rocco is an understatement.
“The scene here has been eight to 10 phone calls an hour from people wanting to help,” said Dr. Anthony Pardo, a veterinary surgeon.
But late Thursday afternoon, the 8-year-old German Shepard K-9 officer began bleeding internally and quickly lost ground.
“Having multiple surgeries and all the things that go with it, that’s what’s causing all the disturbances he’s dealing with right now,” said Dr. Pardo.
Rocco was stabbed in the line of duty with a five-inch long blade Tuesday night in a Lawrenceville basement. He was assisting in the capture 21-year-old John Rush, of Stowe Township.
Rush, a convicted sex offender, was wanted for a violent home invasion.
“We have six officers in another room here who have been holding vigil over their partner,” said Dr. Pardo.
Rocco’s handler and another officer were also injured. That officer told KDKA’s Mary Robb Jackson that the struggle in that dark basement was like something out of a horror movie, and that it was Rocco who got a suspect to drop the knife.
The knife sliced through six-inches of back muscle, then pushed another three-inches destroying one kidney and chipping bone from his spine.
During and after his surgeries, transfusions for Rocco used one-and-a-half times his blood volume – Type-A negative.
B.J. Toth, of Baldwin, brought his Alsatian, Duke, to the Pittsburgh Veterinary and Specialty Emergency Center to donate blood.
“They don’t need any more blood for Rocco,” Toth said. “But I can get on a blood donation – like a list – and donate blood to help other dogs.”
The blood bank at the veterinary hospital does need general donations. It’s the only one of its kind in the area.
“Dogs need the products just like humans do for accidents, for transfusions,” said one of the center’s representatives.
Blood groups in dogs are far more diverse than in humans – 11 different blood types in all. Shelf life for whole blood is 24 hours and fresh frozen plasma is six months.
Meanwhile, in the wake of Rocco’s death, city officials have ordered flags be flown at half-mast on all city buildings to honor the fallen K-9 officer.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has released this statement on the passing of Rocco:
“I am saddened to learn about the passing of K9 Officer Rocco. He served this city faithfully and paid the ultimate price in the line of duty in service of the residents of our City. His brave actions very possibly spared the lives of two other officers. My thoughts and prayers are with his fellow officers and the entire Pittsburgh Police Bureau.”
Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, whose foundation provides dogs for police departments, has issued this statement:
“Our condolences go out to Officer Phil Lerza in the loss of his partner Rocco. Canine Officer Rocco has faithfully served in the Pittsburgh Police Department for the last 8 years. It is unfortunate situations like this that keeps our foundation doing what it does and why we are so passionate about trying to help protect our law enforcement officers. Thank you Rocco for your service and dedication.”