The family that owned two dogs shot and killed by Toledo police said the situation was poorly handled after a child witnessed one of the dogs being shot.
But a department spokesman said officers did what they had to do to protect the boy and to relieve the suffering of a mortally wounded dog.
Police were dispatched about 7 p.m. Wednesday to an anonymous report of two dogs fighting in the backyard of a home in the 1400 block of Beecham Street in South Toledo.
Officers found a wounded dog lying on the ground inside the fenced back yard and 12-year-old Daniel Perez holding a second dog outside of the fence.
A third dog that was not involved in the fight was walking around inside the fence, and the officers called for help from Lucas County Canine Care & Control officers.
Daniel, who was at home with his 10-year-old sister, Elvira Perez, and two of their friends, said someone had knocked on the door to inform them about the skirmish between Duke, a 2½-year-old “pit bull,” and Hemi, a 10-year-old Rhodesian ridgeback mix.
While Hemi and the third dog, a 10-year-old chow chow mix named Chloe, were kept inside an octagonal kennel separate from Duke, the dogs got to each other by breaking through a corner of the kennel.
The family said they do not know what might have started the fight.
Daniel had already broken up the fight twice by pulling Duke away by a leg before police arrived and found him holding the younger dog outside the fence.
Daniel’s mother, Sanjuana Gomez, was at work when her son called to say the dogs were fighting.
“She wanted to talk to the cops, so I went to give the phone to the cops and Duke” broke loose, Daniel said.
The dog forced open the back gate of the fence and went back to attacking Hemi.
Daniel followed, meaning to capture Duke again, when he was ordered back by the police officers.
“The one officer came in with a shotgun and pointed it at Duke’s head. ... They shot Duke right in front of me,” he said. “I was plugging my ears.”
Officers then told Daniel to go inside the house with his sister before they twice shot Hemi, who was severely injured.
The siblings heard the shots, as did Ms. Gomez through the phone that had been dropped on the floor.
“I remember hearing one of the cops telling the other cop to take the shot, then a second later to take another shot,” Ms. Gomez said.
Sgt. Joe Heffernan, Toledo Police Department spokesman, said officers are allowed to shoot aggressive animals to eliminate an immediate threat to public safety.
He said the officers shot Duke to protect Daniel.
“That dog could have turned on the child,” Sergeant Heffernan said. “It had already mortally wounded the one dog.”
The officers then determined Hemi likely would not survive his injuries and shot him to put the dog out of its misery, as allowed by department policy.
Sergeant Heffernan said a supervisor was on the scene to OK that action.
“There’s no reason to have an animal needlessly suffer when they’re going to die anyway,” he said.
A county canine control officer arrived on the scene after the dogs had been shot and took Chloe into custody.
“We lost all three dogs in one day,” Ms. Gomez said.
Ms. Gomez said her partner, James Good, has had Hemi and Chloe since they were puppies and the pair has a strong bond.
They were kept outside in the kennel.
Mr. Good was visibly distraught and declined to comment, but showed a Blade reporter and photographer a cell-phone photo of the dead dogs that police left uncovered in a large pool of blood.
The shotgun shells also were left behind.
“You would think they would at least cover them,” Ms. Gomez said, adding that she and Mr. Good took the two dogs to be cremated on Thursday.
Sergeant Heffernan said cleanup is the responsibility of the owners, even when officers shoot dogs.
The family got Duke when he was about 5 months old and kept him inside the house separate from Hemi and Chloe, who preferred each other’s company to that of other dogs.
Ms. Gomez said the officers should have attempted to break up the fight, though she acknowledged the officers would likely be concerned for their safety in doing so.
“I would be scared if I saw two stranger’s dogs fighting,” she said.
Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp said his office also may shoot an aggressive dog that is posing an immediate threat to officers or others.
“If possible, we will get the written consent of the owner to put the dog down,” he said. “But if that’s not an option, we will do what we have to.”
Except in the case of wild deer, the sheriff’s office typically follows an internal policy of contacting the Toledo Area Humane Society to determine if an injured animal should be killed.
Gary Willoughby, Humane Society executive director, said he welcomes those calls. But he noted the rescue group does not have officers on call for after-hours incidents such as Wednesday’s.
“That’s a tough call to have to make,” Mr. Willoughby said. “It sounds like a sad situation all the way around.”
Chloe was seized and is being held at the county shelter pending a possible investigation by the humane society for animal cruelty. While Hemi and Duke appeared to be in good body condition, Chloe is skinny and has a tumor hanging off a front leg.
Ms. Gomez said all the dogs were fed regularly, though she said Chloe has a tendency to throw up her food and lose weight in the cold weather before gaining it back when the temperatures rise. She said the family had been saving up money to take the dog to a veterinarian.
“I do want her back, but I don’t know how she’s going to be without Hemi,” Ms. Gomez said. “They’ve been together this whole time.”
As of Thursday evening, the humane society had not received information about the case but was aware of the matter.
Staff at the county shelter indicated the information would be forwarded soon.
Daniel said he is doing OK after having witnessed part of the gruesome scene at his house.
“I just couldn’t sleep [Wednesday],” he said.
Elvira, who did not see what happened but heard the shots, likewise indicated she is coping.