For the neighbors, the worst part about the beatings was when they ended. Blueberry, a brown and white pit bull, would lie his bloody frame on the apartment balcony, his head against the metal bars, and shiver.
"It was so awful. ... It was never a case of should we do something, it was how," said Steelee Faltis, 32, an Oakland artist. "Talking to the dog's owner didn't work. But we knew that no one could argue with a video."
So Faltis, his brother and a friend kept a video camera on a nightstand for months, ready to record their neighbor attacking his dog in their quiet neighborhood just south of Lake Merritt.
Finally, on Feb. 19, 2010, they got it: a high-quality video of their neighbor, Charles Black, striking Blueberry repeatedly with an ax handle raised high over his head. In the film, the dog emits harrowing squeals and cries as it cowers against the blows.
'Took a lot of courage'
That video led to Black's conviction in January for felony animal cruelty, resulting in a four-year prison sentence. On Thursday, the Faltis brothers and their friend were lauded as heroes by the Oakland police and a slew of other organizations.
Vince Faltis, who recorded the video used to convict Black, was awarded $2,500 by the Humane Society, $1,000 of which he donated to the Oakland animal shelter.
"This case could not have been made without the efforts and of heroism of Vince Faltis," said Megan Webb, shelter director. "Charles Black is a dangerous man with a criminal record. It took a lot of courage to do what Vince did."
The Faltis brothers and Vince Faltis' girlfriend, Libby Van Horn, heard Black torture his dog for months from the balcony of his apartment. Sometimes the beatings were every week. Sometimes they were once every three or four months. They'd hear Blueberry's high-pitched yelps and cries.
"It was intolerable. Your eyes couldn't believe what you were seeing," said Van Horn, 27, a speech pathologist.
Steelee Faltis took a video on June 30, 2009, and brought it to Oakland's animal shelter. The images were too blurry to be useful, so Steelee Faltis obtained a higher-quality camera and the trio kept trying.
Still, the initial video was so horrific that Webb - who sees some of the city's worst animal cruelty cases - was haunted.
"The images and sounds of that dog kept echoing in my mind," she said. "The video was extremely disturbing. Even to this day I have a hard time watching."
An arrest, a recovery
Six months later, when Vince Faltis brought in the second video, authorities knew they had enough to pursue animal cruelty charges against Black.
Police came immediately and removed Blueberry from Black's care, bringing him to the shelter for treatment.
Blueberry has since recovered and been adopted by a local family.
Vince Faltis, 31, a union pipe fitter, said he hopes the incident will encourage other people to "stand up and make a fuss" when they encounter wrongdoing.
"We've lived in Oakland all out lives. I hella love Oakland," he said. "Maybe now when someone thinks of Oakland, they'll think of a place where we don't tolerate animal abuse."
Joining the dignitaries Thursday in applauding Faltis was Jarrod Cooper, former safety for the Oakland Raiders, who's a regular volunteer at the Oakland shelter.
"I know a lot of people who don't have the balls to do what these guys did," said Cooper, who awarded the Faltis brothers and Van Horn with free Raiders tickets and autographed helmets.
Steelee Faltis said he was thrilled with the award money and the gifts, but his thoughts remain with Blueberry.
"This is great," he said. "But it doesn't match the sigh of relief when that dog was finally taken to a safe place."
This article appeared on page C - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle