As the list of news reports of police officers shooting dogs with minimal provocation grows, I've been waiting, in a watching-the motorcyclist-hit-the-oil-slick sort of way, for a person to get drawn in as "collateral damage." A good many dog owners feel a strong, familial emotional bond to their pets. I know that I dropped a wad of cash and a lot of time on my dog, Max, when he tangled with a rattlesnake. A friend of mine called a business trip short, last week, when her pooch needed emergency surgery. I figured it was only a matter of time before a police officer drawing down on Fido triggered a protective reaction. And so it came to pass in Salem, Oregon.
This time, Steven Deleon only took a bullet in the foot when he jumped in, unsuccessfully, to save his "pit bull" (and let me note here that the term "pit bull" seems to be used by officials less as a technical breed name than as a description of any dog they shoot). According to the Salem News:
A Salem Police officer setting out to shoot a pit bull ended up shooting a man who apparently tried to place himself between the gun and the dog.
A Salem Police officer was firing at the pit bull, a spokesman says, when 38-year old Steven Deleon jumped in, apparently trying to intervene in the situation.
The Statesman-Journal reports that "officers had gone to the address to look for a wanted person. Officers Darren Buchholz and Travis Brossard were in the residence speaking with people when they were attacked by the pit bull." This means that the dog's owners were there in the room with the officers when the dog "attacked" them. Rather than let the owners deal with the dog, Officer Darren Buchholz drew his weapon in the midst of those owners and ended up shooting one of them as well as killing the dog.
Admittedly, there's a certain survival-instinct deficit in jumping in front of a firearm that's been drawn in anger. But that's the sort of thing that people do for their loved ones. I honestly don't know if I would do that for one of my dogs, though I suspect I would. I would certainly do it for my wife or son. I'm not surprised that somebody, on the spot, tried to save his pet and took a bullet for his troubles.
Here's a thought: How long will it be before somebody, standing over the body of his cop-shot animal, really loses his temper, with headlines to follow?
Perhaps realizing that matters canine and law-enforcement-ish have slipped out of hand, the Forth Worth, Texas, police department is retraining its officers to deal with dogs in a less permanent fashion. From KHOU:
Trainer Jim Osorio asks for a show of hands in the police auditorium. "How many people here think they can handle a dog encounter without lethal force? I think all of you can," he said.
Osorio, a former cop, tells them there are dogs in about one in three households — nearly 80 million in all. He says officers shoot about 250,000 dogs a year… often needlessly.
"I'm going to train them whatever they carry can be used on an animal," Osario explained. "Clipboard, flare… whatever."
He demonstrated techniques with his own German Shepherd, Coral. She barked angrily when he raised a short baton, then calmed down, reflecting his own calm demeanor as he spoke to her.
Osario said lethal force is the last resort.
The Fort Worth training comes after police shot a Border Collie belonging to Mark and Cindy Boling. The Bolings apparently extracted the new training regimen as a condition of not suing over the video-recorded incident, which occurred when officers mistakenly arrived at their door. That video is played during the classes.