Summit County deputies undergo training to avoid shooting dogs
May 1, 2015
As the debate in Park City and Summit County rages on about leash laws, deputies in the Summit County Sheriff’s Office took part in a different kind of discussion about dogs this week: how to avoid shooting one.
Sheriff Justin Martinez invited local veterinarian Kate Bjordahl to the Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday to provide educational training to nearly a dozen deputies about what to do when encountering an aggressive dog.
"If we can learn more about dog behavior, hopefully, we can do some bite prevention," Bjordahl said, adding that the third week of May is also National Dog Bite Prevention Week.
Bjordahl spent nearly an hour with the deputies discussing the various dog behaviors that are commonly displayed indicating whether a dog is acting aggressively, submissively or just scared.
Being able to read an animal’s body language is important to distinguish whether it is a threat or merely trying to protect its yard, she said.
"I wanted them to walk away with the point that most dogs that charge and are thought to be a threat are just protecting their yard and are quite fearful," Bjordahl said. "If you use some behavioral techniques, there are many other options besides the use of lethal force.
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"I was excited to help out in Summit County," she said. "There are instances occurring all around the country, and recently in Sugarhouse, of people going into people’s yards and encountering their dogs. But without being able to read their language, there have been some negative outcomes."
The training comes in response to a series of dog shootings taking place across the nation, Martinez said, adding that the Salt Lake City incident last summer in which a dog was shot while officers were looking for a missing child, hit close to home.
"I wanted to be a little more proactive," Martinez said. "We encounter dogs off leash, almost daily. The purpose behind the training was to provide them every opportunity to, hopefully, prevent the shooting of an animal and prevent those types of situations."
On Wednesday, March 25, The Park Record reported that approximately three dog bites a week are reported, according to Animal Control Director Brian Bellamy. Bellamy said most of the encounters with off-leash dogs occur in parks, neighborhoods or along trails.
The Park City Police Department has also seen reports of off-leash dog encounters on the rise in recent weeks, as previously reported in The Park Record. Two bites were reported in early April and a 69-year-old jogger was recently chased up a tree in Old Town.
In December, Summit County Sheriff’s Office deputy Jeff MacKay assisted with a situation involving two aggressive dogs near Kimball Junction. At the time, Martinez said if MacKay hadn’t been able to control one of the agitated animals, the situation could have escalated and may have required lethal force.
Many situations involving the shooting of an animal can and have resulted in lawsuits and award punitive damages against the officer, according to Sgt. Jeremie Forman, a supervisor with the Summit County Sheriff’s Office K-9 program.
Forman said Wednesday’s education may have sounded like we were saying "allow yourself to get bitten and your safety is not important, but that’s not what we are saying at all."
"Don’t get chewed up, don’t get bitten, but there are other options out there," he told the deputies. "We are just trying to be proactive and we want to avoid these types of situations. We figure if the officers are trained and we give them other options, then they have some other thought processes to go through before immediately resorting to deadly force when encountering dogs.
"The possibility of us in this community encountering a dog where we have to come up with some options to deal with that dog is, if not daily, it is almost a daily occurrence," Forman said.
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