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Of Dogs and Men: Documentary examines epidemic of dog shootings by police officers

A new documentary brings attention to an epidemic that really needs some — the shooting of dogs by police officers in America.

Anyone who reads this website knows it happens far too much — take Tuesday, for example — and often without good reason.

There are no firm statistics, but consider the estimates: The Department of Justice says about 10,000 dogs are shot by police officers every year.

And the number of police officers killed by dogs? None. Ever.

The documentary “Of Dogs and Men” takes a look at those alarming numbers, and what’s behind them, featuring many of the same cases we’ve reported here:

• Cisco, who was playing Frisbee with his owner in his Austin, Texas back yard when police at the wrong address for a domestic dispute call, shot and killed him.

• Payton and Chase, who were shot by police during a raid on a Maryland home – not only was their owner innocent of any charges, he is the town’s mayor.

• General Patton, who watched as his owners were handcuffed on the side of a Tennessee highway, completely innocent of any charges, and then killed as he exited the car, wagging his tail.

• Patches, a 12 pound Jack Russell terrier, who was shot by a 250-pound police officer who claimed to be in fear for his life.

“From SWAT raids to simple calls and even visits to wrong addresses, we are seeing more and more incidents of officers using lethal force against a family pet, despite the fact that no officer has ever been killed in the line of duty by a dog,” said director Michael Ozias. “We are hoping that this film compels more jurisdictions to follow the lead of states like Texas and Colorado that have taken steps to protect our law enforcement officers and our family dogs through increased awareness, proper training and effective policy.”

Of Dogs and Men, by Ozymandias Media, Inc., will premier Nov. 1 at the Austin Film Festival.

The film is being released in association with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF).

“Use of deadly force is rarely justified in these types of cases,” said ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells. “With better training, we are confident that we can put an end to these pointless killings,”

“Of Dogs and Men does an excellent job educating citizens on both the common facts of these heartbreaking cases and the surprising scope of the problem, while highlighting the tools citizens can employ to change outcomes for the better—from legislation requiring officer training in canine encounters to litigation under the federal civil rights act,” Wells added. “This film needed to be made and ALDF is proud to be a part of it.”

Some states are headed in the right direction.

Texas, where the problem is perhaps most severe, passed HB 593 in 2015, which requires mandatory canine encounter training for incoming Texas peace officers as well as those who seek advancement. The training helps officers who encounter dogs achieve safe and non-confrontational outcomes for both the officer and the dog.

The State of Colorado also enacted a statute that requires local law enforcement to undergo training to differentiate between threatening and non-threatening dog behaviors, and employ non-lethal means whenever possible.

Illinois has enacted similar legislation and other states are considering it as well.

You’d almost think dog lives don’t matter

No dog has ever killed a police officer in the line of duty.

And yet police officers, in the line of duty, shoot about 10,000 dogs a year in America, according to Department of Justice estimates.

One of the latest fatalities in the epidemic was Duchess, shot down Tuesday by an officer who acted quickly, if not wisely.

Within the space of about two seconds, a Florida City police officer determined the dog running out a front door he had knocked on was a threat and shot him three times.

The 40-pound pit bull mix died almost instantly as a surveillance camera recorded the incident.

Gillian Palacios said her two-year-old dog ran out of the front door when she started to open it.

The officer had knocked on the door to let the family know their car door was open.

“Before I could even do anything, the officer had his gun out and shot her three times in the head,” she told WPLG.

“She was curious. She wasn’t barking (and) she wasn’t growling,” Palacios said. “There was no reason for him to think she was aggressive in any way.”

“There were a million things he could have done other that shoot her three times in the head,” she added.

The officer has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.

Florida City police spokesman Ken Armenteros defended the officer’s actions.

“We don’t have the luxury of hindsight,” Armenteros said. “We have to use the information that is given to us in a split second. So, the officer has to make that decision with the information that he has available.”

What about the luxury of foresight, though, we’d ask?

What about a mandatory program that trains all of a police force’s officers in canine behavior, how to interpret it, how to deal with it and how to make their split second decisions a little more wisely, a little less rashly?

All state legislatures should require such training, all police forces should get it in place. Only then will the “shoot first” mentality, and the thinking that dog lives don’t matter, begin to subside.

(Tomorrow: A look at a new documentary that explores the epidemic, “Of Dogs and Men.”)

Why not just drive off, cable guy?

cleoOut of Monroe County, Michigan, comes the story of a cable guy who shot and killed a “threatening” dog while on duty.

