Dog owners lobby for police training to avoid pet shootings


DENVER  — Scar was an 8-year-old bulldog mix who was fatally shot by a police officer pursuing a suspect, even though witnesses said he never left his yard and was not barking or growling.

Kupa was service dog who was shot and killed while a sheriff's deputy was responding to a welfare check on her owner.

And Ava was a German shepherd who had a rawhide treat in her mouth and was turning toward her summoning owner when she was fatally shot by an officer responding to a call.

Dog lovers concerned about recent cases where law enforcement fatally shot people's pets are lobbying Colorado lawmakers on a bill today that would require new training for law enforcement on how to handle canine encounters in the line of duty, an idea that appears to be unique in the country.

Hundreds of dog owners are expected to rally outside the Capitol before the bill is heard before an afternoon hearing at the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill specifically cites canines shot by law enforcement in Colorado, including Scar, Kupa, and Ava.

“I believe that Coloradoans deeply love their dogs and really want us to work hard here at the Capitol to make sure that their dogs are protected,” said Republican Sen. David Balmer, a sponsor of the bill. “I should say our dogs are protected. I've got three dogs myself.”

The proposal would require sheriff and police departments to train deputies and officers on how to recognize dog behaviors and employ nonlethal methods to control them when necessary. The legislation would also direct law enforcement to implement procedures to allow dog owners the option to control or remove their dogs during a non-violent call.

However, the bill also creates exemptions for law enforcement to exercise discretion during calls, taking into account their safety and the safety others in dealing with dogs. Sheriff's deputies assigned to courts or jails are also exempted from the training, as are code enforcement officers.

Balmer said most of the times law enforcement handles situations with dogs correctly, but feels that additional training on canine behaviors could reduce shootings. In the examples cited in the bill, the legislation sponsors say there were questions about whether the dogs actually posed a threat.

The County Sheriffs of Colorado worked on the legislation and support it.

“We just wanted to be part of process. We think our voices were heard,” said Chris Olson, the executive director of the group.

Balmer said the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police is not taking a stance on the bill, but they're not opposing it. They also helped craft the legislation to make sure any concerns were addressed, he said.

Greenwood Village Police Chief John Jackson, who speaks on behalf of the chiefs of police on legislative matters, did not immediately return a call.

Darrel Stephens, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said he's unaware of any state or local government with laws or ordinances requiring training for law enforcement on how to handle dog encounters.

“Unfortunately police officers do shoot dogs from time to time when they feel threatened by a vicious or aggressive dog,” Stephens said. He said that in his experience, dog shootings are rare.

“When they do occur, it is difficult for pet owners to see the circumstances in the same way an officer sees them — understandably they do not see their pet as being aggressive and potentially harmful to an officer,” he said. “It is also difficult for the officers.”

Supporters of the bill say it can make a difference.

“It's going to save a lot of dog's lives,” said Brittany Moore, 30, the owner of Ava. “It's going to save families from going through the tragedy that we went through.”