Last week, frantic parents in Utah called police reporting that their toddler was missing. The police arrived and immediately initiated a door-to-door search of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, during that search, an officer went into the fenced backyard of a neighbor, encountered a dog – and shot him twice in the head, killing him immediately. The toddler was ironically found about that same time, asleep in the basement of his own home.
Brett Olsen, the officer responsible for the deadly shooting, was a ten-year veteran of the Salt Lake City Police Department and said he shot the dog, a 110-pound Weimaraner, because it was displaying aggression.
Many Utahns feel the officer was overly trigger-happy and hundreds gathered this past Saturday outside the police department headquarters carrying “Justice for Geist” signs to show support for Sean Kendall, the owner of Geist, the dog killed last week.
“Itís overwhelming, the support of the community,” Kendall told a Salt Lake Tribune reporter. “That makes the loss of my best friend a little bit easier to deal with.”
Chanting crowds demanded that Officer Olsen be held accountable for inappropriate use of power. Postal carriers and animal control officers often carry pepper spray and many wondered why this was not used first in lieu of deadly firearm power. Rally participants were united in their call that firearms should be a last resort, not a first resort, when dealing with dogs.
Rally organizer and fellow dog lover Joy Dantine called upon the Salt Lake City Police Department to re-train officers on how to interact with dogs. Fortunately, the Utah Humane Society stepped-up immediately and formally offered to host the retraining. It is likely the Police Department will accept their offer.
In a recent letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune, another dog lover asked:
How does it happen that postal delivery persons and animal control officers and police officers carry pepper spray, yet this officerís first response was to shoot and kill a dog who was doing what dogs do: barking at an intruder and guarding his space. That is in part why we love them.
In our highly connected world, this unnecessary shooting fortunately ignited debate beyond Utah and thus the silver lining in Geistís untimely death may be that a national discussion has commenced about how law enforcement really should handle pets that act aggressively.
Keri Bogardus, a Utah veterinarian and dog owner, said she hopes the incident inspires police to find less deadly resolutions for situations that seem at first threatening, but actually are not. “I handle a lot of what you might call aggressive dogs for my job, and thereís a lot of different things you can do to calm them down,” she said. “They can get protective in their own space when a stranger comes, but thereís no reason that something like this should happen.”
Photo Credit: Sean Kendall