AWAITING trial tonight to determine if he lives or dies, Ozzy, a German shepherd accused of attacking a 7-year-old neighbor boy, pines away in court-ordered quarantine at a Voorhees, N.J., animal shelter, perking up only when his family visits.
Ozzy won't be in court, but those who know him best will bring him there in spirit to try to save him.
At issue is whether Ozzy bit Frankie Lovello on the chest and face during an unprovoked attack on April 23.
Or was the normally peaceful Ozzy provoked, and acted out of fear?
The dog's fate is in the hands of Somerdale Municipal Judge Nick Trabosh, who will decide whether the attack was "vicious" and "unprovoked" - legal grounds to conclude that the dog is dangerous and needs to be killed.
The burden of proof rests with the prosecution.
Ozzy's owners, Kelley and Raymond Allard, and their subpoenaed witnesses plan to testify that Ozzy has always been affectionate toward children. They believe the young victim must have provoked the dog - which would be legal grounds to keep Ozzy alive, with the assurance from his family that the dog never leaves his yard alone again.
For seven peaceful years, Ozzy, the 100-pound offspring of a Philadelphia police dog, has been beloved by the Allards, their children and their children's friends, including Frankie Lovello.
Ozzy attended barbecues and the kids' birthday parties on quiet, residential Cornell Avenue near the White Horse Pike in Somerdale, Camden County.
"He's just a big, friendly bear," Kelley Allard said. "Always has been."
Allard said most of the children were gentle with Ozzy - who has a habit of getting out of his yard. But, Allard claims, Frankie teased the dog.
"Frankie has shot paintballs at Ozzy," Allard said. "He's thrown sticks at Oz. Whenever Frankie was over here with a bunch of kids in the yard, we weren't keeping an eye on Oz. We were keeping an eye on Frankie.
"When we heard about the incident, the first thing out of anyone's mouth was, 'What did that kid do to Ozzy?' "
"The day before the incident," Allard said, "Ozzy had gotten out of our yard and walked down to Frankie's house to play with their dog, Coda. Frankie's sister dragged Ozzy home, holding him by his collar from their house to our house. She brought him to our front door and said, 'Kelley, here's Oz.'
"Are you telling me that the next day, for no reason at all, Ozzy, the same dog that allowed Frankie's sister to drag him home, suddenly decides to bite Frankie? Doesn't make sense. Frankie did something that provoked Oz."
Frank Lovello, the victim's father, declined to comment on his son's behavior toward Ozzy, or what might have led to the attack on his son. But he, too, said he didn't want to see the dog destroyed.
"I don't really care what happens with the dog as long as it don't come here anymore," Lovello said.
On the night of the incident, Lovello said, he was in the house when Frankie screamed. He said he rushed outside to find his son between Coda and Ozzy, his face and chest bleeding, screaming in pain because his arm was broken during the attack.
"I yelled at Ozzy and he ran away," Lovello said.
He said he was surprised by the attack. "Ozzy would get out sometimes and come here to play with my dog," Lovello said. "We would take him back to them or call them and tell them to come get Ozzy.
"Their dog has growled at me before, but I thought it was just the way that dog was. It wasn't a vicious growl. It was never like a threat."
Hours before last week's scheduled trial in Somerdale Municipal Court, Lovello said he was not aware of the court date and did not plan to be there. He said he hoped the matter would be settled in a way that would allow his son and the Allard children to continue to be friends.
"I just want them to keep the dog on their property and make sure it does not get loose again," he said. When none of the Lovellos showed up to testify, the trial was continued to tonight.
Trabosh told prosecutor Jack Kennedy that to decide whether the attack was unprovoked and vicious, and whether the dog should be killed, he needed to hear from the victim's family.
At his trial, Ozzy will have character witnesses. Maria DeFillipo, a teacher who is the community volunteer director at the Animal Orphanage in Voorhees, where Ozzy has been confined awaiting trial, was subpoenaed to testify.
DeFillipo said she will testify that "Ozzy is a good dog."
"I would never defend a dog that I think is dangerous," she said.
Coincidentally, a couple of days after Frankie was attacked, the Lovellos' dog, Coda, got loose and was impounded at the same shelter. DeFillipo said that when Frankie and his family came to get Coda, Frankie - his broken arm in a cast - put his bandaged face close to the fence and screamed at the dogs kenneled behind it.
"Frankie was moving from dog to dog, putting his face close to each dog's face and screaming, 'Bad dog! Bad dog.' "
Maria Clarke, director of the Animal Orphanage, said Ozzy has been "friendly and nonthreatening" since the day he was impounded three weeks ago.
"It's very stressful when a family pet is taken away from home and suddenly housed in the middle of 72 other dogs that bark all day long," she said. "Ozzy has become depressed, his appetite has decreased and he's lost weight. But he's given us no trouble whatsoever."
One day, Clarke said, Ozzy lifted the latch on his cage and got out. "He's cruising around the shelter when one of my staff sees him and says, 'Ozzy! Get over here!' He came right over to her, very obedient, and walked into his kennel without incident."
Kelley Allard's son, Tim Matuliewich, 13, who has loved Ozzy since the dog was a puppy, will bring a poster to court, as he did last week, displaying photos of Ozzy playing with neighborhood children through the years.
"Oz has been at all my birthday parties in the back yard with 20 or 25 kids," Tim said. "He swims in the pool with kids. The first time he ever met my friend Jordan, Ozzy just came right up to him and licked his hand. That's the way he is around my friends all the time.
"Frankie teases Oz," Tim said. "He gets up in Oz's face and messes with him. He wrestles with him too rough. I've had to tell Frankie a lot that he can't do that to a dog because one day, the dog might do something back.
" . . . When I heard that Oz bit Frankie, I was very surprised because I never think of Oz as a dog that would do that to somebody. Everything around the house just kind of got sad."
Because Ozzy is clever about lifting gate latches, the Allards have installed a 5-foot fence around their yard and a double lock on the gate. They bought a 20-foot chain to ensure that Ozzy won't leave the yard.
Kelley Allard desperately wants Ozzy to get a second chance.
She knows that the fine for allowing a dog to run loose ranges up to $1,000 and the requirements for ensuring that Ozzy does not escape again could cost thousands more.
She is willing to pay the price.
"We take full responsibility for Oz getting out of the yard," she said. "But we do not believe he would ever bite anyone unprovoked.
"We're talking about a life here. We want Ozzy to come home." *