WITH funerals for fallen American soldiers occurring with distressing frequency, we won't disrespect their families' loss by putting the death of a Hancock County police dog in the same category.
But the love a Findlay police officer felt for his "partner" - and family pet - were obvious and sincere at a memorial service Thursday for the city's police dog, Flip.
The animal, a 5-year-old Belgian Malinois, was shot and killed when it wandered away from the Jackson Township home of Findlay police officer Bryon Deeter and on to a neighbor's property.
The Hancock County Sheriff's Office is investigating the shooting of the dog, which, like most K-9 dogs, was considered a "police officer" and an important member of the force. And an expensive one. Police had roughly $15,000 tied up in training and outfitting the dog. Pro football star Ben Roethlisberger, who grew up in Findlay, has already agreed to pay for a replacement police dog for his hometown.
The outpouring of community love for Flip at the memorial service, including from school children who knew him so well, makes it clear: He did not present enough of a threat to warrant a lethal reaction by the neighbor, who is no doubt scorned now and viewed by some in town as a killer.
Ohio law gives a property owner the right to shoot a trespassing dog when it threatens physical harm, but the neighbor's original account to investigators indicated that Flip was not acting in an aggressive manner and instead was simply walking toward him after he yelled at the dog to go away.
The neighbor said he feared the dog might go after his 2 1/2-year-old son, who was with him at the time. But this dog was well trained and very approachable.
If the evidence warrants prosecution, Hancock County authorities should not hesitate. State law prohibits the assault or harassment of a police dog, even if it is not on duty, if the assailant is aware that it's a police animal. The neighbor claims he didn't know Flip was a police dog.
In our view it shouldn't matter.
Certainly Officer Deeter and his family should not have allowed the dog to wander off. But in the absence of overt aggressive behavior, Flip did not deserve to die at the hands of a trigger-happy neighbor.