Thursday, June 16, 2016

Not All Pit Bulls Bite, But Plenty Do

Why Are So Many Dogs Dying In Police Shootings?  By Christian Cotroneo  Jan. 29, 2016

It was a little after 8 o'clock, on a bright, typically sunny morning in a Florida suburb.

Gillian Palacios was loading her car and getting her little boy ready for school.

Then came a knock at the door.

Duchess, the family dog, leapt to the door, her tail whirring like a helicopter.

Gillian Palacios

Palacios opened the door, just a little at first.

The officer was passing by her home in Florida City. He thought the open car door was suspicious and wanted to check up on the homeowner.

Duchess poked her nose out.

"From the moment he saw she was sticking out of the door, he was already putting his hand on his gun," Palacios tells The Dodo.

Duchess slipped outside.

"The first shot hit her when she was a couple of feet from my front door," Palacios says, her voice raw with grief. Two more shots followed. When the woman's daughter leaned over Duchess, her tail was still wagging.

Gillian Palacios

"What the hell did you do?" a distraught Palacios screamed. But he was already returning to his car, where he immediately got on the radio. On the surveillance video that captured the incident, her daughter is seen weeping over Duchess, the dog the family took home after finding her abandoned at a gas station.

"I just never would have imagined that in a million years," Palacios says. "She wasn't barking. She wasn't growling. It wasn't in any kind of way an aggressive approach."

The Florida City Police Department did not return The Dodo's request for comment, but since the incident happened last October, it has steadfastly supported the officer, identified as Detective Marcus Terry.

"We don't have the luxury of hindsight," spokesman Ken Armenteros told Local 10 News in October. "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."

Duchess weighed around 40 pounds, and while her breed wasn't entirely clear, Palacios says she may have had some pit bull in her.

A loose designation at best, the label can cover any dog from an American Staffordshire terrier to a English bull terrier.

What's clear, however, is a disturbing theme in police encounters with these dogs.

A family pit bull was shot by officers in Spokane, Washington, this week after the dog reportedly escaped from a house and attacked a police dog.

Earlier this year, a pit bull puppy in Clayton County, Georgia, was killed by police in front of neighbors and family.

Another police shooting, this time in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, ended a pit bull's life.

Indeed, the cases of dogs being killed by police are so numerous, a Facebook group has been set up to document them. So far, Dogs Shot By Police has drawn more than 15,000 members.

And, time and time again, pit bulls in particular are at the wrong end of those encounters.

While officers maintain they're protecting themselves, others suggest the breed is being unfairly singled out.

"There has never been a case of a police officer being fatally injured by a dog to our knowledge," Janis Bradley, director of communications and publications for the National Canine Research Council (NCRC), tells The Dodo.

Star, shot by New York, NY Police Officers as she guarded her guardian who was having a seizure, and then sprayed with pepper spray or mace after she had been shot while she was writhing on the ground. Fortunately she survived, although minus one eye.

But then again, an irrational fear of pit bulls may transcend law enforcement.

In an Arizona State University study, subjects were given two pictures of the same dog. They were told the dog in just one of those pictures is a pit bull. 

The result? The dog with the pit bull label was invariably deemed more menacing.

"Once a dog is labelled as a pit bull," Bradley says, "People in general will perceive that dog more negatively than if that label had not been there with the exactly the same dog."

Being wary of a certain kind of dog is one thing, but when those humans are armed police officers, the outcome can all-too-easily take a turn for the tragic.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Justice reached out to the NCRC, asking the organization to create a series of educational materials for police officers to help them navigate encounters with dogs — a shrewd move considering that at least one in three U.S. households owns a dog.

"There has not historically been any specific training for police in how to deal with dogs that they encounter in the performance of their duty," Bradley notes.

"A very, very large percentage of people regard their dogs as a member of their family," Bradley adds, "which means that when there is an incident like a police officer shooting a dog, it causes a great deal of disruption, both for that particular family and within the community. It drives a wedge between the police and community."

The result of the NCRC's collaboration with the Department of Justice?

A five-part video series designed for use in daily police briefings that aims to help officers recognize dog behavior and defuse situations — without resorting to violence.

"I think one of the most effective segments in the videos is the one where the trainer is teaching officers to adjust their own body language and it completely changes the response of the dog," Bradley says. "It's like turning on a switch. If you change your own body language, you can defuse the threat of the dog."