We’ve come to expect this behavior from police officers, and regularly bash them for making snap judgments to end a life because a dog is running towards them in what they perceive — sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly — to be an aggressive manner.

But possibly even scarier than that is the idea of a cable guy who is toting a gun, and  making that judgment.

In this case, Martel Travis had arrived at a home when he was approached by Cleo, a three-year-old chocolate Lab mix who lived next door.

Travis told police, after the incident, that the dog was acting aggressively, so he walked away from the home and to his service truck, where he retrieved his gun and shot the dog.

We can’t help but ask, once he was back in his truck, why didn’t he just drive away?

Is installing cable so important that gunning down a dog is preferable to coming back another day, perhaps one when the neighbors have been called and asked to keep their dog inside?

To consider this a killing that occurred in the “line of duty” is a joke.

But somehow, a jury saw clear to acquit him of the charge the prosecutor’s office filed  – animal killing/ torturing, a felony that carries a maximum penalty of four years in prison.

The Monroe News reports that the jury deliberated about an hour before rendering their verdict.

“This has revived my faith in the criminal justice system,” said Marlon B. Evans, the Detroit lawyer who represented Travis. “… He was at work, doing his job and he had a right to defend himself.”

Monroe County Assistant Prosecutor Ronald Benore Jr. called six witnesses to testify in the one and a half day trial, and argued that Travis overreacted and shot the dog unnecessarily.

“The jury must have believed he was in fear of his life or in danger,” Benore said.

The dog’s owners, Brian and Melissa Doran, said they were shocked at the verdict.

Cleo was never aggressive and was merely trying to greet Travis, they added.

We won’t second guess the jury (much), but we will second guess the cable guy:  Once he returned to his vehicle to get his gun (which he has a license to carry), why didn’t he just remain inside and make a call, or drive off?

(Photo courtesy of the Doran family)

Dog in Montana shot while in owner’s arms


A dog in Montana took a bullet intended for his owner — a bartender in Hamilton who had apparently offended a customer earlier in the night.

Joe Lewis, 29, who cuts wood and serves drinks at the Rainbow Bar for a living, returned home from work early Saturday and carried his pit bull, Jackson, outside. The dog had recently had a toe removed and was wearing a cast.

While he was holding the dog four shots rang out.

The first hit the dog in the head. The second hit Lewis in the ribs and exited his back. He was treated at a hospital and released. His pit bull died. Lewis’ brother, Mike, said the first bullet would likely have struck Lewis in the head had he not been carrying the dog.

According to The Missoulian, Lewis had an altercation with a customer earlier in the evening. The customer ordered a “red beer” and became angry because it contained Clamato juice (rather than the more traditional tomato juice), which he said was contrary to his religion, Judaism.

According to court records, the customer, who is also a neighbor of Lewis, told another neighbor that he was going to retaliate and kill Lewis.

Monte Hanson, 59, has been charged with attempted deliberate homicide and animal cruelty,

lewisandjacksonMike Lewis said his brother was recovering at home but was “pretty broken up about his dog …Anyone who knows him knows he’s not your average animal guy. He takes his animals very, very seriously.”

Lewis’ family has started a GoFundMe campaign to help with expenses and buy another dog. By yesterday it had raised $3,200.

“Jackson was a purebred red-nose pit,” Mike Lewis said. “Those dogs are not easy to come by.”

(Photos courtesy of Lewis family)

Deeming its behavior aggressive, Texas man shoots pit bull three times at dog park


A man who shot a pit bull he thought was behaving too roughly with his dog at a Texas dog park was briefly detained but released by Harris County sheriff’s deputies.

Deputies were called to the Bay Area Dog Park in Pasadena Sunday after the pit bull, named Dieisel, was shot — reportedly three times.

The man said he was defending himself and his dog, but witnesses interviewed by news organizations afterwards said the pit bull was only playing roughly with the man’s dog and at no point seemed aggressive.

The two-year-old pit bull was taken to a veterinary hospital, where, due to the severity of his injuries — a shattered front leg and two bullet wounds to the back —  he was put down, Click2Houston reported.

The man told investigators the pit bull was trying to attack his dog, and he was afraid it would turn on him. Witnesses said he kicked the pit bull first, then drew his weapon, firing at least three times.

“His dog was not in danger… He was not in danger,” one witness said. “I don’t understand how they are not pressing charges. I witnessed everything. No one was in danger.”

“I just can’t believe somebody would do that when the dog wasn’t even being aggressive,” said another.

The man, who authorities declined to identify, told others at the dog park that he had a concealed carry permit for the weapon, witnesses said.

