Anchorage’s Dave Brailey spent “National Pet Day” mourning the canine best friend shot dead in his yard last week by a new neighbor who either didn’t know or didn’t care about invisible fences.
Skhoop was a seven-year-old, chocolate labrador retriever who hiked and climbed and skied with Brailey, his family and his friends. Jason Mellerstig killed her in a quiet neighborhood near Campbell Lake because she barked at him and his son. He told Anchorage Police he felt threatened.
Brailey was at home when he heard first the barking of Skhoop and then the start of the shooting.
“I’m working outside,” he said in a telephone interview Monday “It’s a beautiful day. I’m in the driveway, and I hear maybe four or five barks. When she barks, that’s not acceptable.”
Being a good neighbor, Brailey started around the house to tell Skhoop to quiet down. That was when the gunfire started.
“It wasn’t just one shot,” Brailey said “It was blam, blam, blam, blam.”
Brailey ran toward the sound and into the gunfire. He doesn’t remember how many shots were fired — six, eight, maybe 10. He remembers bullets kicking up some rock chips hidden in the grass, the same rock chips his lawn mower kicks up in the summer.
He ignored them.
ONLY THOUGHT OF SKHOOP
“I just went to the dog,” he said. “It was horrible, but thank God she died quickly, like before she hit the ground.”
New neighbor Mellerstig was standing in the street.
“He was complete calm,” Brailey said. Skhoop’s owner doesn’t remember exactly what words were exchanged. He does remember Mellerstig saying he was “sorry. I’m sorry.”
Mellerstig could not be reached for this story.
Brailey doesn’t know if he voiced the thoughts racing through his head at the time: “What the hell are you doing opening up with a semi-automatic handgun in a neighborhood full of people and kids?”
“I was in shock,” Brailey admitted. “I walked away in shock.”
Still in shock, he sat down for a conference call seven minutes later. A hydrologist who works out of his home, Brailey could only remember his shock-numbed brain trying to focus on professional responsibilities.
“I kind of had to listen to what was being said on the phone,” he said, but he wasn’t really listening all that well. His mind was elsewhere.
Then “my wife came and home and was crying,” he said, and then the police and animal control showed up.
Brailey remembers an APD officer asking “‘what do you want me to do?’ I couldn’t talk,” Brailey said. “I was so emotional.”
Mellerstig, a blonde man with a friendly face, was out in the street again. The APD officer was asking him questions, too.
“You two have met, obviously,” Brailey remembered the officer saying. Brailey said, “no;” they’d never met. The officer, according to Brailey, explained that “(Mellerstig) said he felt threatened. The police officer was obviously worried something was going to happen between us.”
Brailey pointed out that Skhoop was in his yard, and that Mellerstig had parked his Ford F150 pickup with its tires on the edge of the same yard. He didn’t know what else to say.
“It was just crazy,” he said. “I was so shell-shocked. This was literally the very first day he was in the house. Just this last Thursday his driveway was full of moving vehicles.
INVISIBLE FENCE KEPT HER IN
“My dog was in a radio-collar fence. The dog does not come out of the yard. If she comes out of the yard, she gets shocked. She knows exactly where the shock collar line is. It worked like a charm. She was like a little queen. She’d sit in the front yard and just be happy.”
Brailey finds it hard to believe Mellerstig was unaware of the invisible fence. Brailey said his wife, Melanie Janigo, had seen Mellerstig going back and forth to his truck all morning on the day of the shooting with Skhoop in the yard.
“If he was frightened by her, he would have noticed she didn’t come off the grass,” said Brailey, who mainly can’t understand why Mellerstig didn’t just ask about the dog if he was worried about the possibility Skhoop was aggressive.
“Why not say something?” he asked. “Why not yell? I’d come running. He said nothing to me before shooting my dog. He said nothing to me. Zero.”
Former Skhoop dog sitters said they never saw any hint of aggression from the Lab.
“We have actually watched scoop a number of times, really nice, friendly chocolate lab,” said Brailey friend Laurie Sitkiewicz. “(This is) just horrible. I can’t even get my brain wrapped around it.”
Mellerstig’s Facebook page indicates he’s new to Alaska from California. It describes him as a graduate of Brown University, University of Oxford and the UCLA Law School. A 2007 press release from Hollywood Studios International in Beverly Hills identifies him as the newly hired vice president of business affairs there.
“Jason started in the business as a cameraman, and has produced and directed several independent films,” it says. “He has served in the Business and Legal Affairs departments of Carsey-Werner (“That 70s Show”), The Yari Film Group (“Crash,” “The Illusionist”), I.L. Films, Fox, ABC and MGM….He was educated at Brown University, Oxford University, the UCLA School of Law and the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
“Prior to starting in the entertainment business, Mr. Mellerstig worked as a park ranger in Alaska, Hawaii and Florida, assisted a member of Congress, a Rhode Island State Assemblyman, and served the United Nations Secretariat in New York City. He is a commercial pilot and certified flight instructor, with ratings in multi-engine aircraft, gliders, seaplanes and helicopters.”
Mellerstig, who is in his 40s, apparently moved to Alaska to take a job as a commercial airline pilot. Anchorage police are investigating the shooting. It is illegal to discharge a firearm within the municipality, but there is an exception for self-defense shootings.
Brailey simply cannot conceive of anyone needing to shoot Skhoop in self-defense.
“She was a family dog, slept in the house every night, got up on the couch,” he said. “She was a wonderful ski dog, a river dog with rafters. We worked on the Susitna Dam Project and had a camp above Devil’s Canyon. We took her as a bear dog so she was in the camp all day when she left. She totally barked off one family of bears.
“She was a part of our family. My kids are grown now, but she grew up with them. (Still), I think I’m taking this hardest. I’m a work at home scientist, and this dog was my companion. We’re empty nesters now.”
Dogs have a way of taking over people’s lives this way. Brailey said he misses Skhoop so much it hurts.
“It’s really traumatic,” he said. “It almost seems to be getting worse and worse day by day. I can’t even think. We can’t even sleep. It’s horrible.”
He put out a little tribute to Schoop near where she died in the yard. Neighbors have been coming by to drop off flowers.
“There’s this little pile of flowers there now,” he said. “Everybody walks their dogs past there. There must be 30 or 40 dog walkers a day go by.”
Many of the them are fearful now. The local homeowners association was planning a Monday night meeting to talk about what happened. Shootings of any kind rarely happen in the upscale community that surrounds the private lake. This one seemed to have rattled a lot of people to the core.