Carroll Township police Chief Jody Hatfield said Paul McKee of West Toussaint North Road admitted to killing the 5-year-old dog named Savage, owned by Craig Porath and Leslie Daniel of North Benton-Carroll Road. The case has been forwarded to the Ottawa County Prosecutor's Office for possible charges.
Prosecutor Mark Mulligan confirmed the office has received the report, but told The Blade he is seeking additional information before deciding possible charges.
One phone number listed for McKee is disconnected, and another is incorrect. Neither Chief Hatfield nor Mulligan knew the name of a lawyer they said McKee has hired.
Daniel said on Dec. 23 Savage ran off the couple's rented property, which is surrounded on three sides by conservation land.
The times when Savage had left the property previously, he had been exploring the conservation area and returned shortly.
“We let him out of his kennel, and he usually stays in his yard,” Daniel said. Porath was cleaning the kennel out and when he looked up, he said Savage had taken off.
The couple began looking for the Lab with their three young children in tow and assisted by other family. At about 6:30 p.m., Porath had found dog paw prints in the snow.
“Craig had stopped to check out what he thought were fresh footprints, and I heard a deep bark and a gunshot,” Daniel said. “My heart stopped. But living out here, hearing a random gunshot isn't unusual.”
Porath followed the tracks in the snow, ending at McKee's house roughly a half-mile away through a field.
Chief Hatfield said McKee told an officer he was putting chickens away Friday when he spotted the dog. He claimed the dog barked and growled, so he went inside and retrieved a shotgun.
“He shot the dog from his porch,” the chief said. “The dog went to get up, and he shot it again.”
McKee told police he put the body in a 55-gallon drum and planned to burn it. The reasoning he gave for trying to conceal Savage's remains was that “he didn't want to create enemies,” Chief Hatfield said.
Daniel said Porath visited McKee's property Saturday morning to ask about Savage. McKee, through an open window, quickly denied seeing anything before slamming the window shut. The couple traveled to Genoa later that day and again on Christmas, checking out a report on social media of a wandering black Lab there.
But Porath couldn't get over McKee's response and the paw prints. Daniel reported the encounter to police Christmas evening, asking an officer to follow up.
“There was just something about it that really bothered (Porath),” Daniel said. “It just wasn't right.”
A Carroll Township officer was able to contact McKee on Monday and he confessed, Chief Hatfield said. He said there was no evidence that Savage was bothering McKee's chickens, or that the man attempted to make any calls to authorities about the dog.
The officer returned Savage's body to his family for burial, giving the family a small bit of solace.
“There's no more wondering where he is and what he's doing, if he's eaten,” Daniel said. “It's not the way we wanted him, but we got him back.”
Daniel said Savage had never shown any form of aggression since the couple got him has a pup. The county dog warden did not have record of any previous complaints about the dog, nor did township police.
The owners acknowledged Savage should not have been allowed to leave the property, but Daniel said there was no need for McKee's harsh actions. She said if he felt threatened, McKee could have stayed inside his home and called township police, to whom the couple had already reported the dog missing.
“He had the audacity to walk back in and grab a gun, but not a phone to make a call,” she said. “A simple call could have saved our dog's life, but he chose to shoot him.”
As of Wednesday evening, the Facebook group “Justice for Savage” had more than 900 members and a petition at Change.org titled “Justice for Savage” had more than 1,000 signatures.