Shasta the Skyway dog plays role in picking new owner
By BRAD GOLDSTEIN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 1998
ARGO -- A custody battle of sorts has begun over Shasta, the Rottweiler who was rescued under the Sunshine Skyway bridge last week after falling to the water when her owner jumped to his death.
Beth Lockwood, executive director of the Pinellas County Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says two women came forward to claim the dog. The dispute forced Lockwood to play detective, researching American Kennel Club records and examining veterinary bills.
Ultimately, the decision was largely left up to Shasta.
The dog survived a 197-foot fall Wednesday when her master, John P. Radd, 44, committed suicide by jumping from the Skyway. It will never be known how Shasta wound up in the water, too, but she was fortunate that a veterinarian happened to be passing under the Skyway on a boat a short time later. He rescued the dog.
Shasta's rescue caused hundreds of animal lovers to call the SPCA and the Largo Veterinary Hospital where she was taken, volunteering to adopt the dog. But after reviewing all the evidence, Lockwood believes Shasta identified the real owner.
The first prospective owner to come forward, Nancy Ward, 55, of Lakeland, says she loaned Shasta Von Drasek, a pedigreed Rottweiler, to Radd five years ago while recovering from heart surgery. When she heard that Radd committed suicide by jumping from the Skyway with a dog named Shasta, she called the animal shelter and brought her pedigree papers to the hospital.
But when Ward on Friday faced the dog she believed was once hers, Shasta was downright rude.
"The dog was scared to death and snarling at everybody," says Ward. "But I figured if I had just gone off the Skyway, I'd be snarling, too. She was upset, so I just left the room."
Then Lockwood received a phone call from Sherry Danella of Tampa, a former co-worker of Radd's.
After talking with Danella, Lockwood now thinks the first Shasta, the one Ward originally bred, died some years ago and was buried behind Radd's mobile home in unincorporated Polk County. Danella said she and Radd found a second Rottweiler, hungry and abandoned in a Lakeland park. Together, the two nursed the animal back to health.
The new dog, also named Shasta, was accustomed to being around Danella's child. When mother and child saw Shasta at the Largo Veterinary Hospital, the animal recognized them immediately, Lockwood said. Lockwood also consulted veterinary records brought by Danella and compared surgical scars to make sure the dog is the right animal.
"The dog recognized the child," says Lockwood, who originally said the animal would have to be adopted by a family with children 15 years old or older. "This dog knows that child. In this particular case we'll make an exception. . . . I'm 90 percent sure, she'll get the dog."
The remaining 10 percent depends on Danella's mobile home park. She is trying to get it to agree to allow Shasta to come home with her. Danella did not want to talk with a reporter about her efforts.
Meanwhile, Ward isn't quite ready to abandon her pursuit.
She wants to be absolutely certain that the Shasta that jumped from the Skyway bridge is not her dog. "If it's the dog that I gave John, then I want her," she says. "I've got to know in my own mind. I want her got for the right reason, because you love the dog."