Deputies initially placed him handcuffs, witnesses said, but he was later freed.

The Harris County District Attorney’s office said reports saying it was declining to prosecute the man were incorrect, and that detectives have been asked to investigate the case.

(Photo: KPRC in Houston)

Tasered dog walker awarded $50,000


Remember that California man who was shot with a stun gun by a National Park Service ranger who stopped him for walking his dogs off leash?

Gary Hesterberg may not have been entirely in the right when he sassed the park ranger and refused to give her his name, but the ranger was definitely in the wrong when she zapped him with her stun gun when he tried to leave the scene, a federal judge has ruled.

Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley ruled that Ranger Sarah Cavallaro used unlawful and unreasonable force, and she awarded Hesterberg $50,000 in damages for physical and mental suffering, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The incident unfolded on the afternoon of Jan. 29, 2012, when Hesterberg, 50, of Montara took his two dogs on a hike in the Rancho Corral de Tierra open space. Both dogs — a beagle named Jack and a rat terrier named JoJo — had been there many times before, and often walked unleashed.

While the Rancho had always had rules that dogs be kept on-leash, they’d never been too heavily enforced.

But when the land was acquired by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the park service made plans to change that, and ranger Cavallaro had been assigned to start spreading the word that day that stricter enforcement was coming.

When Cavallaro stopped Hesterberg to talk to him about the new rules, the conversation grew heated. Hesterberg said in court that he gave the ranger a fake last name because he didn’t “want to be placed on some offending dog walker … list.”

Hesterberg questioned Cavallaro’s authority and told the ranger he was leaving. She pointed her stun gun at him and told him to stay put.

When Hesterburg turned to leave. Cavallaro fired, hitting him in the back and buttocks. He was arrested on suspicion of failing to obey a lawful order, keeping dogs off-leash and providing false information, but San Mateo County prosecutors declined to file charges.

In her ruling, the judge found that Hesterberg, though uncooperative, never posed an immediate threat to Cavallaro, and that the circumstances didn’t justify the ranger’s use of force.

(Photo: San Francisco Chronicle)

Idaho officer violated policy when he shot dog through van window, review says

arfee2Two investigations have concluded that an Idaho police officer used unnecessary force when he shot a dog who lunged at him as he snuck up to a van’s partially open window.

Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White said an internal review found that the shooting of Arfee by officer Dave Kelly — the bullet went through the window glass —was unjustified.

A separate Use of Deadly Force Review Board unanimously concluded that Kelley’s actions “were in violation of the department policies reviewed.”

Officer Kelly remains on duty, though, and city officials aren’t saying what disciplinary action, if any, he might face, according to the  Associated Press

“An argument can be made that Officer Kelley’s decision to shoot was reasonable when the dog lunged through the partially open window mere inches away from his face and throat,” White said. “However, given the totality of the circumstances, the use-of-force reviews found Officer Kelley’s use of force to be out of policy in this incident.”

The department initially reported that an officer shot and killed a “vicious pit bull” that lunged at him from inside a van on July 9 — but later corrected the breed. Arfee was a lab mix. Kelly was not identified by name by the department until last week.

The dog’s owner, Craig Jones, had left Arfee parked in the shade with the windows partly open while he went to a coffee shop.

City Attorney Mike Gridley declined to comment on whether any disciplinary action would be taken against Kelley, who has 17 years of law enforcement experience, the last seven with the Coeur d’Alene Police Department.

Officer Kelley, in an incident report filed immediately after the incident, said the van was being checked due previous reports in the area of a person in a similar van trying to entice children. He said he drew his weapon as he approached the driver’s side door of the van.

“I was at the driver’s side door/window, when suddenly I saw a black dog’s head and neck lunge through the open window,” Kelley wrote. “The dog was aggressively barking and growling, and its mouth was within inches of my face. I had the split second thought that this dog is going to bite me, and bite me immediately.”

The use-of-force investigation said that, even if Arfee’s head was outside the window, Kelley’s response — firing a bullet, that went through the window glass — was not reasonable.

“Officer Kelley, a seasoned officer of over 15 years of experience, was in an open parking lot with an open business, in the middle of the day, with citizens around and (another) officer … on the other side of the van. This was a case where Officer Kelley did not have anything behind him to prevent him from gaining distance,”  police Lt. Robert Turner wrote in the report.

Police Chief White said the shooting has shaken the community’s confidence in the police department, but added, “… The relationship between our community and our department will ultimately be strengthened as a direct result of how we respond to the situation and how we improve our agency to prevent similar situations from occurring.”

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