Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Animal advocates want justice for shot dogs

February 27, 2013 7:45 am  •  By Felicia Cousart Matlosz

Animal rights advocates told the City Council on Feb. 19 that they want justice for the five dogs shot and killed by a Selma police officer last month at the Selma Animal Shelter. Since the incident happened, city officials said discussions have taken place to make sure an incident like it never happens again.

But animal rights supporters still are concerned and upset. More than a dozen animal rights advocates, a number of them from Fresno, attended the meeting. One brought a Feb. 1 letter that she said had been sent to the Fresno County District Attorney, seeking an investigation. Another speaker presented an online petition that she said was signed by more than 1,000 people from a broad section of communities.

“Five lives were lost that day,” said Danielle Jones of Sanger. She also addressed a comment directly to Selma’s interim police chief: “Justice, justice should be done to the officer, Myron Dyck.”

Representatives spoke during the oral communications section of the meeting, which allows members of the public to address the council members about issues not posted on the scheduled agenda.

Mayor Ken Grey and Council Member Scott Robertson said after the council meeting that discussions have taken place to ensure a similar situation never happens again. Those talks have covered different areas, such as proper training and developing new systems for animal control.

“We’re taking the issue very seriously,” Grey said. “We hope from this we’ll all have learned something that will lead to a better control system for our animals here in Selma.”

“I can tell you that the shooting has not been ignored, and the past will not be repeated,” Robertson said. “Policies and procedures have been reviewed with the police department.”

Robertson said that the crux of the issue is this: “How do we turn this tragic event into a positive, to make it a teachable moment so that events do not repeat themselves?”

The identity of the officer involved in the shooting has not been disclosed.

Grey said after the council meeting: “The review and what ultimately may be the outcome of that is a personnel matter. By law, I’m prohibited from commenting on that issue.”

On Jan. 18, five pit bull mix dogs were at the Selma Animal Shelter, brought there by a single owner. Selma Police Department officials and representatives from the shelter’s volunteer group agreed the dogs were not going to be adoptable and would have to be euthanized.

What happened after that angered the animal rights community. The veterinarian used by the city for euthanizations was not able to get to the shelter. The police officer approached the dogs, in an attempt to take them to the veterinarian.

But the dogs became aggressive. The officer feared a threatening situation. And, Dyck said in an interview in early February, the officer was aware of the December case in which four pit bull dogs mauled 34-year-old Estaban Alavez to death in the driveway of a Selma-area home. The officer worried about what would happen if the dogs were left there, and other people came to the site. The officer shot and killed the dogs.

Melody Overholser, the volunteer coordinator for the shelter, told the council members on Feb. 19: “What happened that day was sincerely our worst nightmare.”

She said that the group lost a few volunteers, and “I’m not going to lie, I wanted to quit as well as the rest of them.” But the importance of their efforts to save the lives of more dogs outweighed her initial reaction. In 2012, more than 300 animals were taken into the shelter. Only six had to be euthanized. A prime reason is that the police department lets dogs stay for longer periods of time in the shelter than other shelters typically allow.

The police department now also has a part-time animal control officer. He started Jan. 2. (The department last had a full-time animal control officer in April 2009.)

“All I want to do is move forward, and it’s with the blessing of all you guys that we can and still save dogs,” Overholser said.

Brenda Mitchell, a member of the Animal Compassion Team in Fresno, then told the council that she thought the Selma volunteers “may be fearful” to be honest about how they feel. “Don’t for one second think that their kindness and forgiveness is something that says you guys are OK,” Mitchell said. “This is wrong, and it needs to be addressed.”

Animal rights advocates believe a more thorough investigation of what happened on Jan. 18 has to be done.

Ashley Hughes, a member of Westside Rescue in Fresno, read from the Feb. 1 letter to Fresno County District Attorney Elizabeth Egan. The letter in part said that “the implication that the incident should be minimized because the dogs were slated for euthanasia anyway is equally troubling. Make no mistake — shooting a dog inside a kennel is not euthanasia.”

The letter includes at the bottom the names of representatives from 11 animal advocacy organizations. The names include Eric Sakach, senior law enforcement specialist for the Humane Society of the United States, and Brandy Kuentzel, corporate counsel/director of advocacy for the San Francisco SPCA.

“We are jointly requesting from your office a formal response revealing how and why the incident occurred, an accounting of what review of agency procedures is under way and a description of any recourse you decide to pursue against the officer who committed this heinous act,” the letter stated.

As of presstime, the Enterprise had not received a response from the Fresno County District Attorney’s office about the letter.

A separate and ongoing issue is the location of the Selma Animal Shelter, which is several miles south of downtown Selma.

Robertson is involved in efforts to explore suitable sites. “It is the right time for a new shelter that will be easier for people to access and adopt from, safer for volunteers and a more humane place for our animals,” he said.

Grey said: “I feel very confident that Scott and the volunteers are working very aggressively toward making a move happen for a shelter that would be a vast improvement for the community.”

Double standards penalties for police officers shooting family dogs



There are double standard penalties for police officers shooting family dogs. Or should I say no penalty? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines double standard as "a set of principles that applies differently and usually more rigorously to one group of people or circumstances than to another." This is what I'd call a double standard penalty when a police officer shoots a family dog rather than a private citizen committing the act. Meaning the officer gets away with it, while someone who's not a member of law enforcement goes to jail.

