MORGANTON, N.C. — Bennett Deyton and his dog DJ were inseparable. The two lived on the streets of Morganton, North Carolina.
Deyton, who has been homeless for about seven years, used to just stroll around town with DJ in tow. The two tried to keep to themselves.
“I went to jail for just some minor stuff, for trespassing and stuff,” Deyton admitted.
Deyton said his dog DJ forced him to turn his life around.
“Before I got DJ, I probably would have ended up in prison or worse,” Deyton said.
(Warning: The rest of this story contains graphic details)
'It was so loud and so horrific'
Back on May 2, 2021, Deyton said he was sitting outside of Jerry’s Neighborhood Store when a man he had seen in passing before approached him and DJ. Bennett said DJ began to growl at the man.
“He did his little thing; he just growled, but I had control of him,” Deyton recalled. “He wasn’t going to move. He was trained.”
Bennett said it’s difficult to share what happened next. He gets emotional every time he tries to talk about it.
“I hate thinking about it because it is a shattering piece of glass in my heart,” Deyton said.
Deyton said as he was getting up to leave with DJ, the man told him “you need to get your dog.” Deyton said he stopped for a brief second and then told him “I’ve heard that a lot lately.” That’s when Deyton said the man's demeanor changed.
“We started walking away, and he just kept looking at me,” Deyton recalled. “And DJ, he kind of buckled down in the middle of the road, like he knew something was going to happen.”
Deyton said the man walked back to his truck and came back out with a gun. The man approached Deyton and his dog and pointed the gun right at DJ.
“And I said ‘Look, man, no harm, no foul. Please don’t shoot my dog,'” Deyton said.
But the man didn't listen.
Deyton said the man told him, “This is what happens to the dog.”
“And when he shot it, it was so loud and so horrific. When he took [the gun] off of the safety, DJ flinched, and it’s still in my mind,” Deyton said.
The bullet went through DJ’s back and out of his leg. Deyton said that’s when DJ just took off.
“I mean, I’ve seen that dog run before, but I’m telling you that dog just took off,” Deyton said.
At that moment, Deyton said he was just stunned. The man who he barely knew had just shot his dog. He was so frazzled.
“And I’m just sitting there spinning,” Deyton said. “I start breaking down. I should have gone after DJ, but I was just left standing there.”
Deyton said he wanted to call for help, but he was frozen. It was like his fingers were not communicating with his hands.
“This had me so mad I couldn’t even call 911," Deyton said. "I was trying to call 911. It's three numbers, and I couldn’t get them on the line."
Deyton said a man he knew found DJ, picked him up and brought him to the animal hospital.
“They did like 90 [mph] to the hospital,” Deyton recalled.
Deyton said he wasn’t able to follow them to the hospital because he had to show police where DJ was shot.
"[DJ] lived 43 minutes, shot through the back like that,” Deyton said.
Deyton finds a new buddy
News of the shooting spread fast in the community. Police in Morganton took to social media, pleading for the public to come forward with information. Hundreds of people shared the post with the hopes of finding this man.
In the days following the shooting, Deyton was walking around town trying to grapple with the senseless tragedy when he spotted a dog on the side of the road.
It was an instant connection. Deyton knew that was his next dog and had even thought to name him Johnny.
Animal Control received a call about "Johnny" and picked him up. That’s when Deyton reached out to Burke County Friends for Animals next door and begged them to take "Johnny" in.
The rescue shelter walked over to animal control and took the dog in.
Deyton said he knew he couldn’t afford "Johnny," which needed to be fixed, and had to go on heartworm medication.
Desperate, Deyton said he would do anything to adopt the dog. He even said he would give up his stimulus check.
“When I heard about Johnny being in there, I offered these people my stimulus check," Deyton said. "I said, 'I’ll give you every bit of it right now for Johnny.'"
The kindness of a stranger
That’s when an anonymous donor from Austin, Texas, stepped in. The donor, who saw the story on his Facebook page, called the rescue center and told them he wanted to donate the money so that Deyton could adopt the dog.
“This guy from Texas donated all the money to have him fixed and have his heartworms taken care of,” Deyton said.
Deyton said no dog could ever replace DJ but said having Johnny really helps. He said Johnny even reminds him of his DJ in the way he smiles and wiggles.
"He runs like DJ," Deyton said. "The way his legs in the back kind of 'loop loop loop."
Morganton Police said they have arrested a man they say is responsible for shooting DJ. Deyton said he’s glad the man is off of the streets.
“What if it would have been a child?” Deyton asked. “DJ actually, in service of me, took the brunt of all of that.”
Contact Meilin at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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