Incidents in which police officers have shot dogs while on duty have made plenty of news in these parts. Note the November killing of a pooch named Chloe, which resulted in felony charges against Commerce City Officer Robert Price -- an incident that contributed to passage of legislation mandating dog-related police training. But this new law couldn't save Sara, a dog shot by a Thornton police officer near her home earlier this month. And her owners' attorney isn't buying the rationale for the act.
"I have a hard time believing Sara did anything overly aggressive," says Jennifer Edwards of the Animal Law Center, which has represented clients in several high-profile cases of police shooting dogs. "The stories of the dog lunging and baring its teeth and attempting to bite are just a farce."
Here's how Edwards characterizes what happened on June 18 in a Thornton mobile-home neighborhood.
"The owners of the dog were at home and Sara, a three-year-old mixed-breed dog, got out and went across the street to a little girl who was with her dog," she recounts. "As I understand it, the little girl got frightened and went inside and told someone and police were called and responded, and they cornered Sara up against a fence. There are reports that she was cowering -- and then they shot her."
This account differs significantly from the one Thornton Police Department spokesman Officer Matt Barnes shared with 7News. According to him, the male caller who contacted police said Sara, described in the 7News piece as a seventy-pound pit bull, tried to attack the ten-year-old child mentioned by Edwards, and when he attempted to rescue her, the dog went after him, too. Responding officers were attempting to take Sara into custody using a catch pole when she charged at one of them, prompting him to fire his gun in self-defense.
This doesn't sound like the dog the owners described to Edwards. "They characterize her as very patient," she allows. "They have a nine-month-old child, and being a mother myself -- and going into my ninth month of pregnancy on my second child -- your dog needs to be pretty tolerant of eye poking and a number of things. And she hasn't shown any aggressive tendencies. She's been very, very gentle, very good. And no one's reporting a bite, a scratch or even a slobber mark from Sara on the day in question."
What happened next? "The police didn't immediately allow the owners to take Sara to a vet," Edwards maintains. "They laid her body in the back of the police cruiser, and the owners had to convince them to get her help."
Continue for more about the incident, including additional photos and a document. In the end, Sara was given medical attention, Edwards goes on, "but the gunshot had so severely damaged her that she had to be euthanized after needlessly suffering for a very long period of time."
More investigation needs to be done to determine the details of the event, and a necropsy of Sara is pending. Nonetheless, Edwards is concerned that the shooting may indicate the sort of shoot-first mentality when it comes to dogs that she feels is endemic at police departments across the country. As noted by the Denver Post, the shooting is the second of its kind in Thornton over the span of a year. Last August, an eight-year-old bulldog mix named Scar was shot by an officer pursuing a suspect.
Adds Edwards: "Sara's owners asked the police who shot their dog if something like this had ever happened before, and the officers said no -- which was a lie."
Thus far, no lawsuit has been filed in the case, but Edwards is calling for "the preservation of all the evidence. We're pursuing a thorough investigation. We want real, scientific answers, not just speculation and lies about what happened. And I can tell you, in each of the cases we've handled either in Colorado or on a national level where dogs were fatally wounded, the police officers' stories haven't matched up with the science."
In the meantime, Edwards sees the shooting as more proof that the aforementioned law -- Senate Bill 13-226, known as the Dog Protection Act -- was necessary.
"I've been appointed to the task force that will develop the training for the Dog Protection Act," she says, "and I hope we see some very positive results after training is put in place and officers are trained to deal with these situations in a much more humane and more reasonable manner."
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Here's the text of the Dog Protection Act.
More from our News archive: "Officer Robert Price faces animal cruelty felony charges for shooting Chloe the dog."