A recent example of a private citizen being arrested for animal cruelty after shooting two dogs occurred in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania on February12. Gabriel Pilotti, 72, was charged with two cases of animal cruelty after killing two dogs Pilotti originally claimed were after his sheep. He later changed his story saying he shot one of the dogs while it was slowly coming toward him, and the other dog as it was running away.

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan stated in a news release "there was no justification for the killing of these two dogs. The defendant has been charged and will be dealt with appropriately. Our sympathies go out to the family and children who lost their beloved pets."

This is a far cry from the statements issued across this country at an alarming rate when police officers shoot a family dog under very similar circumstances. Countless dogs have lost their lives these past few years due to the trigger-happy attitude of some police officers. Many of these dogs were murdered on their own property, or chased to another property where they were gunned down.

A common excuse made by the officer is "I feared for my life, therefore I had the right to defend myself." Sadly, the officer is usually cleared of any wrong doing. The officer must be cleared, or it's an admission of guilt. In monetary terms, admitting guilt means paying out big bucks when the family of the dog sues the department or town.

The internet is filled with the stories of innocent dogs being shot by police. The Facebook page Dogs Shot By Police has new stories added almost daily. In the majority of these cases, the dog is either on or adjacent to where the dog lives. On many occasions, the officer is at the wrong address entirely.

Legislation needs to be enacted on a federal level defining strict fines and prison sentences for police officer's who abuse their authority and kill innocent pets. If an average citizen can be charged for the same offense and face fines and jail time, then so should the officer committing the same crime. A police officer is no better than those of us not in uniform when committing such a horrendous act.

Perhaps this "kill at will" attitude will change as more dog owner's are suing those responsible for the wrongful death of their pet. Many of these lawsuits name not just the department, but the actual officer involved.

Why aren't police officers "dealt with appropriately?" Why do police departments not issue any words of sympathy when their officers kill the family pet?

How do the readers here feel? Should the police be held to the same set of standards as the rest of us. Or should the double standard philosophy continue to apply, basically giving approval for officers to shoot first and explain their way out of it later? Your comments are welcome.

Pit bulls most common breed shot by police

Apr. 13, 2013   |  Written by Marisa Kendall

Animals are targets in the majority of Southwest Florida officer shootings.

Officers shot at animals 111 times from 2009-12 compared to human suspects 24 times, according to a database analysis by The News-Press.

Pit bulls that threatened officers accounted for a large percentage of the shootings. Deputies shot at least 22 pit bulls in Lee County — the breed accounted for more than 75 percent of all dogs shot, and 36 percent of all animals shot. Not all sheriff’s office reports identified the breed of dog shot.

In Collier County, deputies shot at least four pit bulls from 2009-12, and the breed accounted for almost half of all threatening dogs shot.

Other aggressive animals shot by Collier County deputies include alligators, bobcats, raccoons and rattlesnakes. Deputies used firearms to euthanize 16 injured animals.

Cape Coral and Fort Myers did not have data available breaking down shootings by breeds of dogs.

Tara Davis had to put down her pit bull, Dutchess, in 2011 after a Lee County deputy shot the dog in the neck. Deputies were responding to a domestic dispute involving Davis’ friend at the Leigh Acres home they shared. Dutchess, trying to defend the property, ran at a deputy and pinned him against the wall. Davis wasn’t home at the time.

“When I got there my dog was bleeding all over my front porch,” Davis said. “She actually got up and was trying to come to where I was. But when I came home, I just fell down in the middle of the driveway. I couldn’t even make it up to the door.”

Davis, who raised 4-year-old Dutchess from birth, said she was devastated. The dog was never aggressive before, but Davis said she understood why the deputy had to shoot.

On Thursday, 16 of 100 dogs available for adoption at Lee County Domestic Animal Services were pit bulls. Spokeswoman Ria Brown said the dogs have a reputation for aggression because some are abused or trained to be aggressive by irresponsible owners. Even if the dogs are friendly, they may naturally become protective when an unknown deputy enters their home.

A pit bull’s strong, muscular body and fiercely loyal temperament also often make it the breed of choice for criminals, Brown said.

“So if (deputies are) pursuing a criminal case,” she said, “they’re probably going to run into a pit bull.”

Collier County Cpl. Uriel Roman said deputies should react the same to any threat of death or injury — whether it’s a charging pit bull or a man with a gun.

“The policy goes,” he said, “if there’s a threat, then you take care of it.”

Why Are So Many Dogs Being Shot by Police?

Police shootings of dogs
A New York City police officer shoots a dog. By: Gothamist.
A New York City police officer shoots a dog named Star, who was protecting her injured owner, August 13, 2012. By: Gothamist.

On a chilly night in late February
in Fishers, Ind., Patricia McConnell was taking her daughter’s 7-year-old, 20-pound terrier mix, Reese, out for a midnight potty.

Reese was harnessed and on a retractable leash, but as she bounded ahead around a corner, the dog saw a neighbor and started to bark. Unfortunately, this neighbor was Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal William “Buzz” Brown. Reese was able to bark only two times before the deputy shot the leashed dog twice.

Brown, who says he felt threatened, was two feet away from the dog when he thought she might attack him. Amazingly, Reese survived. However, because she was shot at such a close range, Reese’s front left leg and shoulder had to be removed, and her back left leg was left shattered. The vet bills reached $10,000.

Patricia McConnell said the shooting was so unexpected that she feared that if she said anything, the officer would fire at her as well. Her daughter, Deborah Twitty, told Fox59 that they live in fear of their neighbor. “I’m afraid he’s going to retaliate,” she said of the deputy.

