No longer will the police officers of Colorado be allowed to kill family dogs as a line of first defense.
By a vote of 64-0, the State House in Colorado yesterday passed bill SB226 requiring police officers to take mandatory canine behavioral training. The bill, dubbed the Dog Protection Act, is now on its way for Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper to sign. It passed the Colorado Senate on April 3.
Colorado is the first state in the nation to pass legislation requiring law enforcement officers to attend mandatory training on canine behavior.
The legislation was spurred by an incident involving a 3-year-old dog named Chloe. Chloe was staying with a relative while her owner, Gary Branson, was out of town. She escaped through an open door. A neighbor called police who cornered her in a garage, caught her on a catch pole, at which point an officer shocked her with a taser, then shot her five times.
The police claimed the dog was aggressive, but a neighbor caught the incident on cell phone video. Looking at the tape one can’t escape the conclusion that the dog was wary of being menacingly cornered by multiple strangers and only tried to escape the situation.
The officer who shot the dog, Robert Price, is facing a felony charge of aggravated cruelty to animals.
Branson said he still hasn’t been able to watch the video.
Researching the legislation, the bill’s sponsors, Senators Lucia Guzman, a Democrat, and David Balmer, a Republican, discovered that Colorado officers had shot and killed 37 dogs in the last five years. Many of the dogs shot were beloved pet, service and companion, sporting and working dogs, most which were docile and well-trained and had no history of threatening behavior. In many of the cases the dogs were shot despite not exhibiting any signs of aggression. Guzman and Balmer believe the training will help officers identify canine behaviors and learn how to use alternatives to lethal force.
Two other high profile Colorado cases helped push the measure along:
In Erie, Colorado, Brittany Moore called for police help after receiving a threatening phone call. Officer Jamie Chester responded to the home and then wound up shooting and killing the family dog, Ava. “The dog was coming at me and had lunged at me,” Chester said, “I felt like it was attempting to bite me.”
The shot severed Ava’s spinal cord and disabled the dog’s legs. Moore said she wasn’t permitted to be with Ava as the dog slowly died.
The Boulder County District Attorney found that Chester had a reasonable fear he would be seriously injured and cleared him in the shooting. Moore has sued Chester and the town of Erie in federal court over the incident. “Their findings are incorrect,” said Moore’s attorney, Jennifer Edwards, with The Animal Law Center. “We have a number of witnesses that say the exact opposite of what those findings say.” The family released a video and has three witnesses who say Ava did not show any aggressive behavior toward the officer at any time. On the video, taken moments after the shooting, you can hear a man say, “It was the kindest, gentlest … that dog was. Really have no idea what that was all about.” No ruling has been made in the case yet.
In Adam’s County, Colorado, Jeff Fisher watched as a deputy shot and killed his dog Ziggy in front of his workshop after the deputy entered the wrong building while responding to a burglary alarm. “Ziggy ran past the police officer at the door and he just wanted to see who it was and the police officer shot him three times,” Fisher told 7NEWS reporter Amanda Kost. “He killed my dog for no reason, no reason at all.”
Police departments usually claim such shootings are justified because the officer felt threatened by the animal. But an officer’s perception doesn’t always mean the animal actually was a threat. The “tact squad” mentality that seems to have infected many cops nowadays and may be contributing to their eagerness to pull the trigger, is being exposed by Websites such as: “Dogs That Cops Killed“, and the Facebook group “Dogs Shot by Police“. The incidents described on these sites can break your heart.
In Austin, Texas, Michael Paxton was playing fetch in his backyard with his Australian Cattle dog Cisco when a police officer pulled into the driveway in response to a 911 call regarding a domestic dispute. Again, the officer had the wrong house. When Paxton left the yard to get something from his truck, the officer confronted him. Cisco ran around from the back, toward the officer. The officer simultaneously ordered Paxton to put his hands up then shot the dog. The officer claimed he was defending himself from the dog. Paxton said that isn’t true. “The dog ran to his feet, he lowered his aim and shot the dog and raised his aim back up at me and told me to get back,” Paxton said. “My dog never made a move to attack him other than challenging him and barking. He ran to his feet.” Paxton has created a Facebook page called “Justice for Cisco.”
In the Seattle suburb of Des Moines, Charles and Dierdre Wright’s dog Rosie was shot and killed by police responding to a report of a loose dog in the neighborhood. The neighbor who called was concerned that Rosie might get hurt. The Wrights were out of town and the 4-year-old dog somehow got out of their yard. Over the course of about an hour, the officers twice used a Taser on Rosie, chased her for blocks and ultimately shot her four times with an assault rifle in a stranger’s backyard.
The Colorado bill requires police departments to adopt policies and procedures for dealing with dogs, including allowing owners to first try to handle the pet. Officers must initially go through a two-hour course, then a one-hour refresher course annually. The bill includes exceptions for using force, such as when police are responding to a dangerous dog call or violent crime.
“We think the bill strikes the right balance,” Balmer said. “It is very respectful of law enforcement, but it is intended to safeguard our beloved dogs.” He hopes the training will help police understand the difference between a barking dog and a dangerous dog. “Landscaping companies, delivery companies—they deal with dogs all the time, and they don’t shoot dogs,” Balmer said.