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Thursday, Apr 24, 2003County: Stutsman
Disposition: Not Charged
Person of Interest: name undisclosed
Police Chief Dave Donegan said two police officers had responded to a residence at 1800 block Seventh Ave. N.W. to help an elderly man who had fallen and needed assistance getting up. After they completed that call and left the residence, a man came down the street who lived in the area and said a dog was in his yard that had chased him and forced him to go hide in a storage shed to get away from it. The dog was a large, black Labrador-Retriever cross.
"They (officers) were out there – just looking for it," Donegan said. Donegan said the described dog came around the corner of a nearby mobile home.
"The officer first tried to coax the dog to him," Donegan said. The officer got down on his haunches and attempted to get the dog to come to him, but it didn't move, he said.
The officer got up, turned to walk away, and noticed out of the corner of his eye that the dog was coming at him. "It was growling, coming at him," Donegan said. "So he pulled out his firearm and discharged it into the dog."
The dog was wounded in the shoulder, Donegan said. As the officer was backing away, the animal stopped, then came at the officer again, Donegan said. The officer fired twice more, striking the dog in the shoulder and the head.
"It just totally caught him (officer) off guard," Donegan said. "The officer feels very badly about what happened," Donegan said. "But he felt he was going to be attacked by a large dog."
He said the officer wasn't there initially to look into a dog complaint. "But it happened so suddenly – it was just seconds," Donegan said. "He'd seen this dog coming at him – it was a split-second decision."
The dog was not on its owners' property at the time of the shooting, Donegan said. It was an unlicensed dog, but was current in rabies vaccinations, he said.
Lisa and Chad Davis owned Duffer, the dog that was killed. Lisa Davis said the dog wasn't aggressive in nature and she feels the policeman's actions weren't necessary. She believes other means could have been used to detain Duffer rather than shooting him.
"He was not aggressive in the least," she said. She said he was a playful 2-year-old dog and thought perhaps the man who reported the dog to police "just obviously doesn't know anything about dogs."
She said Duffer, a dog that weighed an estimated 75 pounds, was normally inside or kept inside their home or a fenced-in yard.
"The dog had gotten out of the house because my youngest (5-year-old) daughter let him out of the house," she said.
She said she and her three children – ages 12, 6 and 5 – got into the family van to go look for Duffer. They were driving in the van when a woman in another vehicle stopped.
"I asked if she'd seen a black dog and she said, 'Well, they just shot a black dog,'" Davis said. The children and Davis saw Duffer lying on the ground.
"I feel that there were other means they could have taken to detain my dog," she said. "They didn't have to kill it. They could have used a billy club or stun gun."
Donegan said officers do not carry billy clubs or stun guns. They do, however, carry pepper spray. Davis described Duffer as a friendly 2-year-old dog that crawled under the blankets at night to sleep with her 12-year-old daughter.
"My 5-year-old would ride on his back," she said. "He was beautiful. He went everywhere with my husband. He fetched. He played." Donegan said neighbors also said the dog's nature was friendly.
Davis said she had to go to the the hospital later that night after the shooting because she had cried so long she was throwing up. She said her children are devastated.
"My son woke up in the middle of the night screaming," she said. "He always wanted to be a police officer" but he doesn't understand why a policeman would kill her dog, she said.
She's also not satisfied with explanations on why the shooting occurred. She said a diagram police gave her shows her dog was 15 feet away from the officer.
"They're acting as though they had no time to think and yet he was 15 feet away," she said. "How could a dog be attacking someone when they're 15 feet away from them?"
Donegan said the diagram was not a depiction of where the dog was at the time of the shooting, but of the end result. He said the the man who approached officers about being chased by the dog and hiding in his storage shed told them the same dog had come after him the week before, and the officer said the dog was behaving aggressively when it was killed.
Bill Hoherz, a neighbor in the area, said he didn't know the dog well but he had returned a ball to the Davis' on Easter Sunday that had gone over their fence when the children were playing. He said he patted the dog, which was friendly and appeared to want to go with him, even though it didn't know him.
He was home Thursday night when the shooting occurred. He said his wife heard a shot and children screaming.
"She said 'somebody's shooting,'" he said. He said he saw the officer shoot twice, estimating the dog was 6 to 8 feet away from the officer at that time, although he said he did not actually see the dog.
"I think he scared the cop," Hoherz said, "and he (officer) shouldn't have been there in the first place." He thought the claim the neighbor made that the dog was aggressive was "silly" and said animal control should have been called instead.
Donegan said the animal control officer doesn't work 24 hours a day. Officers answer dog calls when the animal control officer is not on duty, although he noted the officers weren't on a dog call at the time it happened.
The Davises have five other dogs, three which live outdoors in a heated/air conditioned building and two which live indoors.
"It was our fault, our responsibility that led to our dog getting out of our house," Davis said. "I accept that responsibility. But I think the officer that shot our dog did not act appropriately," following some form of protocol.
"I think the officer could have found some other means to restrain (him)," she said. "I feel the officer caused more of a dangerous situation by using his firearm than the dog."
Donegan said the shooting remains under investigation. He said reports will be reviewed and interviews conducted before any decision is made on whether further investigation is needed. He said he did not recall the last time or if officers had to shoot a dog under similar circumstances.
"The thing is, this happened very suddenly," Donegan said. "They didn't know what they were getting into with this dog."
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