In May, a Las Vegas police officer hit and killed a 45-pound Australian Shepherd named Freckles with his police cruiser. The officer thought Freckles was a threat to a group of children playing nearby, and apparently decided the best course of action was to kill the dog.
Freckles' owner, 27-year-old Sarah Hecht, is furious over the loss of her canine companion. Hecht maintains that Freckles was not a dangerous dog and that the officer easily could have reprimanded her in a non-violent manner.
“I have no doubt my dog would still be alive if the officer had one iota of training on dog behavior and dog psychology,” said Hecht. “There was no reason for deadly force.”
Hecht may see her wish for canine-trained police come true. In light of a recent increase in dog killings by police, Nevada State Senator David Parks (D) is introducing a bill that would require all police officers to undergo canine conflict training.
“In many instances, a dog is being territorial, not vicious,” Parks said. “It would help if police knew what category of dog they were dealing with.”
Parks points to animal control officers, letter carriers, and private package carriers as examples of professionals in other field who have learned to handle confrontations with dogs in a non-fatal manner. Parks is looking at a recent piece of Colorado legislation, titled the Dog Protection Act, as an example of what to model his own law after. Under the Dog Protection Act, police officers are required to undergo a minimum of three hours of training in understanding dogs and dog behavior.
Parks is backed by a number of Nevada animal activists in his effort to protect dogs from overly aggressive police. One of his constituents is Gina Greisen, leader of the Nevada Voters for Animals (NVA) organization. NVA estimate that 30 dogs in Nevada were needlessly killed by police officers over the last five years.
“Each of the shootings I’m aware of in Southern Nevada were preventable if police would have had training and actually used it,” Greisen said.
She added that police officers often mistakenly equate a barking dog with an aggressive dog.
“Dogs only have one voice and that is barking,” Greisen said. “When a dog is happy, it barks. When a dog is angry, it barks. When a barking dog races around the corner of his house and you are in his yard, he is doing his job.”