Joe was a quiet Old English Bulldog who stayed out of the way when company visited, but he was bold about one thing, protecting 13-year-old Ashayla Porter and her family. It was a loyalty that was tested by gunfire, and with his life.
When it comes to heroism, some people misunderstand it, according to Officer Ryan Peck.
“It’s just basically an average person that at the moment of truth does extraordinary things,” he said. And that’s what Joe did, Peck told Greenbelt City Council on Monday. “He died doing my job.”
The Greenbelt, MD, Fraternal Order of Police honored Joe before city council with a plaque that Peck presented to Ashayla and her mother Lucinda Porter. The department feels a gratitude toward Joe that it continues trying to honor. One of its officers even attempted to revive Joe with CPR on the fateful night of Nov. 5, 2011 — a night the Porters will never forget.
The family had just moved to Franklin Park Apartments from Northwest Washington, D.C. Lucinda was working on the curtain fixtures in her room at around 9 p.m. Ashayla was putting on a new bed set, a gift from one of her mother’s coworkers at Walter Reed Medical Center. Rodney Hayes, Lucinda's 18-year-old son, was out doing laundry.
An odd noise that sounded like pebbles hitting the window caught Ashayla's attention. She peered out her blinds but saw nothing and decided to go to the kitchen.
Within minutes, the family’s excitement about their new home would turn to terror.
In the moments before the storm struck, Ashayla saw for the last time the 2-year-old dog that she said was like a brother to her. She had stopped cooking to go to Rodney's room, where Joe had retreated after an earlier bathroom mishap. She rubbed his head to let him know that he was forgiven and went back to the kitchen.
Suddenly, the window glass shattered in Ashayla’s bedroom. Having taken off her nurse’s uniform, Lucinda rushed from her room to Ashayla’s bedroom wearing only her undergarments — fearing Ashayla was still there.
The next thing she knew, Lucinda said a gun was in her face, and a masked intruder commanded her, “Freeze bitch.”
To this day she remembers his deep raspy voice.
“Mommy what’s going on?” Ashayla called out to her.
In that moment, Lucinda realized her daughter was not in the bedroom and yelled “hide.” Ignoring the intruder’s order, she ran for Ashayla.
A bullet whizzed by Lucinda’s head in the hallway, barely missing her, she said.
She looked to see the gun firing again, this time not at her but at Joe, who had crossed her in the hallway and was lunging at the intruder, she said. Four bullets hit Joe, one to the head. But he would not stop, Lucinda said, and he growled.
It was “like a growl, I’ve never ever heard before,” Lucinda recalled.
Then she heard what sounded like the intruder fumbling with the venetian blinds, and she saw Joe fall. He looked at her before he hit the ground — with a look Lucinda said she won’t forget. It was if he was saying, “Mommy, you’re safe now,” she said.
Lucinda found Ashayla hiding in the kitchen pantry, and they ran to the living room. Lucinda held Ashayla in her arm, gripping a knife in one hand and a fire poker in the other, she said.
If they came for them, Lucinda said she decided, “We’re going out fighting.”
When a police officer arrived after Lucinda's 9:07 p.m. call to the station, she said, “I jumped straight in that man’s arms.”
“I didn’t cry until she told me that they shot the dog,” Ashayla said.
She recalled how protective Joe was of her. He was mild-mannered, like an old man — but when Ashayla took him on walks, she said he wouldn’t let anyone come near her.
“The dog is what caught him off guard,” Peck said.
The Greenbelt police paid to have Joe cremated, Lucinda said. Peck said that a lot of the officers wanted to help and gave from their personal funds, and the community pitched in too.
“I miss him everyday,” Lucinda said of the family’s Old English Bulldog, who did ordinary things, like going to the bathroom where he shouldn’t or rushing up to greet the family when they came home. But he proved in the moment of truth even an average dog named Joe can do the extraordinary.