The two women describe their ordeal in the short video below:
U.S. Attorney Kerry Forestal responded to the public outcry that followed by saying, “I trust Chief Deputy Brown’s ability to make decisions on a daily basis, and I continue to trust him.”

Reese is very lucky to be alive — many dogs that have encounters involving police and guns don’t survive.

What’s Going On?

Recently, there has been a steady drip of awful stories like the one above. Most of them occur when a law enforcement officer feels threatened by a dog and makes a split-second decision to shoot. Sometimes, as with Reese, the dogs are leashed — or even tied up in their own yard. There are even shootings where it turns out the dogs were running away or hiding.

Because there are no national records or a centralized database of dog shootings, it’s hard to tell if incidents are on the rise in the United States. However, a review by Pets Adviser of “use of force” statistics from several large cities shows no notable uptick in these cases. In fact, in New York City the yearly number of dog shootings by police is far below the inflated numbers of the late 1990s (43 dogs shot in 2011 versus an average 82 per year in 1996-98; numbers include vicious dog attacks).

The increased attention to these cases in recent months appears to be due to heightened awareness, more extensive media coverage and social networking buzz when a shooting occurs. The shootings occur so often, in fact, that a certain numbness has started to set in. One commenter online wryly remarks, “Same story. Family. Dog. Cops. Dog shot. Dog dead. Family bereaved. Shooting justified. No matter what. Repeat.”

Pit Bulls Are #1 Victim

Stacy Field (in purple) gets a hug during a vigil for her dog Kincaid, killed by Baltimore police on New Year's Day. By: Matthew Mahlstedt for Pets Adviser
Stacy Fields (in purple) gets a hug during a vigil for her dog Kincaid, killed by Baltimore police on New Year’s Day. By: Matthew Mahlstedt for Pets Adviser

The idea that pit-bull-type breeds are aggressive has led to many of these dogs being labeled as “threatening” by cops and shot dead with minimal provocation, sometimes in the dogs’ own yard. Pets Adviser found that around 75 to 85 percent of dogs shot by police are pit bulls.

This is not to say that other dog breeds haven’t suffered as well. German shepherds, Rottweilers, Labrador retrievers, terriers, Shar-Peis, even registered therapy and service dogs — all have been victims.

Just a few egregious examples:
  • Late last summer in Spartanburg, S.C., a sheriff’s deputy shot dead an 8-year-old shepherd mix named Diamond who was tied to the front porch. “Why did you shoot my dog?” the owner pleaded. The officer’s response: “She tried to bite me.” Diamond was at the end of her restraint when she was shot, according to the dog’s owner.
  • One night in April 2011, police in Camden, N.J., sprayed a neighborhood with gunfire to take down a pit bull puppy named Capone — even as one lone police officer pleaded, “Don’t shoot him!” Witnesses say more than 30 bullets were fired, ricocheting across vehicles and piercing a home. “It was like a war zone,” one startled resident recalls.
  • A Gulfport, Miss., police officer investigating a possible break-in at the house next door fired five or six times at an 11-year-old dog named Melmo in the dog’s own backyard. Making matters worse, Melmo was on a chain that ended “about 30 feet away” from the officer, according to the dog’s owner.
  • A Newfoundland named Rosie who had escaped from her home was Tased multiple times, then executed by officers in Des Moines, Wash. A dashboard video of the long ordeal shows officers wondering aloud what to do with the dog if they catch her — then they conclude, “We should just shoot [her].” They chase her down to finish the job. Another officer hollers “Nice!” when Rosie is shot. A witness says the officers high-fived one another afterward.
  • Everything was friendly and conversational when a man in Kingman, Ariz., left his 2-year-old pit bull dog outside with police while he stepped inside his home to retrieve his ID. He told the officers that the dog, Blue, wouldn’t bite and says the officers seemed comfortable. Moments later, there was a loud pop outside. A neighbor says he saw a deputy fire his weapon as the dog casually walked by the group of officers. The neighbor also says he overheard another officer tell the shooter, “Go sit in your cruiser and keep your mouth shut.” The official police report claims the dog was charging and aggressive.
  • On New Year’s Day of this year, a pit bull mix named Kincaid was barking at a man running from police who had trespassed into his yard. Baltimore police shot six times at the dog; half the shots missed Kincaid and his owner (who was reaching for the dog’s harness) by only inches. Kincaid died on the scene.
  • A miniature bull terrier puppy named Colonel, who had just wandered out of his home in a bustling Chicago neighborhoodwas shot twice by an officer who happened to be out front writing a parking ticket. Multiple witnesses say the puppy was simply sniffing a tree about a car-length away from the police officer who shot him. Colonel is lucky to be alive after five hours of emergency surgery.
  • Baby Girl, a pit bull mix who was so sweet that one of her best friends was a rabbit, was taken to a dog park on Staten Island, N.Y., when a fight broke out between two other dogs. While those other dogs were being separated, the police were called. When they arrived, witnesses say Baby Girl got scared and ran toward the woods. Officers shot and gravely wounded her. Baby Girl held on through several surgeries as her family prayed she would pull through; however, she died a few days later.
In the video below, Natalie Yandle and Aiden talk about the loss of their dog Bucky, a therapy dog. Then Rita Hairston talks about how much she misses her dog Prada:

Deadly Consequences

The biggest factor in the shootings appears to be insufficient training of officers in dog behavior and non-lethal conflict resolution when dealing with animals. Jim Crosby, a retired deputy in Jacksonville, Fla., says, “There’s no training that I’m aware of, nothing cohesive…. That’s a tool the officers haven’t been given even though they are given extensive training on everything else you can think of.”

