Did a Pitbull Kill Off NCIS’s Abby?

A pitbull attack on a TV crew member ends a popular character on NCIS

Posted Sep 10, 2018

Recently, I was having lunch with a friend who has known me for a long time and is aware of my personal habits and preferences. For example, he knows that there are certain television shows that I am fond of including the crime procedural NCIS. He paused to look over the top of his coffee cup with a twinkle in his eye and asked, "I know that you think that dogs are a positive influence on the lives of most people, so what do you think about the fact that a dog has killed off Abby on NCIS?" My friend knew that my particular favorite character was played by Pauley Perrette. Her role was forensic scientist Abby Sciuto, an amusing, quirky, caffeine-addicted character with a truly odd fashion sense.

The TV series NCIS stars Mark Harmon, who plays Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Other cast members include David McCallum who plays Dr. Donald Mallard and Michael Weatherly who played Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo.

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Paulie Perrette
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Pauley Perrette has played the role of Abby for the entire 15 years that the show has been on air.  This past spring, I had seen the episode where her character had left the investigative unit and would not be returning next season. Abby did not die in the episode, and there was no dog involved that I could remember.

To find out more and confirm what he was saying, I would ultimately read various reports on Vanity Fair, The Telegraph, and other sources. However at that time I simply pressed my friend for the details. Here is his response: 

"I know that you are one of those fans who just watches from one episode to the next and doesn't explore the background information about the actors, but Pauley Perrette left the show because of Mark Harmon's dog. Apparently the precipitating incident occurred when Harmon brought his dog, Dave, to the set. Harmon describes Dave as a pitbull or pitbull-cross that he rescued. The reports indicate that one of the crew members was playing with the dog, when the animal suddenly went into a rage causing an injury that required 16 stitches. Despite this, Harmon continued to bring the dog onto the set with him.

"Several sources report that many of the NCIS cast and crew were uncomfortable having the dog around after this. However, Harmon is also the executive producer of the show and no one was brave enough to confront him. Perrette was one of those who was anxious around the dog and because of her status as one of the show's stars she felt that she had the clout to bring up the issue with Harmon. One must understand that Perrette was not doing this because of any dislike of dogs. In fact, in 2014 she was one of the celebrity presenters at the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards. Apparently, her problem had to do with this particular dog in this particular setting. It was not a matter of the dog's breed, but its history. Neither Harmon or Perrette was willing to back down and this caused a major chill in their relationship.

"Now here's the strange thing. It was felt that the show needed both the Abby and the Gibb characters, however Perrette said that she felt uncomfortable whenever the dog, Dave, was around and she would not work under those conditions. So an arrangement was reached to ensure that Perrette and Harmon would never have to film in the same location at the same time. She did her scenes on one day and he would do his scenes on another. When they did appear together during her final season this was apparently just one of those bits of special editing and compositing magic that cinema and TV specialize in.

"Neither Harmon nor Perrette have commented specifically on the situation although Perrette had made it clear at the beginning of this fifteenth season that it would be her last. She did, however, release some rather cryptic tweets in which she referred to physical assaults and having to protect her crew and the jobs of so many people.

"I know that you've written in the past and noted the large number of deaths of people that have been attributed to pitbull attacks. I suppose in this case, since we have a fictional character who is effectively killed off due to the real actress's fear of being near a pitbull, this might be listed as the first recorded pitbull attack fatality by proxy."

I also contacted Mark Harmon for comment, but am still awaiting a response.

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