Of course, another key factor is simply an officer's natural affinity for animals.

"If you have an officer who grew up with very little value for companion animals, you have a long road to try to teach them better," Jim Crosby, a former police lieutenant in Jacksonville, Florida, tells The Dodo. "If you have an officer who was an animal lover, they are probably not the ones shooting a dog."
While Crosby admits there may be a "certain amount of bias" against so-called bully breeds, he recalls one case in which a Florida officer shot an 11-pound Lhasa apso.

"There are degrees of stupid," he says.

Gage and his friend Hailey. Gage was shot and severely wounded by a sheriff's deputy in Wright FL on November 8, 2012 and died of his injuries. Gage and his sidekick Harley, a Yorkie, got out of their yard and were wandering close to their home when Gage was shot.

And, increasingly, that poor judgment could end up costly.

Recently a police department in Commerce City, Colorado, learned that lesson the hard way. The city was forced to pay a family $262,500 — hailed as the biggest settlement of its kind — after police shot and killed a pit bull mix.

"Some departments have not trained their officers to do anything but shoot a threat," Crosby explains. "They have been through training for humans kind of grudgingly but they have never addressed the idea of using less than just shooting towards a dog.

"Part of the problem we have," he adds, "is that police officers see something that looks to them like a pit bull and make behavioral and threat assessments simply based on physical appearance — and on myths that are not correct but are persistent."

Myths like a pit bull's so-called locking jaw. Or the animal's mythical bite pressure.

Since retiring, Crosby has become a renowned expert on dog behavior, working with police officers to help them read situations involving dogs. He recently produced a video series as well, collaborating with the National Sheriffs' Association, to build dog awareness programs for police.

Crosby admits that during his days as an officer, he saw the occasional "twistos who get their jollies off by shooting dogs."

"That's disturbing," he says. "That's really messed up."

But the times, despite headline-snatching headlines, may be changing.

"There is a better way of doing things and we don't need to shoot," he adds.

 The key to getting that message across to police departments?

"Sometimes you have to sue them or cost them a bunch of money," he says.

But there are other, more proactive ways agencies are starting to show their dog sensitivities.

In one remarkable case, a police department in Poughkeepsie, New York, has hired a pit bull named Kiah. She covers all the usual police dog duties — drug sniffing, tracking missing people — but also doubles as a goodwill ambassador for the department as well as the breed.

"The breed isn't important," trainer Brad Croft told the Associated Press. "It's what's inside of the dog that's important."

For Gillian Palacios and her family, the effort comes terribly, too late. 

The memory of losing Duchess on her doorstep at the hands of a police officer remains seared in her memory.

But Duchess does leave a legacy.

Palacios and her daughter have been rescuing dogs for years through a local organization. But after they lost their own dog, they decided to open their own animal rescue.

It's in the process of being registered as a nonprofit charity.

But the name is locked in:

Duchess Bully Rescue. 

In addition, there are several groups working to improve relations between police and dogs, notably, the National Canine Research Council.

Former police officer Jim Crosby's blog on animal aggression is also an outstanding resource for anyone looking for insight into dog behavior.

Ok, the trend toward officer training re: dogs is encouraging.  And it’s true that the “locking jaw” thing about pit bulls is a myth.  But it is disingenuous to claim that a large, muscular dog like a pit bull does not have major bite-pressure.  And I personally would be prepared to defend myself, with lethal force, against any dog that bit me - whether it was a lethal bite or not.  Why should a police officer be any different?

If you choose to own a dog that is a pit bull, or other bully breed, it is incumbent upon you, like owners of all pet dogs, to socialize and train your dog to a high degree of obedience.  His or her life may well depend upon it.

Your dog may be a sweet, gentle pussycat.  But it is going to be seen as potentially dangerous by the average person.  And that includes the average police officer.  It’s no good wringing your hands and wingeing about breed discrimination.  Because while breed discrimination may not be right or fair, it is very real – and you need to protect your dog from it by training him/her as well or better than any other pet dog.

And pit bulls do bite.

· 34 U.S. dog bite-related fatalities occurred in 2015. Despite being regulated in Military Housing areas and over 700 U.S. cities, pit bulls contributed to 82% (28) of these deaths. Pit bulls make up about 6.6% of the total U.S. dog population.

