Something went terribly wrong at Chris Carmichael's backyard bonfire on the final Friday of September. After painter Jennifer Meredith's art opening at the Modern Design Gallery on Main Street and doing the "art walk," about 15 friends gathered for an autumn bonfire in the Carmichael backyard at 1639 Sycamore St., just up from Liberty. It was one of the first beautiful nights of fall, dark with a slight chill.
By midnight, the moon had already slipped below the horizon. It was a night for high school football games and the anticipation of autumn leaves and sweaters. The guests were sitting in a circle watching the fire or roasting marshmallows. Some were drinking beer. One guy was playing a hand-held drum, and another guest was playing sounds on a Tibetan bowl. There was no other music, nothing out of the ordinary, according to those in attendance.
When the tall gate to the back yard opened, nobody saw the Cincinnati Police officers who entered through it.
But Dave Forrest's pup, Lupe, trotted up expectantly, wagging her tail and yipping, as puppies do. The house's other resident, Adrian Hardisty, saw the policewoman, Officer Pettis, pull her gun.
"It's just a puppy," Hardisty yelled, but everybody heard the two shots, the pop-pop the big gun made, and then the puppy's terrible screaming. Suddenly, everything was awash in bright lights, and the police were searching the ground, shining their flashlights in the grass. The party guests were too frightened to move.
Hardisty said the police refused to allow Forrest to help the puppy until their preliminary inspection of the property was completed, after which they took a statement from him. By this time, some of the guests had wrapped the dog in blankets and were trying to comfort her. After determining that nothing illegal was going on, some of the guests were allowed to leave. Outside, one guest was astonished to see two paddy wagons, the kind the police use to transport prisoners, and a few squad cars.
Altogether, the police were at the Carmichael house for two to three hours. Evidently, when a policeman discharges a weapon for any reason, explanations must be filed in triplicate and then some. One guest was giving her testimony into a cassette tape player, and when she started talking about how the dog had merely been friendly the officer hit the stop button on the tape player.
Carmichael felt jinxed. "I was having such a peaceful party," he told me later. "I had a proper stone-lined 3-foot pit, which had formerly been a well, for the bonfire. I had even checked with the fire department before the party, and they told me everything was OK and there was no problem."
By Sunday night, Forrest learned that an operation on his dog would leave him owing $1,000 in vets' bills. The bullet broke two of four metatarsal bones in the dog's foot, and she was scheduled for surgery.
"They just waltzed in unannounced and shot a dog," Hardisty said, "and there were people all around. One of us could have been next."
Forrest recalled that the police said they were responding to a 911 call. The fire department had been to the house a half-hour earlier. According to one guest, they looked and left.
"I don't think the police department and the fire department talk to each other," Forrest said.
That must be the reason so many police slipped in, under cover of darkness, without making their presence known. If they'd merely spoken to a fire department dispatcher, they would have known that the scene was under control. Why else would they have made such a sinister entrance?
Forrest laughed. "Whoever called and reported us said we were dancing around a fire or something and roasting dogs," he said.
"Well, we were," Hardisty said. "We were roasting tofu dogs. We don't eat meat."
"Strictly speaking," Forrest said, "dogs have the same rights as furniture. They're property. They have less value than most property. I don't want to see one of my dogs hurt a policeman, and I can understand why some police feel threatened. On the other hand, I have the right to ask for vet fees at the city solicitor's office, but if they don't approve it then I have a couple of other avenues."
Forrest has received no money from the city yet.
So far Lupe — now renamed Babe — is recuperating in fine style. The last time I talked to Forrest, he said she'd had a small Elizabethan ruff around her wound to keep her from scratching, but thankfully that's gone.
"When I was at Ferguson's Flea Market the next morning, I found an unusual miniature Purple Heart and put it on her collar," Forrest said. "I thought she'd earned it."
Contact katie Laur: [email protected]