Seen through the eyes of someone with little or no experience with dogs, a family pet bounding toward the door can easily be mistaken as a dog about to attack. If that person at the door has a badge and a gun, the consequences can be deadly.

Police officers shoot thousands of dogs per year, according to former officer Jim Osorio, who is now a specialist at the National Humane Law Enforcement Academy, which provides instruction to police departments. The question is, are there that many “aggressive” dogs? If so, why aren’t we seeing more dog attacks on mail carriers? “Just because a dog barks doesn’t mean it’s an aggressive dog,” says Osorio.

Are local police shooting dogs first, asking questions later?

HOUSTON – It’s a pet owner’s nightmare.

Your dog gets gunned down right in front of you.

In fact, the KHOU 11 News I-Team found hundreds of cases where Houston-area law enforcement pulled the trigger and shot dogs.

No doubt, many of the cases were self defense where the officer had no other choice, but to shoot.

But some families said their “best friend” was shot needlessly.

The issue of dog shootings by police was the focus of a recent U.S. Department of Justice report suggesting that departments add specialized training focused on teaching officers how to safely interact with dogs.

Wes and Aisling Jones hope that happens in Houston.

A smile comes to their face when the couple talks about their Boxer named “Boss.”  “He was the runt, with a solid black face,” recalled Aisling. She adopted Boss eight years ago and the couple says he was always gentle.  In pictures he’s seen playing with family members, including babies.

“We looked forward to him being around our kids,” said Aisling. “[It] is really what we wanted, but,” she said as her voice trailed off sadly.  That dream ended last fall.

Wes Jones says he was only trying to stop the neighbor’s dog from barking.  “Unfortunately, I sprayed the dog with the water hose,” said Wes. “To get him to back off.”  As a result, their neighbor called Houston police.

Soon two officers showed up, and walked up to the couple’s open front door.  The Jones say Boss was inside the living room.

Wes recalled being in the kitchen, ten to fifteen feet from the dog.  Suddenly, he heard knocking, followed by something he’ll never forget.  “Right after the knock, I mean two, three seconds,” said Wes. “I hear a shot and then more shots.”  Wes said he didn’t hear any barking or any growling as Boss went toward the door after officers knocked.  In a departmental report on the shooting, the HPD officers said, “A large boxer dog charged out the front door.”  But the Jones point to pictures they say prove Boss was four feet inside their front door when he was first shot.  The couple said their injured dog then ran outside, away from officers, toward his “safe place” where he kept his toys.  But the Jones said the bullets kept coming.

“They looked at it like they were at the shooting range,” said Aisling. “They had a real flesh target and they went after him.”  Boss was shot twice.

He eventually bled to death as Aisling held him in her arms.  “You know, when they say a dog is a man’s best friend?” said Aisling through her tears. “They really are.”  In the end, the Houston Police Department ruled the shooting was justified.  In fact, the department said it has ruled all 187 officer-involved shootings of dogs since January 1, 2010 as justified.  According to departmental records, 121 of those dogs died.

HPD declined to talk about the cases on camera, citing a pending lawsuit arising from one of the shootings.  However, a police spokesman said departmental policy authorizes officers to use any force necessary to protect someone in imminent danger of an attack.  But the 11 News I-Team found a trail of heartbroken dog-owners that stretches beyond city limits.  A review of cases from across the Houston-area revealed at least 228 dogs shot by police and deputies since 2010.  Out of that number, 142 dogs died.

“If the dog turns and comes at a citizen, or the deputy, they have all right to use lethal force,” explained Dpt. Thomas Gilliland of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office  Records show Harris County deputies shot 38 canines in the last three-and-a-half years.  The I-Team asked Gilliland if the shootings were justified.

“The justification is, in that matter, and at that moment the deputy had to choose the decision to use lethal force against that animal,” explained Gilliland.  But some say there’s a better way.

“A lot of times, officers are not sent to training to get that type of certification to feel comfortable enough to deal with these animals,” explained Sgt. Joseph Guerra of the Precinct 6 Constable’s Department.

Guerra works as a cruelty investigator for the Houston Humane Society and teaches police how to safety interact with threatening dogs.  He demonstrated how a police baton can be used to distract a dog.

“It’s enough for you to back up slowly and exit the gate and make that phone call to the owner and have them put that dog up,” explained Guerra.  He believes mandatory training for officers is the key to lowering the number of dogs shot and killed by police.

As of press time, neither HPD, nor the Harris County Sheriff’s Office requires such lessons.

“We need to get those officers involved in some mandated training in how to defend before going to deadly force,” said Guerra.  It’s an idea the Jones agree with.

They believe what happened to them, should never happen again.

“If they can get away with shooting a dog, why would they stop there?” said Aisling.

According to figures from both departments, Houston police shot more dogs last year than New York City Police officers shot in 2010 and 2011 combined.

Following shootings in their cities, both Arlington and Fort Worth Police Departments started mandatory dog training for officers last fall.

