Daniel Perez has done much for his country during his lifetime. Serving in the Army for nearly three decades, the Floridian did combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and now continues his service as a master sergeant in the Army Reserves and an employee of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.
Like many who have spent time abroad fighting for their country, Perez struggles with PTSD — but he had a furry coping mechanism named Matilda.
“She knew when I was down, she knew when I was depressed,” he told WSVN-TV.
Matilda was a Labrador retriever/pointer mix whom Perez adopted seven years ago during a veteran-specific pet adoption event. Though she never had any formal service dog training, she could read Perez like a book and always seemed to know just what to do to help, and he considered her his therapy dog.
“She would push me, force me to pet her, and by petting her, I’ll be relaxed,” Perez explained.
But on Friday, she was violently taken from his life during a puzzling, heartbreaking incident when an unknown man entered the kennels where she was staying and killed her.
For years, Perez and Matilda had a routine: As he would head off to work, he would drop Matilda off at the local Aycock Veterinary Clinic in Davie, Florida, where a friend worked, so she could be cared for while he was out saving lives as an emergency medical technician.
Around 6 a.m. on Friday, he dropped her off at the outdoor kennels, which are accessible from a nearby parking lot. The staff would bring her in by 7 a.m., but shortly after she was dropped off, a stranger came by and started kicking at the fence.
“Because he was kicking the fence, she start barking,” Perez said.
The man had been taking photos and videos, but when he realized he, too, was being filmed, he drew his hoodie over his head. Then he approached Matilda’s cage, pulled out a gun and fired seven shots, killing the beloved dog.
It was all caught on surveillance camera, and the Davie Police Department is now looking for the suspect. He is described as a white male of thin build in his early 20s, somewhere between 5 feet 10 and 6 feet tall, with bleached hair.
Perez thinks it was a random act of violence, as Matilda was the only one in the kennels and he didn’t recognize the man, but he also believes that the suspect will strike again.
“[The gunman fired] a total of seven shots and just walk out, like nothing happened,” Perez said. “He’s gonna do it again. He might, might as well did it before, because he looks like he did something like this before. He knew what he was doing.”
On Friday morning, Perez had considered bringing Matilda with him to work, but decided to drop her off at the clinic since she gets more attention there. While Perez is understandably heartbroken, the pain extends beyond him, as his children were also close with the gentle pup.
“Very lovely dog, a family dog, she loved my kids,” he told WPLG-TV. “My youngest son was very affected. He used to play with her and sleep with her. Not aggressive at all.
“She loved kids, she loved other animals, and it’s not fair.”
Perez and the police hope that by circulating the suspect’s information, someone will be able to help them find him and bring about some justice for Matilda.