A funeral that drew more than 1,000 people in Pittsburgh for a slain police dog has sparked a debate among some residents over whether the city went too far in its soldierlike salute to the animal.
Friday's 45-minute memorial for Rocco, an 8-year-old German shepherd K-9 officer who was fatally stabbed while trying to apprehend a fugitive, featured a motorcade, bagpipers, barking canines and a procession of officers holding Rocco's photo, urn and a flag.
"It just brought us to tears," Joy Gezo, the aunt of Rocco's handler, Phillip Lerza, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "It was a tough day, but at the same time we still couldn't believe the amount of people that came and that participated."
An estimated 1,200 people attended the service, held at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland.
"His bark was so high-pitched," fellow officer Daniel Paga said at the memorial, "you knew it was Rocco and Phil coming."
Rocco, a rescue from the Czech Republic who joined the force in 2010, was credited with recovering 18 guns during his four-year tenure.
According to WTAE-TV, several roads were temporarily closed for the memorial motorcade. A news helicopter hovered overhead to capture the size of the service. Pittsburgh police have yet to disclose the cost of Rocco's funeral.
"I don't think there's anything wrong with the funeral," Rebecca Plummer told WTAE-TV. "If he protects the community, which is what we ask of other officers, and goes through all this extensive training that any other officer would go through, then it's appropriate."
Others, though, found the service excessive.
"I definitely value the life of an animal," Adrienne Lotto told WTAE-TV. "But it seems like with all the worse things that happen to people in the world, this does seem like a lot."
"I think to some extent it demeans the police force," another resident told the network. "I love dogs, but at the same time, it is just a dog."
"I guess he was an officer, too," Ross Daniels wrote on WTAE's Facebook page. "But it all seems a little too much."
"Rocco was an officer too and may have saved the lives of three human officers," Julie Ann wrote in response. "He was, and still is, a true American hero."
According to police, Rocco was attacked while pursuing a man in a building on Jan. 28. Three human officers, including Lerza, were injured during the pursuit.
"I thank Rocco for giving Phil that opportunity to take control of the situation," Jeffrey Deschon, another fellow officer, said at the service. Without Rocco, "there is a possibility that maybe Phil would not be here."
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