State law makers are considering a bill now that would require the training for officers across Texas.

by Scott Noll | KHOU 11 News

Posted on May 14, 2013 at 11:28 PM | Updated Wednesday, May 15 at 9:36 AM

Police shootings of dogs: A disturbing trend

by Francis Battista, Co-founder of Best Friends Animal Society

The number of cases involving the shooting of dogs by police as collateral damage in the course of their routine responsibilities seems to be hitting the headlines with disturbing frequency. As I was looking into the relevance of a blog post on the subject in response to an entirely unwarranted shooting of a dog belonging to an Iraq War vet, I noticed a post on my Facebook page with a photo of a frightened-looking Jack Russell terrier with a gun to his head and a caption that read, “Over a 9-Year Period Milwaukee Police Shot 434 Dogs. That’s One Every Week.” The image came my way via the Community Against the Hawthorne CA Police Dog Murders group. The war vet story was out of Buffalo, New York.

This is not a problem localized to a particular community or state. A little Googling on the subject brings up a list of dog shootings by police from across the country, but this is not a blog post about police misconduct. It’s about community values and the apparent fact that public policy – in this case, law enforcement policy – has not kept up with the values of a public that generally regards pets as part of the family. It’s a subject that nestles up against the belief that most people hold that shelter pets should not be killed as a method of population control. It belongs in the same policy discussion framework that led to the passage by Congress of the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act following Hurricane Katrina when thousands of Gulf Coast residents were told, sometimes at gunpoint, to leave their dogs or cats behind. The PETS Act now requires jurisdictions requesting federal disaster aid to have a plan in place for the evacuation and sheltering of household pets.

Let me be clear, I realize police officers put their lives on the line every time they respond to a crime scene, a domestic disturbance – even a routine traffic stop can go wildly wrong. Theirs is a difficult and often thankless job, and they deserve our support and respect. They don’t make the laws; they enforce the laws passed by our elected officials. However, in that critical role, they are implementing the will of the public and are answerable to the public.

I don’t believe it is the will of the public for police to treat pets in the same way they would a door that needs breaching with a battering ram. People don’t expect lethal force to be the first recourse of law enforcement in dealing with a dog, such as the off-leash Spuds MacKenzie–type puppy in Chicago who was shot twice by an officer who was ticketing a car blocking a driveway. The puppy followed his person, the owner of the car, when he approached the officer to talk about the ticket. A witness said the officer shouted at the man twice to get his dog under control and then in a matter of seconds shot twice. The incident occurred across the street from a school – not the best place to be letting off a firearm at an annoying puppy.

There are so many of these incidents that I would be belaboring the point to provide links to even a fraction of the stories and videos on the subject: family pets shot in front of children; dogs shot who were already under control and tethered on a catchpole; a small dog shot whose owner had confined it in the bathroom and who posed no conceivable threat, etc., etc. These incidents cut across all racial, ethnic and economic lines.

The problem is such that in August of 2011, the Community Oriented Policing Services of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) published a booklet for distribution to local law enforcement agencies titled “The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters” (Ledy VanKavage, Best Friends’ lead legislative analyst and head of our pit bull initiatives, was one of the contributing authors). The booklet highlights the larger issue as follows: “In most police departments, the majority of shooting incidents involve animals, most frequently dogs. For example, nearly three-fourths of the shooting incidents in Milwaukee from January 2000–September 2002 involved shots fired at dogs, with 44 dogs killed by officers during that period. Information furnished by various California law enforcement agencies indicated that at least one-half of all intentional discharges of a firearm by an officer from 2000–2005 involved animals.” It also points out that there is no documented case of a police or peace officer dying as the result of a dog bite.

According to the American Pet Products Association, there are 78 million dogs in over 46 million American households. Given those numbers, it is not an unreasonable assumption that a given police action is likely to bring officers in contact with a dog whose owner regards it as part of the family. A shoot-first policy is just not acceptable. Every beat officer should have basic training in dog handling. Every SWAT team should have one member who is well trained in dog encounters and is equipped with appropriate tools – minimally a catchpole, possibly a net-throwing gun, or they should be accompanied by an animal control officer appropriately trained. Unless an investigative or SWAT team is resisted with lethal force, or a dog is set into some kind of attack mode by its owner, shooting a dog simply should not happen.

The DOJ booklet recommends better police training in things like dog behavior, recognizing canine body language, and on-scene canine management techniques, etc. But again, the police are empowered by our elected officials and public policy. If we want to see police practices with respect to dog encounters change, we need to effect police policy through our elected officials. A great example of this in action is the Colorado Dog Protection Act, which was signed into law earlier this year by Governor John Hickenlooper following unanimous passage by the Colorado legislature. The bill calls for mandatory police training and aims to advance safety for both dogs and police.

You can help. Talk to your civic leaders and bring this issue to their attention. Download the Department of Justice booklet and share it with your city council and chief of police.

As the country embraces the no-kill movement and the no-kill agenda as the preferred method of operation for our municipal shelter systems, it only makes sense that the same ethic should inform accepted law enforcement practices.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Are police officers going too far using deadly force against dogs?

(See link below to watch the video)

By Darcy Spears | Created Nov. 21, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Shoot first, ask questions later. It's a scenario police are often accused of. But what if the victim can't talk because it's an animal?

Contact 13's Darcy Spears investigates how far is too far when cops use deadly force against dogs.

January 6, 2013: A backyard with a "Beware of Dog" sign. Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers responding to a report of gunfire in the area enter the yard without permission. Victor Patino's dog, Bubba, reacts. And police shoot and kill him.

"I know my dog and I know he didn't attack him," Patino said the night it happened. "The guy, in my mind.. the guy saw him as an easy kill and he did it. It's as simple as that."

