Officer-involved tragedy

On February 8, 2014, a police officer in Idaho shot an off-leash 7-year-old black Lab named Hooch in the front yard of a home where a 9-year-old was having a birthday party. The officer involved in the incident claimed he had previously been hospitalized by a dog bite. This incident was captured via dashcam video. The following column originally appeared in 2013:

Makeshift memorial for Max, a Rottweiler who was shot by police. (Photo credit: Justice for Max the Rottweiler/Facebook)

In early July, in Hawthorne, Calif., a Rottweiler named Max was shot four times while his owner, Leon Rosby, was being arrested. The video footage is excruciating to watch, with the entire three-minute clip leading up to the dog’s violent death.

It left me teary-eyed and wondering “How can we keep this from happening to other dogs?”

Recently, I was pulled over for speeding while absent-mindedly listening to an audiobook and I had my dogs, Lill and Oliver, loose in the backseat. I rolled down the window about three inches and handed the Trooper my license and registration — but in a matter of seconds, he stuck his arm in my car to roll my window down further, simultaneously asking, “Doesn’t this go down further?” I said, “Yes, but I have dogs in here…” He looked back at them with minimal concern (Lill was sleeping and Oliver was intently licking a spot on his blanket where he might have left a kibble a few moons ago) and began to chat with me, windows now down.

I can honestly say if my Cattle Dog Billie had been in the car, the scenario would have been very different. She is highly territorial over “her” car and I fear she would have bitten the officer with little warning. I was more than relieved that she was safe at home that day.

This experience, combined with the tragic recent killing of Max, shows us police officers throughout the country might have years of training in dealing with human crisis, but little — if any — in dealing with dogs that may accompany those humans.

Max was clearly distraught when his owner was arrested, but the officers did not ask him to secure the dog. A minor struggle follows, Max’s distress peaks, he jumps out of the car, and runs to the area where his handcuffed owner is being led away. The officer attempts to catch the loose dog, and frightens him further, inciting the dog to lunge at the officer, and the rest is too graphic to describe. And this is not a rare occurrence: Last month, some of the more high-profile shootings include Kirby, a 13-year-old Cocker Spaniel and Vinny, a German Shepherd, both of which were shot in their own yards in Springfield, Ohio, when officers went to incorrect addresses.

How can we stop this terrifying trend? As owners, we can train our dogs to the best of our ability to sit and stay and always ask if you can secure your dog — whether you are pulled over for speeding, or simply answering the door for an officer. But more important, ask your local police department to work with qualified animal behaviorists to ensure that their officers are trained in how to appropriately deal with pet dogs. Do not let a lack of education in your community be a reason for a dog to get shot.

We are their voices, and we need to make sure that Max, Vinny, and Kirby, did not suffer in vain.