"Law Enforcement Will Receive Training on Dog Encounters" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
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One dark day has haunted Cindy Boling for more than three years.
On a May afternoon in 2012, a police officer responded to a call in Fort Worth. But he showed up in his patrol car at a wrong address. It was where Boling and her husband, Mark, lived with their two dogs, Gracie and Lily.
Lily, then a 6-year-old border collie, approached the officer. In a police report filed after the incident, the officer said he thought the dog was attacking him. Boling said Lily was just being friendly.
But the following is indisputable: The officer shot Lily, just 10 feet away from Boling, killing the dog instantly. A bullet ricocheted against the Bolings' house and a neighbor emerged, frantic that a person had been shot.
Lily "went up to him and we had no fear, no concern because it was a police officer,” Boling said. “It happened within just minutes, seconds.”
This was one of about 280 dog shootings that happened that year in Texas. In the past five years, more than 1,000 dogs have been shot by Texas law enforcement, according to data from the Texas Humane Legislation Network. Not all police departments keep track of canine shootings so an exact number cannot be easily determined.
After the shooting, the Bolings learned there was no mandatory training for officers on how to handle interactions with dogs. They resolved to change that. Now, thanks to a law they pushed for, all law enforcement officers — from sheriffs to park rangers to police — will spend at least four hours in a classroom and interacting with dogs to learn how to peacefully handle encounters.
“Instead of acting out of anger, they said, ‘What can we do to prevent this from happening to another family?’” said Stacy Kerby, executive director of the Texas Humane Legislation Network.
Boling credits the network, a nonprofit that lobbies for legislation protecting animals from neglect and abuse, for taking the lead in getting House Bill 593 passed.
Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, the measure's author, said more pets are being killed in confrontations that could be avoided if officers were better trained.
“That's not the first type of response we want our peace offices to have when approaching a pet,” Collier said.
The Legislature overwhelmingly passed the bill, and in May, Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law.
As directed by the law, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement is developing a statewide training curriculum that will be mandatory for officers starting in January, said Gretchen Grigsby, director of government outreach for the organization.
While the program has not yet been finalized, training will consist of how officers should handle canine-related calls, anticipate unplanned encounters with dogs and use nonlethal methods to defend against an attack.
Most dog shootings happen because officers are either afraid of dogs or don’t know how to read their signals, Kerby said. So it’s hard for them to determine if a dog is acting aggressively.
“Every time an officer pulls out his gun, there’s always a chance,” Kerby said. “It shouldn’t have to end in a canine fatality.”
For members of the Simmons family, their story didn’t end in the death of their German shepherd, Vinny. On Father’s Day two years ago, an officer appeared at the house of Renata Simmons with an arrest warrant for a nearby neighbor. Vinny, then 4 years old, ran to greet the officer. Unable to tell if Vinny was attacking, the officer shot the dog in his neck.
Simmons rushed Vinny to an animal hospital, where we was treated and began a six-month recovery. Now, he’s bounced back, Simmons said, although he still takes painkillers and goes to water therapy.
After the incident, Simmons joined Boling and the network, along with other victims of dog shootings, to push for officer training. And when the bill became law, both Simmons and Boling said they got closure.
For the first time in three years since the shooting happened, Boling said she started her mornings not thinking about Lily being killed.
"I could let go of my Lily," Boling said. "I could let her go. My heart became settled."
Jeremy Lin contributed to this report.