February 2009: From their chopper, Metro detects an infrared heat signature in Yurisai Delatorre's backyard. They think it's a suspect, but it's Yurisai's dog, Coco who chased officers and was shot and killed by police.

At the time of the incident, LVMPD Officer Bill Cassell told Action News, "If this had not been a large, angry animal capable of severely injuring the officer, it's possible the officer would have let the dog bite him and keep going."

And then, there's the case of Freckles.

"He was an awesome dog," says Sarah Rose Hecht. "He was my everything. He was my confidant. He was my best friend."

Sarah Rose got Freckles when she was 15.

"I don't think I would be the person I am today without him," she says, wiping away tears.

Her brother called her on the evening of May 21, while she was at work.

"Saying an officer had run my dog over and that he's passing away on the front yard."

They raced to the vet to try to save his life, but it was too late.

"So at that time, I asked her if I could be with him while we put him to sleep. And that was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life," Sarah Rose says, barely able to get the words out.

When the incident with Freckles happened, Metro told Action News the dog had gotten out and was moving to attack some neighborhood children. The officer didn't want to use his gun around the kids, so he used his car instead.

Metro says they encounter dogs every day and almost always deal with them successfully where no one gets hurt.

In the past three years, they've used force against 18 dogs. In 2011, one died. In 2012, four--including a Metro K-9 shot by a Metro officer. This year, use of force has resulted in three dogs being killed.

Metro provided several incident reports where dogs were shot--mostly because they charged officers.

None of them include the cases we're profiling because--like Freckles--they're part of Metro's Use of Force review process, which they say is confidential.

As of last Spring, Former Assistant Sheriff Ted Moody revamped that process to include cases involving animals.

"When an officer fires a weapon," Moody explains, "we think that is a significant event in the career of that officer and we want to look at the circumstances under which that occurred very, very carefully. Because today it's an animal, tomorrow maybe it's a human being."

"So many of these cases are so preventable," says Gina Greisen with Nevada Voters for Animals.

Greisen is tracking cases across the country where police kill pets.

"It's such a negative reflection on the department when they do this."

She's pushing to hold cops more accountable and require better training in recognizing typical dog behavior.

"So if we could have officers understand that behavior, perhaps they wouldn't shoot a dog because a dog is running up to an officer."

Henderson Police Spokesperson Keith Paul says, "The officers do go through training in the academy on how to deal with animals. They try very hard to avoid the animals. They even have catch poles in most of the supervisors' cars and when the opportunity arises, you hope to be able to call Animal Control to take care of the animals."

But take this case from September, 2011, where Henderson Police shot a dog over a can of Four Loko.

According to the incident report, they were responding to a panhandling call involving two men in the area of St. Rose and Eastern. They knew there was a dog--with a collar and leash--in a nearby drainage area.

But instead of allowing one of the men to secure the dog, an officer went down into the drainage ditch to retrieve a can of Four Loko for evidence that the men were drinking in public.

When the cop grabbed the can, he says the dog growled and lunged, so the officer opened fire, shooting the dog in the shoulder.

Keith Paul wouldn't answer questions about the case. In general, he says, "Once you have someone in custody, you cannot allow them to go out of custody to go take care of their animal."

In this case, police didn't even complete the arrest, as the incident report says, "in the interest of justice and as a sign of good will" to the dog owner.

Henderson Police could only find two reports where they used force against dogs in the last five years.

North Las Vegas police have killed seven dogs this year alone.

Friday on Action News at 6, we'll look at some of those cases as well as a proposed new law governing how cops deal with animals.

Dogs Shot By Police

Dogs Shot By Police is now a page on Facebook. There are currently more than 2000 people following the stories of how those in law enforcement, whom we're supposed to put our trust in, are killing our dogs.

During the coming months, I intend to address this problem on a national level. Meaning I'll be covering news stories of dogs shot by police. My goal is to educate both police officers as well as the general public.

The average dog owner may think this topic doesn't apply to them. If you're a law abiding citizen, surely a police officer can't just come onto your private property and shoot your dog! I'm here to tell you they can, they do, and it's happening every day in cities across America. Almost every case I've examined involves a wrong address or a situation where the property owner isn't involved at all. Except at the end of the day, their beloved companion has been shot and killed by police.

Police department personnel are standing behind these officers who are murdering these innocent dogs. I can't say that I blame them from a legal standpoint. To admit a mistake was made would open the door for a lawsuit. Many dog owner's whose dogs have been innocently murdered are now seeking legal advice. If their dog had been killed by a "civilian" there would be repercussions. The shooter would face charges, a fine and perhaps even jail time. Police are above the law where these cases are concerned.

Another disturbing factor is witnesses and dog owners are showing these dogs are not "attacking," yet the officers involved aren't facing any disciplinary action by their respective police departments. Even with evidence to back up the fact these dogs didn't do anything wrong, nothing is being done to show officers this isn't acceptable behavior. 

When I published my first article a few months back titled Dog Owners Beware: Police Officers Are Killing Family Dogs, I never dreamed the problem was as great as it is. Now, as I see it, the problem is growing.
I hope dog owners will use the new Facebook page as a gathering place to report these stories, as well as any legal action that stems from them. Someone somewhere must find an attorney willing to find justice for these dogs. Only through the court system can a standard be set to try future cases.

