Four children visiting Brookings late last month had just returned to their grandmother's house on Wharf Street from the beach when the dog accompanying them began to yelp.

Two hours later, Lizzie, a 6-year-old miniature Australian shepherd, was in surgery to have her left front leg amputated at the shoulder.

"I thought maybe a deer got hold of her, or a car hit her," said owner Railene Wagaman. "I never dreamed it'd be a bullet."

But that's what the veterinarians found when the family brought Lizzie to Town and Country Animal Clinic in Harbor: a .177-caliber pellet, likely shot from a pellet gun, had lodged in her leg, shattering the bones and severing the nerves.

"They couldn't save it (the leg)," Wagaman said.

The veterinarians initially thought it was a .22-caliber bullet.

"I can see why they thought it might be," said Brookings Police Department Lt. Donny Dotson. "To any eye it'd look like a .22 until you put a caliper on it."

It doesn't make the act any less illegal, he noted.

A pellet gun has a higher velocity than a BB gun and shoots a pellet shaped like a bullet. Based on the dog's injuries, this one was apparently fired at a high velocity, he said.

Police officers searched the area shortly after Wagaman called them, about two hours after the incident. They found no people or other evidence, Dotson said.

Because people often think pellet guns are less dangerous than .22s, they often allow their children to use them. Dotson now plans to talk with neighborhood youth.

"Chances are that this isn't the only shot this pellet gun has fired in that neighborhood," he said.

Wagaman lives at the end of Wharf Street in Brookings, on a cul-de-sac of three homes surrounded by land bordered by Mill Beach to one side and a brushy field owned by South Coast Lumber to the other. Police often encounter and roust out transients who hunker down in the shrubs at night, and Wagaman thinks it might have been one of them who shot her dog.

But this was broad daylight, she said, and although her grandchildren were up at the house and the dog still below on the road, the story could have had a completely different ending.

"In one sense, it's less alarming (because a child was not injured," Dotson said. "But on the other hand, (the gun) was aimed intentionally. It cost this dog its leg."

The children, ages 3 to 9, didn't hear or see anything, nor did their parents or neighbors, Dotson said.

"I just don't want anyone else to get hurt," Wagaman said. "I'm used to having homeless people down in the bushes - last Wednesday the fire department put out a fire in the bushes near our house - but now we have a homeless person who's not mentally stable in the bushes with a gun?"

The shooting is under investigation but appears to be an isolated incident, Dotson said. He urges anyone with information about the shooting to call the police department at 541-469-3118 or Crime Stoppers at 541-412-0989 or toll free at 888-974-0000.

The last time a dog was shot within the city limits was about two years ago when a man shot a dog on Pioneer Road, allegedly in self-defense. Another report was shortly before that when a man believed his dog had been shot, but the animal had actually impaled himself on a fishing rod that was poking up from the ground.

Lizzie, with 30 stitches in her shoulder, is healing, Wagaman said, adding that all it takes is someone coming to visit or mention of a walk on the beach, and she's all ears.

The family is healing, too, even joking about her new nickname, Tripod.

"She just wants to live," Wagaman said. "And I just want to let other people know."

"They're working on it," Dotson said. "We had officers down there then, and we'll have officers down there again. But (then and now) there is nothing to indicate there's a madman in the bushes."