‘Wonderful family dog.’ New Fairfield family seeks justice for pet shot in the head

Gary Benicewicz, 67, was arrested last week on charges of animal cruelty, reckless endangerment and illegal discharge of a firearm.

Marissa Alter

Jul 6, 2023, 11:15 PM

Updated 281 days ago

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A New Fairfield man was arraigned Thursday at Danbury Superior Court, accused of killing a neighbor's dog by shooting the family pet in the head. Gary Benicewicz, 67, was arrested last week on charges of animal cruelty, reckless endangerment and illegal discharge of a firearm.
“Jojo was a wonderful family dog. We're grieving her loss right now,” said Lisa Pierce-Wirth after the court hearing that she attended with her husband, Nick Wirth. “She was very, very smart and funny and a great therapy dog as well. “We were very, very thankful for the time we had with her.”
Nick Wirth is hearing impaired, so Jojo was more than just a pet and alerted him to things. The couple and their two sons adopted Jojo four years ago after the chocolate Lab was rescued from the streets of Louisiana. She died in the quiet cul-de-sac where their home is on the afternoon of May 2.
“We weren't aware that she was outside. We must have left the door open a little, but she did have on her electric collar,” Pierce-Wirth told News 12. She said Jojo had run through the electric fence, which she’d done a couple times before but without incident. The Wirths only learned about this time when a neighbor called telling them to get outside immediately.
“She was bleeding out on the street, and she had been shot in the head,” recalled Pierce-Wirth, who said a man, later identified as Benicewicz, was also there. Pierce-Wirth said he told her the shooting couldn't be helped and that the dog ran after an older man.
“At the time, I guess he was saying he was the shooter, but I didn't understand that because I could not understand a person shooting a dog and standing there and watching her die,” said Pierce-Wirth as she got emotional. “The man appeared completely calm and uninjured.”
She told News 12 that Benicewicz then made a call but not to get Jojo help.
“The gentleman then I guess picked up his phone to say he'd discharged his weapon. So, he didn't make any effort to get someone to help her, to do anything,” Pierce-Wirth said.
According to Benicewicz’s arrest warrant, that call was to his attorney, Gregory Miller, who then phoned 911 to say his client “had just shot a dog on Diana Drive.”
Pierce-Wirth said her husband pulled up with his truck and rushed Jojo to New Fairfield Animal Hospital, where a bullet was removed from her head.
When police contacted Benicewicz, he stated, “I don’t have a dog. It’s the dog I had to shoot. I can’t say nothin’ till I have my attorney present,” according to the arrest warrant.
Miller was beside Benicewicz as he faced a judge for the first time and entered a not guilty plea. Miller told News 12 after court that it is his long-established policy not to comment on pending cases, but he asked that that people wait until all of the facts come out before coming to a conclusion.
“This dog was a very friendly, sweet, loyal, nice dog. And right outside its driveway to be shot between the eyes—I can't imagine a good excuse for this whatsoever,” said attorney Jonathan Levitan, who was appointed as animal advocate in the case to represent Jojo. “This was a fairly egregious matter that requires a voice for that animal.”
New Fairfield's animal control officer was also at court to show her support for the family. She said she's never gotten any complaints about Jojo—including roaming, biting or any kind of aggression.
Pierce-Wirth said Jojo was “a barker” but had never gone after anyone. Neighbors interviewed by police also described the dog as “very friendly” but prone to barking, according to police.
“I personally don't understand why you would walk around a suburban residential area with a loaded gun,” stated Pierce-Wirth.
Police said Benicewicz had a valid pistol permit and eight guns registered to him. According to the warrant, he lived just around the corner from the Wirths, and one neighbor said Benicewicz was a regular walker on their street. The warrant also said that neighbor told police he previously saw Jojo stop in front of Benicewicz on the road once before. “The male was seen in a still position with both hands stretched out similar to a person holding a gun. I am not 100 percent sure that it was indeed a gun at that exact moment, but I can only assume by his posture with a slight back peddle [sic] away from the dog that it may have been a gun,” the warrant said.
Danbury State’s Attorney David Applegate addressed the court during the arraignment to say any kind of harassment, threats or violence toward Benicewicz or his attorney will not be tolerated. The judge echoed that statement, warning the public not to cross a line.
Benicewicz is back in court Sept. 14.


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