I'd like to add I don't have anything personally against police officers. The majority are kind, caring people who do their duty and protect us. I'm doing this article to protect them as well as to protect the canine population. Because I believe someone will eventually snap emotionally from seeing their dog gunned down and attack the officer responsible. I'm a bit surprised it hasn't happened already. It's a natural instinct to protect your children. For many dog owners, their dog IS their child.

I personally have a boxer mix. My Dreyfuss is large dog who is well trained and wouldn't hurt anyone unless they wanted to hurt me. He chose me as his mom when he was a puppy. I met with his owner, who had the pups in the back of an old pickup truck. I silently walked around the truck several times to see what would happen. Dreyfuss was the only pup to follow me. He's been following me 12 years now. I'm not timid in saying I'd go a bit insane should anything of this sort happen to him.

I urge dog owners everywhere to begin following my articles. See how large the problem has become and use caution when your dog is outside. History now shows that being on private property doesn't mean your dog is safe.

Feel free to leave comments. Share these articles with friends. Examiner is a prestigious publication where theses articles can empower. I feel it's the perfect online site to bring this problem to the attention of our nation. Because that's what it's going to take to stop this.

Police officers need better training on how to perceive dogs. The training now received doesn't appear to be effective. Dog owners need to be aware of this new danger. I hope every reader will feel free to discuss ideas on how we can all work together to keep our dogs safe.

Position Statements on Law Enforcement Response to Potentially Dangerous Dogs

The ASPCA receives regular reports of incidents in which dogs have been shot, often fatally, by police officers in the conduct of their regular duties. Although some of these animals may have been utilized as weapons by their handlers or been involved in attacks on people or other animals, many cases have involved family pets killed on the owner’s property. Police department policies generally grant broad powers to officers to shoot animals if the officers feel that they are in "imminent danger" or if a dog has killed or is in the process of attacking people, livestock or other pets.

Most police departments require detailed reports any time an officer discharges a firearm, even accidentally. Some of these reports reveal a disturbing trend. Our review of public records of firearms discharges by police indicates that it is common for 50% or more of all shooting incidents to involve an officer shooting a dog. Many of these incidents involve multiple shots fired and many do not result in the dog’s swift, humane death.

Policies that require only that an officer “feel” threatened set a very low threshold for justifying the killing of dogs. In virtually all cases we have examined, internal reviews of dog shootings have ruled them to be justifiable under existing policies, even though several cases have resulted in substantial civil judgments against police departments for wrongful destruction. Such incidents not only jeopardize the lives of companion animals, but also undermine the reputation of law enforcement agencies in the community.

Police rarely receive any training that would allow them to rapidly and realistically assess the degree of danger posed by a dog; nor are they routinely informed about or trained to use any of the wide variety of non-lethal tools and techniques available to them as alternatives to shooting. Examples of such alternatives include batons, OC spray, Tasers and chemical capture. Most departments do not have relationships with area animal control agencies, humane societies or SPCAs that could provide training or assistance in responding to calls where dogs are known or suspected to be present. Since more than one-third of American households have a dog, officers are likely to encounter dogs whenever they approach or enter a residence. Although they may encounter truly dangerous dogs in some situations, the majority of dogs they are likely to meet are well-behaved family pets that are legitimately protecting their homes and families from intruders.

ASPCA Position
The ASPCA believes that most instances of police shootings of dogs are avoidable. The Force Continuum concept has been helpful in reducing unnecessary injuries to the public and professionals in encounters with potentially dangerous people. Law enforcement agencies are recognizing that similar benefits can be gained by applying this concept to encounters with potentially dangerous animals.

There are many steps that law enforcement agencies can take to prevent the needless killing of dogs and reduce the high risk of injuries to officers and the general public in such instances:

- Establish better communication between area law enforcement and animal care and control agencies, including sharing of information about addresses with histories of calls for violent offenses or dangerous animals and establishing procedures for enlisting assistance from these agencies in planning responses to situations where dogs are known or likely to be present

- Review existing policies and data on dog shootings and institute administrative review of all such shootings that includes an evaluation of their justification

- Provide officers with training in identifying and assessing potentially dangerous dogs, as well as instruction on how to use their existing equipment (e.g. baton, OC spray) more safely and effectively in situations with potentially dangerous dogs

- Provide officers with additional up-to-date equipment that can be used as an alternative to lethal force (e.g. catch poles, nets, etc.) and proper training on its use

- Enact a Force Continuum policy for encounters with dogs, similar to that for encounters with people, that stipulates an escalating scale of options in which lethal force is considered a last resort

When lethal force must be used, officers should be trained how to do so humanely to prevent or quickly end suffering. The following reflects a policy that is currently in use by several agencies:

“Police officers shall not discharge their firearms at a dog or other animal except to protect themselves or another person from physical injury and when they have exhausted other reasonable means to eliminate the threat. If a decision is made that the animal must be killed, the officer must make every effort to insure that the discharge of his weapon is done as safely as possible. The officer should also try to kill the animal in a humane way to keep the animal from undue suffering or escape.”

Half of intentional shootings by police involve dogs, study says

Dog shootings by police are mostly avoidable and preventable, say groups pushing for officers to learn more about animal behavior.

By Mike Carter
Seattle Times staff reporter

There has never been a documented case of a dog killing a police officer.

The same can't be said for police killing dogs.

Every year, hundreds — if not thousands — of animals, mostly canines, are killed by police or animal-control officers. According to the National Canine Research Council, up to half of the intentional shootings by police involve dogs.

