Colorado dog owners push for police training to stop tragic shootings

Police officers often have mere seconds to make some very difficult life or death decisions — it’s just the nature of the job. Sadly, sometimes these split-second decisions result in the death of a beloved family dog, and all because the officer responding to a call did not properly interpret the dog’s behavior before using deadly force.

Ava, a German Shepherd, was shot by Colorado police in 2011; her owners filed a lawsuit against the town for incident.

That is precisely what Coloradoan Brittany Moore believes happened in the shooting death of her German Shepherd, Ava, in 2011. Ava was holding a rawhide chew in her mouth when she was fatally wounded by a police officer responding to a call.

While dog shootings are rare, says Executive Director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association Darrel Stephens, they do happen.

“Unfortunately police officers do shoot dogs from time to time when they feel threatened by a vicious or aggressive dog,” Stephens explains. “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.”

But it is also difficult for a police officer. When there is a lack of formal training on dog behavior and canine body language, it can be hard for a responding officer to tell whether or not a dog is acting aggressively.

It is a complicated issue nationwide, and the state of Colorado is poised to become the first state to try and come up with a balanced legislative solution.

“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,” Senator David Balmer (R-Centennial) tells Denver’s ABC 7 News. “I should say our dogs are protected. I’ve got three dogs myself.”

That’s why Senator Balmer and his colleague Senator Lucia Guzman (D-Denver) are co-sponsoring Senate Bill 226, also known as the Dog Protection Act.

Under this proposed legislation, police officers would be required to attend a two-hour course that specifically deals with dog behavior. An annual refresher course would be mandatory as well. Departments would have to create policies and procedures on how to deal with dogs, and would have to allow the dog owner to try and handle their pet before the officer escalates a response. Use of deadly force would become only a last resort.

This is the first government measure nationwide meant to curb the incidence of law enforcement officers using deadly force against family pets. Senate Bill 226 is earning a lot of support from legislators on both sides of the aisle, the Denver Post reports.

Senator Balmer is quick to point out that this legislation was not created to punish any police officers involved in the shootings of family pets; rather, he hopes by adding the proper training, police officers and pets will be protected.

“We understand the pressures and dangers our law enforcement officers face on a daily basis. We know the last thing an officer wants to do is kill a family dog,” Senator Balmer tells KDVR FOX 31 News. “By undergoing this training, officers will be able to distinguish between frightened or threatening dog behaviors and react accordingly without resorting to deadly force.”

Colorado dog owners and supporters of Senate Bill 226 are descending on the state capital Wednesday afternoon for a rally just before the proposed legislation will be heard before the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee at 1:30 p.m. Senator Balmer is confident that the bill will make a difference for both pet owners and the law enforcement community.

“We think the bill strikes the right balance,” he says. “It is very respectful of law enforcement, but it is intended to safeguard our beloved dogs.”

Senate Bill 226 has been a long time coming, says Brittany Moore, who thinks of her late dog Ava everyday. “It’s going to save a lot of dog’s lives,” Moore says of the bill. “It’s going to save families from going through the tragedy that we went through.”

Sources: ABC 7 News, Denver Post, KDVR FOX 31 News