Pittsburgh animal control officer charged with felony animal cruelty

·4 min read

Jun. 11—A Pittsburgh animal control officer dragged a dog through a parking garage on a control pole so violently that one witness said it looked like he was "mopping the floor" with the dog, according to charges filed Thursday.

James Genco III, 46, is charged with one felony count of aggravated cruelty to animals and two summary charges of cruelty to animals.

The tan pit bull-type dog was left bleeding and with broken teeth, a broken tail, ruptured blood vessels in both eyes, lacerations and abrasions and muscle damage.

Genco's defense attorney, Casey White, said Genco did not harm the dog but rather saved its life. He noted that a summary charge of animal cruelty was filed against the owner of the car for leaving the two dogs inside.

"At no point did my client intend to injure this dog and, quite frankly, I believe it's questionable my client caused any of these injuries," White said. "It's our position, quite frankly, that these injuries were self-inflected or pre-existing."

The March 17 incident started in the Strip District when Genco and another animal control officer responded to a report of dogs left unattended in a car, according to the criminal complaint. The temperature was noted to be about 50 degrees. The two men removed the dogs from the car and took them to Humane Animal Rescue of Pittsburgh.

Security footage from inside the facility parking garage allegedly shows Genco using excessive force on the dog to the point it left a trail of blood, according to the complaint.

Pittsburgh police Officer Christine Luffey, who specializes in animal abuse and neglect cases, wrote in the complaint that one camera angle showed Genco pushing the control pole into the back of the truck several times before he could get the loop around the dog's neck. From there, he pulled the dog out of the truck toward the garage and the dog against the door and the brick wall, Luffey wrote.

Genco said the dog may have hit the building as he was taking it out of the truck, according to the complaint.

A different camera angle showed Genco dragging the dog, which was struggling, across the garage floor as it lay flat, according to the complaint. A veterinary technician said she heard yelping and high-pitched screaming and entered the garage to see the Genco dragging the dog, which she said was leaving "a trail of what appear(ed) to be blood, urine and feces," according to the complaint.

The vet tech said it looked like Genco was "mopping the floor" with the dog, Luffey wrote.

The dog was taken to an emergency veterinary clinic, where Dr. Amy Kalinauskas documented the dog's slew of injuries, Luffey said. In addition to the outward injuries, the vet noted "lameness" in the right front and right hind legs, and she said the ruptured blood vessels were indicative of strangulation.

Kalinauskas said she believed "excessive force was used for sure," according to the complaint.

Police said dog's owner indicated it was in good health prior to March 17.

White provided a police report that details the summary charge against the dog's owner. It describes the dogs as in distress "with the windows up and no food or water ... the sun was out and the temperature was steadily rising and the vehicle was not in the shade."

The report indicates Pittsburgh police officers broke the SUV's window to remove the dogs, one of which was "totally out of control."

White said that report contradicts the criminal complaint filed against Genco.The dog, he said, "was aggressive, angry and dangerous."

"This dog chewed through a metal door while it was housed in an animal control vehicle," he said, noting Genco "controlled this animal just as he's controlled other animals" throughout his career.

The city's Animal Care and Control bureau is housed under the Public Safety Department. Director Wendell Hissrich called the crime "a disturbing and unfortunate incident," but vowed it is "not reflective of the dedicated work our Animal Care and Control officers do each and every day to protect and care for all animals in the City of Pittsburgh."

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, mguza@triblive.com or via Twitter .