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Deadly force against dogs: When police kill pets

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Deadly force against dogs: When police kill pets

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Nov 22, 2013

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- Police killing pets. It's often the devastating damage done during crime investigations.

Contact 13's Darcy Spears investigates why it happens and a new push to stem the tide of deadly force against dogs.

Broken bodies, broken families, broken hearts. The aftermath of police killing a pet.

"My mom was the one that called me and told me that they shot one of my dogs," recalls Ed Wheeler.

On September 20th, Wheeler ran home from the corner store in his Henderson neighborhood to see what happened to his dog, Miracle.

"I lost it that night. I was fit to be tied."

North Las Vegas SWAT was helping Henderson Police serve a search warrant on the property next door. Ed says they used a car port behind his yard to secure the area.

"Somebody ran through the yard. And in the process of the chase and the take down, she tried to bite somebody in the face."

She lost her life as a result.

Wheeler says the neighbors at the home where the warrant was served also have a pit bull... And that dog is alive while his is dead.

"Use pepper spray! Use tasers! Even rubber bullets! Their first step should not be lethal force when it comes to dogs."

Miracle was killed by North Las Vegas SWAT.

In another case, a dog named Sandy was killed by North Las Vegas police responding to a domestic violence call.

North Las Vegas Police Officer Chrissie Coon explains, "When officers approached the door, we've got to get in and see what's going on before somebody gets hurt or killed. And in a situation where the dog then advances on the officers, officers even tried to holler in to the home to have the homeowners come and restrain the dog.  And it fell on deaf ears.  Nobody could hear them."

This year alone, North Las Vegas Police shot 9 dogs.  Seven of them died.  Last year, they shot ten dogs and eight of them died.  They also killed one dog with a vehicle and tased another, who lived.

"The numbers of shootings are growing substantially." says Nevada State Senator David Parks.

He's drafting a new Nevada law that would mirror Colorado's Dog Protection Act, which took effect in May.

Sen Parks: Far beyond the SWAT team and their para-military approach to situations, it seems that there's an attitude growing across the country that it's ok to shoot somebody's pet when you enter somebody's property.
Darcy Spears: And you're here to say that's not ok.
Sen. Parks: For me, it's not ok, definitely.

Parks's law would require better training for officers to recognize typical animal behavior and avoid deadly force.

His effort is supported by a national campaign through the U.S. Department of Justice. They produced a series of training videos after finding the majority of police shootings across the country involve dogs.

"You need to be aware when you go through the door, it is a very upsetting thing to the entire family, including the pets.  And the way jurors perceive it is that the dog is literally doing his or her job," says   Liza Franklin, Deputy Corp. Counsel for the City of Chicago in the U.S.D.O.J. video.

More police departments are paying out more money to settle cases over lost family pets.

"Right now we have cases with three different departments. One out of this county. One with Metro and another with North Las Vegas," says Attorney Cal Potter.

Potter says pet owners have a right to be secure that their dogs aren't going to be killed just because the police have been called.

One of his cases involving Louisa Thurston's dogs, Bruno and Blue, dates back to 2007. 

"They shot my babies!  And they had no right to!" Thurston said at the time of the incident.

That case is pending before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Darcy: How do you assuage people's concerns that police are being overly aggressive and not considering the life of an animal when there's a police action taking place?
Officer Chrissie Coon: The very nature of what we do puts us in people's homes.  Puts us in people's backyards with their pets.  It is absolutely not our top priority to come in and do any harm to any of the animals that are there.  But because that's the nature of what we do, there are circumstances that will present themselves where officers are placed in a situation where they don't have a choice but to defend themselves or defend someone else in the community who has called us to be there.  And in those unfortunate situations, dogs might get killed.
 
We'd like to hear your thoughts. Do you think most dog shooting cases are preventable? Do police need more training or are they doing the best they can in each unique circumstance?

Sound off on our Facebook page or email your comments to 13investigates@ktnv.com.

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.