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http://hamptonroads.com/2009/04/beach-shop-owner-i-know-fact-he-saved-our-lives

Beach shop owner: 'I know for a fact he saved our lives'
By Kathy Adams

The Virginian-Pilot

© April 23, 2009

VIRGINIA BEACH

When Rico woke from his nap Sunday evening, he was ready to play. But the two men who had entered GFY Clothing, a screen printing shop on South Birdneck Road, were in no mood for fun.

They spotted Rico, a year-old pit bull, and one of them shot him in the head with a .45-caliber handgun. Despite the injury, Rico attacked, clamping onto one of the men’s arms and buying the shop’s employees enough time to escape.

"I know for a fact he saved our lives," said Chuck Smellinger, 34, one of the shop’s owners. "It was amazing, because I’ve never seen him act out aggressively."

The bullet struck above Rico’s left eye and exited through his chest, hitting one of his back legs. Fortunately, it didn’t pierce his skull.

"The vet said, 'You’ve got a super dog,’" said owner Christopher Selby, 31, who adopted Rico a few weeks ago from his previous owner, who couldn’t care for him anymore. Selby was out on a date at the time of the shooting, and Smellinger was dog-sitting at the shop.

Rico was back home by Wednesday and, other than feeling drowsy from his medications, is the happy-go-lucky puppy he was before the shooting, Selby said as the pit bull sat on his lap at GFY Clothing.

"He’s still cool, he still wants to cuddle and play," Selby said.

It’s unclear whether the canine will regain full vision in his left eye.

For now, the city has agreed to pay for the dog’s medical bills, which totaled more than $900, Selby said. But he’s working to raise money in case he’s asked to repay the costs.

A fundraiser is scheduled for Saturday at Chicho’s Pizza on 29th Street and Pacific Avenue, and a portion of the proceeds will go to pay Rico’s bills. GFY Clothing will sell "I love my pit bull" T-shirts, featuring Rico’s freckled face, for $10.

If the person who shot Rico is caught, officials hope to make him repay his medical bills as part of his sentence, said Animal Control Officer Jane Cason.

Police had not made any arrests Wednesday, a police spokesman said . The two men did not steal anything valuable from the shop, Smellinger said.

Rico’s heroic act speaks well for pit bulls, especially because he didn’t attack first, Smellinger said.

"Anyone who has a pit bull and doesn’t fight it will tell you they’re the smartest, coolest dogs," Selby said. "It’s 100 percent the image and the owner and the socialization and how they’re raised."

Rico will make an appearance at Saturday’s fundraiser, sporting a sparkling "bling-bling" collar, Selby said. "He’ll be treated like a hero for the rest of his life."

Kathy Adams, (757) 222-5155, kathy.adams@pilotonline.com

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