Sometimes, the animals have been injured and need to be put out of their misery. Sometimes, they are vicious and killed for reasons of public or officer safety.

But mostly, they die tragically and needlessly, victims of misunderstanding, prejudice or simple convenience, according to animal-rights and behavior experts.

Usually, police simply aren't properly trained or don't have the resources to deal with canine encounters, the experts say.

The Internet is peppered with memorials to family pets gunned down by officers.

There's Axel, the 18-month-old Labrador therapy dog-in-training shot in November by an animal-control officer in Charles City, Va., for chasing a neighbor boy. Bully, Boss and Kahlua, a trio of dogs, were killed in August by police in Palm Beach, Fla., while officers were trying to arrest a friend of the dogs' owner. On Nov. 2, police in Middleton, Ohio, shot and killed a 30-pound pet pig after it reportedly tried to bite an officer. The pig was on a leash, according to news reports.

Then there's Rosie, the 4-year-old Newfoundland who was twice shot with a Taser, chased from her yard and then repeatedly shot by Des Moines police after a neighbor had reported her loose and was worried she might get hurt. A federal lawsuit filed by her owners last month, two years after her death — death that experts say happens much too often and can easily be avoided — has reopened wounds and stoked public outrage.

The officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing by the department, and Rosie's owners, Deirdre and Charles Wright, failed in their attempts to have them charged criminally.

"This has got to be a huge embarrassment for that department. And it was very preventable," said Donald Cleary, the director of communications for the National Canine Research Council (NCRC) in Amenia, N.Y., which studies human-canine relations.

"It's like they just ran out of ideas."

Even the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) has recognized the issue.

Last year, the DOJ published a 46-page police training and information guide, "The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters," through its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). The report, funded by a grant from the NCRC and developed by the University of Illinois Center for Public Safety and Justice, aims to dispel myths about dogs and dog bites and provide resources to help police develop nonlethal strategies for officer-dog encounters.

The report followed a 2010 position paper by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which concluded that "most instances of police shooting dogs are avoidable" and urged departments to train officers to better understand dog behavior and to use the minimum force necessary to deal with it.

The COPS report provides just that sort of useful information to street officers, said Cleary, who was one of its co-authors. For example, it contains diagrams to help officers assess the threat posed by a dog based on its "posture, vocalizations and facial expressions," and provides defensive options short of deadly force to avoid encounters with agitated, frightened or aggressive animals.

"They are very preventable, and most wouldn't happen if police knew just a little bit more about dogs," he said.

COPS Director Bernard Melekian, a former Pasadena, Calif., police chief and K-9 officer, wrote in a preface to the report that the number of dogs killed by law enforcement is on the increase and that "officers must advance beyond automatically using their weapons when encountered by a dog."

The report seeks to dispel myths about dogs and dog bites. For instance, despite reports of a "dog-bite epidemic," the number of dog bites has decreased over the past 30 years while canine populations have steadily grown, the report says. In New York City, for example, there were 37,000 reports of dog bites in 1971. In 2009, the number was fewer than 3,600.

At the same time, the majority of police-involved shootings involve animals, mostly dogs. While national numbers are not available, the report contends that statistics kept by cities that track such incidents bear this out.

For example, the report says that nearly three-quarters of the police shootings in Milwaukee, Wis., from 2000 to 2002 involved dogs. Information provided by a number of California law-enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, indicate at least half of the intentional discharges of firearms by police between 2000 and 2005 involved animals, the report says.

Some cities have seen improvements as they've moved toward integrating animal-control and law-enforcement agencies. Last year in New York City, 43 dogs were shot in 36 different incidents, according to the NYPD's 2011 Firearms Discharge Report, which contains a section titled "Animal Attack."

It noted that NYPD officers responded to 28,000 calls for service involving dogs or other animals during the year. Five officers and two civilians were bitten during the shooting incidents, the report says.

The Seattle Police Department requires a Firearms Review Board to convene and formally review any incident involving an officer shooting at a person. However, it allows for a less stringent "summary review" of incidents involving dogs, said Becky Roe, a Seattle attorney and the civilian auditor of the SPD's Firearms Review Board.

Roe said she has not seen a Firearms Review Board report involving a dog shooting in the six years she's held the job, but that she has no information about the summary reviews. Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said he had no information about dog shootings outside the shooting-review process.

King County sheriff's Sgt. Cindi West said it has been difficult for her office to track shootings involving animals, since up until just recently, deputies were not required to write a separate report about such incidents. She said all of the shootings are reviewed by command staff.

"It certainly happens," she said.

As witnessed by the outrage directed at the Des Moines Police Department over the death of Rosie, few incidents can undermine public confidence in a police department faster than the questionable shooting of someone's pet, Cleary said.

"It's not about animal rights. And nobody is questioning an officer's right to protect himself or the public," Cleary said. "But police need to know, to really understand, is that it just doesn't look good."

And it can be expensive. While dogs do not have civil rights, their owners do, and courts have delivered some significant verdicts over the death of a pet.

In perhaps the most noteworthy case, the California cities of San Jose, Gilroy and Santa Clara paid a total of $1.8 million to the families of two Hells Angels whose three pet dogs were shot by police serving a search warrant in a homicide investigation.

North Carolina last year paid a family $77,000 and then passed a law requiring state troopers to receive training in dog behavior after an officer shot Patton, a pit-bull mix that bounded out of a car with a wagging tail after a trooper had pulled the family over on a mistaken report of a robbery. The incident was captured on videotape.