· Together, pit bulls (28) and rottweilers (3), the second most lethal dog breed, accounted for 91% of the total recorded deaths in 2015. This same combination also accounted for 76% of all fatal attacks during the 11-year period of 2005 to 2015

· The breakdown between these two breeds (pit bulls and Rottweilers) is substantial over this 11-year period. From 2005 to 2015, pit bulls killed 232 Americans, about one citizen every 17 days, versus rottweilers, which killed 41, about one citizen every 98 days.

· In the year of 2015, the combination of pit bulls (28), their close cousins, American bulldogs (2), and rottweilers (3) contributed to 97% (33) of all dog bite-related fatalities. Both American bulldog fatalities occurred in Miami-Dade County, Florida.

Below is an encouraging story about an officer with a sensible and humane attitude about dogs.  There are many others like him.  
Cop Hailed As Hero for Not Drawing His Gun on 'Vicious' Dogs  By Christian Cotroneo  Jun. 15, 2016

Officer David Gomez was responding to the same complaint he'd heard countless times before: A couple of "vicious" dogs were loose in a residential neighborhood.

"I've done that a hundred times," Gomez tells The Dodo. "Someone calls and says, 'They're vicious. They're vicious.'"

He expected the usual outcome that night: "They're just going to come up and be friendly." But the two dogs he met on a dark, residential street in Meridian, Idaho, were not those dogs.

"Their initial attack was a little bit scary," the 44-year-old recalls.

One of them circled the officer, snarling and foaming at the mouth. The other bit into his baton.

"I have no doubt, if I didn't have a baton, he would have taken bites," he recalls.

But his gun never left the holster.

"As soon as I fended off that, then I was good. I was like, 'OK, my tricks worked. I have a couple other tools ready to go.'"

Gomez waved his baton to keep the agitated dogs distracted.

As neighbors emerged from their homes, the officer calmly told them to go back inside.

"Had they gotten ahold of a bystander, my actions would have had to change," he explains.

And then Gomez, whose encounter was captured on his body camera, went into a mode most animal lovers will recognize: dog daddy. After all, Gomez has plenty of experience at home with his tiny Havanese dog, Banjo — or "ankle biter," as he calls him.

"Shhhh ... shhhh ... settle down. Sit. Siiiiiit," he urges the dogs in the video. "That's not very nice, is it?"

He opens the door of the police cruiser.

"You want to go for a ride? Come on, let's go for a ride!"

Moments later, not one but both dogs leap into the backseat.

They would ultimately be returned to their owners, along with a citation for "vicious dogs at large," for which Idaho requires a court date.

Although it's been nearly a year since Gomez met those dogs, he's only recently begun to talk about them. Since footage of the encounter was made public this month, it has gone viral. He's been celebrated in headlines across the country.

"Officer Gomez isn't a dog whisperer, he's a dog commander," the New York Post proclaimed.

David Gomez

For Edith Williams, from the advocacy group Idaho for Canine Encounters Law Enforcement Training, the seeds of that happy ending were planted a year earlier.

In 2014, she attended a canine encounter class in Boise, Idaho, offered by Jim Osorio of Canine Encounters Law Enforcement Training. A lieutenant from the Meridian Police Department was also in that class.

"He took what he learned there, and taught all their officers, and a year later, this incident that is now going viral happened," she tells the Dodo. "This is a story that has come full circle."

The incident provides a refreshing contrast to a spate of police and dog encounters ending fatally for the dogs.

Instead of resulting in a police officer villainized on social media — and a police department facing a potential lawsuit — this incident is being hailed as a model for police and dog relations.

"It's almost like there is a sense of hope in this environment of anti-law enforcement that is on a national platform right now," says Williams, who unearthed the video through a public information request. "This video reaches a lot further than animal advocacy — it reaches the public."

And no dogs were harmed in the making of it.

"I don't think I was anywhere close to drawing my weapon," Gomez says.

Indeed, he says, he still had so many ways at his disposal to control those dogs: "I still have a boot. I have a taser. I still have lots of brainpower to go along with it."

If you would like to help Idaho for Idaho for Non Lethal Canine Encounter Training in its mission to teach safe dog encounter training for law enforcement officers and agencies across the state, consider making a donation here.

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