The shootings of two Siberian huskies a week ago came under new scrutiny Friday as Orange County investigators watched a YouTube video showing an armed businessman who said he was protecting himself from "wolves" he thought were trying to kill a newborn calf.
Up to 60 people saw the gunfire in a pasture near Lake Nona on May 19. The continuing debate over what happened pits pet lovers against ranchers in a city-meets-country impasse.
Last week, deputy sheriffs concluded that Orlando businessman Christopher Comins acted legally after developer Daryl Carter asked him to kill dogs chasing cattle on Carter-owned land on Narcoossee Road.
Both dogs survived, despite four bullets hitting Raley and three bullets hitting Hoochie, who lost an eye.
"This video wasn't available to us at the time," sheriff's spokeswoman Cpl. Susan Soto said Friday in explaining the decision to reopen an investigation by the Sheriff's Office.
"The outcome may be the same," Soto said. "But we want look deeper into this and possibly reinterview witnesses."
Florida property owners have the right to protect livestock from wild dogs and unleashed pets.
But cries of outrage filled animal-rights Web sites and chat rooms after the videotaped shooting was posted last week on YouTube by an Irish tourist who had stopped to watch the dogs as they encircled the cows.
Viewers and some witnesses said the dogs never threatened Comins.
"Oh, my God. Oh, my God," the tourist says on the video as a lone man walks into the pasture, draws a handgun and begins shooting the huskies. "Absolutely unbelievable. That's . . . America for you. Guns!"
Dog owner intervened
The shooting stopped after the dogs' owner, Christopher Butler, jumped a fence and ran to his wounded pets.
Butler, who lives about a mile from the pasture, said Friday that his dogs had run away from him an hour before the shooting and should not have been off their leashes. But to him, no explanation can justify shooting his pets as they scampered for safety, he said.
"The dogs are idiots. They're beautiful, but they're just like big babies. If the cattle had chased them, they would have run a mile," said Butler, who raced to the pasture after a neighbor told him he had seen the dogs. "I mean, I was there and screaming for them to come. But he just shot and shot and shot, and he knew I was there."
Comins disagreed Friday, saying he stopped shooting as Butler arrived.
He said he thought the dogs were wolves, as did others among the bystanders watching the scene along Narcoossee Road, according to interviews Friday. In a three-way telephone conversation with his lawyer, Comins told the Orlando Sentinel what he told deputies last week, that he shot the dogs when they turned and began to run toward him.
His perception differs from that of many viewers of the video.
"I'm not happy about any of what's happened and certainly wish that none of this ever happened. And had the man had control of his animals and not let them run free, they would never have encircled those cows and tried to get at those calves," Comins said.
"I've been a dog owner all my life, and I own several right now. I wouldn't harm anything without reason."
The owner of CustomFab, a company that builds special steel-pipe products for NASA, Walt Disney World and other customers, Comins has been a property investor with Carter and Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty. All three attend the same prayer group.
Carter and the owner of the cattle, Laura Rutherford, could not be reached for comment Friday evening. Both asked Comins to kill the dogs because they were harassing the cows, according to sheriff's reports.
One of the witnesses reached Friday said Comins stepped in after bystanders at the edge of the pasture waited more than two hours for someone to rescue a newborn calf the dogs were trying to reach inside a circle of larger cows.
"I've had to shoot cattle, unfortunately, after they've been attacked like that by dogs," said Dave Tindall of Orlando. "What happened had to end the way it did. It had to be done for a defenseless animal that had no way of escaping those dogs. If night had fallen, they wouldn't have gone home hungry."
But another witness, a nurse visiting from North Carolina, saw no reason for Comins to shoot.
"The dogs were not doing anything to him. They were just facing the cows," said Patty Yang of Raleigh. "That's the bad part I think about
: The dogs tried to run away. But the shooter wouldn't give up. He just continued to shoot the dogs."