Rocco

AP Photo/Pittsburgh Police Department via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A man whose fatal stabbing of a K-9 prompted Pennsylvania lawmakers to stiffen the penalty for harming police animals has been sentenced to up to 44 years in prison.

A judge on Tuesday decided John Lewis Rush should serve a minimum of 17 years, nine months in prison and said he must also serve eight years of probation after being released.

The 22-year-old Stowe Township resident was convicted in December of torturing a police animal, aggravated assault on the dog's handler and three other officers, and other offenses.

Much attention has been paid to the well-being of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police’s K-9 officers since the death of Officer Rocco earlier this year.

Higher quality protective vests are to be purchased for the 24 dogs on the force.

Now, a bill providing “pensions” for retired officers has received unanimous approval in City Council.

Keith Srakocic / The Associated Press

Pittsburgh Deputy Police Chief Paul Donaldson said he doesn’t know if a protective vest would have saved the life of the late K-9 Officer Rocco, but the bureau is planning to purchase newer, more practical protective gear for the 24 K-9 officers currently on the force.

The $26,273 price tag of the vests will be covered by donations from the general public in the wake of Rocco’s death, funneled through the Pittsburgh Foundation, the Black n Gold Girls and the Fraternal Order of Police.

'Rocco’s Law' Moves Forward in Harrisburg

Mar 17, 2014

Six weeks after the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police said goodbye to K-9 officer Rocco, legislation is advancing through the Pennsylvania House that would strengthen the punishment for those who harm a police dog.

Rocco’s Law, sponsored by Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny/Washington), would make injuring or killing a police dog a felony of the second degree carrying a maximum fine of $25,000 and 10 years in prison. This includes mutilating, disabling or poisoning a K-9 officer.

An estimated 1,200 people attended the funeral for a Pittsburgh police dog stabbed in the line of duty.

The ceremony took place Friday morning at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Pittsburgh.

Rocco, the 8-year-old German Shepherd, died Jan. 30, two days after being stabbed by a fugitive suspect during an arrest. That man, 21-year-old John Rush, remains jailed on charges of attacking the dog and other human officers at the scene, as well as the bench warrants for which he was arrested.

Pittsburgh police dog Rocco will be laid to rest Friday, and soon after the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation plans to announce eight grants for more K-9 officers.

The foundation’s mission is to support the dogs of police and fire departments throughout the U.S. with a particular emphasis on Pittsburgh.

Jessica Duffaut, relationship manager for the foundation, said the foundation realizes that you can never replace a dog, especially a police dog.

Legislation that would strengthen the penalties against killing or torturing a law enforcement animal might not have saved K-9 Officer Rocco’s life, but one lawmaker hopes it could save other K-9 officers such as Mt. Lebanon Police Department’s “Snieper.”

That is the goal of state Sen. Matt Smith (D-Allegheny) who said he saw how valuable the canines are when he visited Officer Snieper and his handler, Officer Ben Himan Monday.

Pittsburghers, many of them pet owners, took to social media with heavy hearts following the death of Pittsburgh police dog Rocco Thursday evening.

Authorities say 8-year-old Rocco was injured Tuesday night when police arrested a man on warrants for probation violations and failing to register as a sex offender.

Twenty-one-year-old John Lewis Rush was one of Allegheny County's most wanted fugitives. Police say he stabbed Rocco in the back and wounded two officers before being taken into custody.