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Four bullets and a pit bull

City Sage

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Letter carriers, delivery people, vets and dog owners understand dog behavior. They understand that few dogs are naturally aggressive, that police and military dogs have to be taught to bite. They understand that when a dog runs toward you as you approach his/her territory, the dog is likely harmless and in any case easily deterred.

Armed police officers may think differently. If a dog shows any hint of aggression, an officer can shoot Fido and get away with it, claiming that he/she sensed "imminent danger" from the unfortunate mutt.

And if you think such killings are rare, think again. In the last five years, there have been more than 30 dog shootings by local law enforcement officers in Colorado.

The Colorado Dog Protection Act, which becomes effective in 2015, will require that cops offer owners an opportunity to save their dog if the officer is responding to a nonviolent call. A volunteer task force will create a three-hour training webinar at no cost to the state, which bored cops will be required to watch.

On Aug. 30, Josh Burch, an Army staff sergeant who reportedly suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, was dozing in his southeast Colorado Springs driveway at 4 a.m. It was hot; Burch says he hadn't been able to sleep, so he walked outside and lay down next to his dog, a young female pit bull.

A police car pulled up, screeched to a halt, and two Colorado Springs officers jumped out. The dog, whether alarmed, friendly or curious, moved toward them. One officer drew her gun and squeezed off four rounds.

Three of them hit the dog, killing her. One shot apparently ricocheted off the pavement into Burch's house, piercing an upstairs window and narrowly missing Burch's 1-year-old son.

What happened subsequently is in dispute.

Burch says that the two officers grabbed him, dragged him face-down to the police cruiser, and handcuffed him. After 10 minutes they released him. Later, he was cited for "failure to control" an animal.

The officers involved say that the "staggering" Burch was asked to control his dog several times before the fatal shooting, but failed to do so.

Asked about the incident, Police Chief Pete Carey tells Independent reporter Pam Zubeck that police were responding to a call for service in the street in front of that home, but he won't specify what the call was. He does say, "Any time the Police Department uses lethal force, there's an administrative review. I take that seriously."

He also acknowledges that people in various professions deal with "aggressive dog situations." But, he says, "The mission of the Police Department might be different than someone delivering something. [Delivery people] might be able to back away and leave."

Regardless, such tragic incidents need to stop. Last Tuesday, Alysabeth Clements Mosley appeared before City Council to talk about the events of Aug. 30, and to suggest ways to avoid such confrontations in the future.

Clements and her husband Dylan Mosley own three rescued pit bulls. She says that pit bulls are the most frequent target of police bullets, because many people believe that the breed is inherently vicious.

According to Clements, this belief, which has prompted ordinances banning pit bull ownership in many American cities, is utterly irrational. She doesn't think that forcing officers to watch a video will be enough.

"They need to work with actual dogs," she says, "and understand when and in what circumstances a dog can be dangerous. Staked dogs, penned dogs — they can be worrisome. But dogs off-leash are usually easy to control."

Jeffrey Justice, who also spoke before Council, is another who believes that cops unthinkingly embrace breed-specific prejudices.

"They get no training, they present themselves in aggressive and confrontational ways to dogs, and they go for the gun first," he says. "It's reprehensible."

So what's the solution? Here's one.

At any given time, there are half a dozen pit bulls available for adoption at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region. Chief, why not adopt them and have them train your officers? You may save them from euthanasia, and they may in turn save you.

It's what we call a win-win.

hazlehurst@csindy.com

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