Weeks after the release of a disturbing viral video showing a dog’s death at the hands of a police officer, the Colorado state Senate has approved legislation designed to prevent dogs from being caught in the line of fire.
Called the “Don’t Shoot My Dog” bill, the new legislation requires police and sheriff’s departments to enroll officers in online training courses so they can better understand dog behavior and recognize whether a dog’s body language is threatening.
At a rally in Colorado, supporters of Senate Bill 226 carried signs that said “Protect our Furr-kids” and “Pro dogs, pro cops, pro 226.” Participants also chanted, “Because we love our dogs,” when bill sponsor Sen. David Balmer (R-Centennial) asked, “Why do we have slobber marks all over the sliding glass doors?” and “Why do we say yes to whatever the vet says it will cost for a procedure?” and “Why have we spent so much time writing this bill?”
The U.S. does not have a national database to record the number of dogs killed by police, so it’s unclear whether “puppycide” by police officers is a growing problem. However, websites such as “Dogs That Cops Killed” and social media groups such as “Dogs Shot by Police” track the incidents. As a result, more instances of police officers shooting and killing Fido are being shared across the nation.
One of the most recent dog shootings to receive national attention was the June 30 killing of 2-year-old Max, a Rottweiller, by the Hawthorne Police Department in California. After Max’s death, the department reported they received more than 10,000 emails. An online petition argued that Max’s owner, Leon Rosby, was illegally arrested and that the dog was shot unjustly by the police officer.
Based on the video and local news reports, Rosby parked his car and took Max, who was on a leash, to an area that was under investigation for an alleged robbery. Rosby asked the officers if he could stay and watch, but he was told he could not.
The video shows Rosby putting Max in the car before being handcuffed and patted down by the police. Since the car windows were rolled down, Max was able to get out and approach Rosby, who was still surrounded by police officers.
Rosby can be heard shouting at Max, “Get in the car,” but Max did not listen. Rosby pleaded with the police not to shoot his dog and asked someone to get Max. An officer can be seen reaching toward Max before the dog lunged at him. That’s when the officer fired four shots at Max, killing him.
In response to the video, outraged Internet users took to the Hawthorne Police Department’s Facebook page to share their opinion about the dog shooting. One person wrote, “I just tried calling these cowardly pricks to ask what they intend to do about the dogslayer. They hung up on me. Go figure. Keep calling until the man is fired.”
An investigation was launched, but department spokesman Scott Swain said it appears that the officer used restraint because he didn’t fire at the dog until it lunged at him. When asked about the four shots, Swain said the officer was trained to fire several shots when using deadly force.
“You’re trying to eliminate the threat,” he said. “We’re not trained to shoot to injure. We’re trained to shoot to eliminate threats. It’s very infrequent, on the shooting range, that we shoot only one time.”
Since tension over the dog’s death was so high, the three officers involved have been put on desk duty. The officers and their families were temporarily moved out of their homes and given 24-hour security.
Mayor Danny Juarez said he had to unplug his home phone at night because people kept calling him about the dog shooting.
“My phone is burning up, it’s unbelievable,” Juarez said. “My family is overwhelmed. They’re tired of this. But people keep calling. We’re getting calls at 3 a.m. and they just want to vent on the phone.”
While some community members have come out in support of the police officers, others have held public protests, demanding justice for Max and other dogs who have been killed by police.
“[Police] should train these officers in how to be better-suited in using non-lethal weapons on animals. There’s so many things these officers could have done prior to using lethal force,” said Andre Harrington, a former Los Angeles County Safety police officer and dog owner who was at the protest for Max.
Harrington suggested officers try a Taser, call animal control or request the owner put the animal back in the car instead of just shooting.
Though California has not passed a law like Colorado’s, Sgt. Joe Romero of the Hawthorne Police Department told Southern California Public Radio they would be open to incorporating a program for their officers on how to deal with dogs.
“You always learn from history and this is one incident that’s at the forefront and we will definitely review all the practices that took place that day and we will try to implement and evaluate what are the best practices,” he said.
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