Still no recourse for owner of beloved dog savagely slain in Pennypack

Kitty and John Cush and their daughter Kelly stand at the spot where their dog Dutch died.
Kitty and John Cush and their daughter Kelly stand at the spot where their dog Dutch died.
Posted: March 06, 2014

THE investigation is still open, so I don't know what to make of Daniel Santosusso's actions last October. But I will say this: It's unconscionable that he has gotten away with killing John Cush's dog, Dutch, without so much as a proper apology.

Then there's the way he did it: with a knife, in the neck, on the walking path of Pennypack Park.

Seriously, who stabs a dog?

"The dog bled out, right in my arms," says Cush, who for eight years walked Dutch, a German shorthaired pointer, through Pennypack's "Little City" section with a close-knit group of other dog owners.

Santosusso declined to be interviewed for this story. "There is nothing I need to talk to you about," Santosusso, a 66-year-old retiree, said when I visited his home, a twin that backs onto the park's woods. He declined two other requests for comment.

So this story does not include his version of events, which is unfortunate. Because Cush's version is appalling.

Cush, 64 - a lifelong Pennypacker, married father of four and retired HVAC mechanic - believes the trouble started one day last winter. He was standing by Pennypack Creek, chatting with Santosusso, whom he did not know. Dutch was off leash, roaming the hills behind them, the way he always did. Santosusso's small dog was leashed. When Dutch returned to Cush's side, says Cush, Santosusso's dog snapped at Dutch, who retaliated. Cush says he pulled Dutch away, and then Santosusso cursed him out.

"My dog is curious, he's goofy, he's entertaining," says Cush, who uses the present tense to describe Dutch. "But he never hurt anyone. Kids loved him."

Over the next months, says Cush, Santosusso shouted profanities at him across Pennypack Creek (Santosusso usually uses the creek's paved path; Cush uses a dirt trail on the opposite shore).

"He'd say, 'I'm gonna get your f---ing dog,' " Cush says. "I told him, 'Yeah, yeah, go F yourself.' "

I know - how childish is it for retirees to trash-talk each other? But by last summer, the situation seemed to become more troubling, says Cush's childhood friend Bob Wildey. In August, Wildey, who now lives upstate, was visiting home and brought his dog to Pennypack, hoping to catch up with Cush. Wildey says he saw Santosusso and asked, "Have you seen a guy walking a dog that has a bell on his collar?" which would have been Dutch (park regulars nicknamed Dutch "Ding-Ding").

Recalls Wildey, Santosusso "opened his jacket and showed me a knife - like a pocketknife - and says, 'I know that dog. He is f---ing going to die. I'm ready for him.' I saw the flash of metal and took two steps back. I thought, 'Great - there's an idiot in the park with a knife.' I got away from him."

Cut to Oct. 13: Cush was strolling with fellow dog owner Bob Barlow; Dutch was off leash, out of sight. Santosusso walked toward, then past, them, carrying his dog. He said nothing to Cush. Farther down the path, Santosusso encountered Josephine Iacovelli with her dog, Flint, and chatted briefly.

"I said, 'Don't worry about Flint, he's friendly,' " Iacovelli says. She then walked away from him as Dutch ran past her, in Santosusso's direction. Within seconds, she says, she heard "a little yelp," then saw Dutch charging toward Cush, up ahead.

"I saw blood, and I yelled, 'Dutch got bit!' " Iacovelli says.

Cush, Barlow and Iacovelli chased after Dutch, whose knees suddenly buckled. Blood was shooting "like a faucet" out of a gash in his neck, Barlow says. "I've never seen anything like it. It was like something out of a science-fiction movie. I said, 'My God, that's no dog bite!' "

Cush pressed his handkerchief into the wound. It became drenched in seconds, as did the paper towels used by Iacovelli.

"He was dying," Cush says. "His breath was slowing. I kept petting him, trying to make him comfortable. He was gone in minutes."

"I couldn't stop crying," Iacovelli says. "It was horrible."

The police arrived, as did a representative from Animal Care and Control, but no one knew what had become of Santosusso, other than that he had slowly walked off as Dutch was dying. They didn't even know his name.

Within a week, Cush and his daughter, Kelly, learned Santosusso's identity, and an SPCA investigator interviewed him. The investigator also spoke with Cush, Barlow, Iacovelli - and Wildey, who told how Santosusso showed him the knife in August.

"We thought for sure he'd be arrested," Cush says. Especially since SPCA officials told Cush that Santosusso freely admitted to stabbing Dutch.

They thought wrong. Says SPCA spokeswoman Sarah Eremus: "We completed a full investigation, but the case is still open. We've spoken with the District Attorney's Office and together we feel, at this time, that no charges can be brought. That may change if we learn more information."

Eremus wouldn't discuss case particulars. But Wildey says the SPCA investigator told him that Santosusso claimed self-defense (shades of "stand your ground") and also showed veterinarian bills he said resulted from a past skirmish with Dutch.

That was news to Cush.

"If Dutch was so dangerous, why didn't he report him?" he asks. Indeed, Dutch's name appears nowhere on the Philadelphia or Pennsylvania registry of dangerous dogs. State law describes dangerous dogs as those that have "attacked, inflicted severe injury to, or killed a human being or a domestic animal without provocation while off an owner's property."

Besides, Cush adds, if Dutch had hurt Santosusso's dog, he'd have been glad to pay the vet bills. His own daughter was maimed by a dog as a teen, so he takes seriously a pet owner's responsibility for his animal's actions.

As for animal-cruelty charges, in Pennsylvania, the laws hinge on whether a person acted willfully and maliciously. Since no one witnessed Santosusso kill Dutch, it could be difficult to dispute his reasons for doing so, says lawyer Mary Randolph, author of Every Dog's Legal Guide: A Must-Have Book for Your Owner. But the law is also clear that it's not legal to kill a dog in order to protect a domestic dog. Instead, a dog may be killed only to protect a person or livestock animal.

Also, civil charges may not stick in cases where a dog is off leash and out of his owner's sight when an incident occurs (dogs must be leashed in Pennypack Park, though many owners let them roam free).

Still, says Randolph, for any owner, punishment for having a dog off leash "should not be having your dog killed."

John Cush still walks mornings in Pennypack. Last week, his daughter Kelly joined him. That day, Santosusso came upon them and, grudgingly (to Cush's ears), said, "Sorry about your dog."

"It took almost four months for him to say anything to me," Cush says. "I said, 'You're not sorry. We'll see you in court.' "

Santosusso, he says, smirked and said, "I ain't going to court."

Then he sauntered off, the way he did the day Dutch died.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

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