DENVER (AP) – Colorado dogs were probably one of the biggest winners of the legislative session that just concluded.
On the day that shelter dogs and cats were designated the official state pet, Gov. John Hickenlooper also signed a bill into law Monday that requires new training for Colorado law enforcement on how to safely handle dog encounters in the line of duty.
The change was inspired by dog lovers worried about recent deadly pet shootings by authorities where the owners insisted their furry companions did not pose a threat to law enforcement.
The measure requires sheriff and police departments to offer three hours of online training on how to recognize dog behaviors and employ nonlethal methods to control the animals.
“The idea here is to keep officers and animals safe,” said Hickenlooper, with his dog in tow for the signing ceremony.
The legislation also directs law enforcement to implement procedures to allow dog owners the option to control or remove their dogs during a nonviolent call. The training must be in place by Sept. 1, 2014.
Legislators introduced the proposal because of high-profile cases of questionable dog shootings during the last few years, including Ava, a German shepherd who was shot and by an Erie police officer in 2011.
Ava’s owner, Brittany Moore, has insisted her pet was not a threat and that the dog had a rawhide treat in her mouth when she was shot by an officer responding to Moore’s call about someone harassing her by phone.
“I definitely think it’s a big step in the right direction,” said Moore, noting that the bill was signed a few days after the 2-year-anniverery of Ava’s death.
“She was a part of the family,” she said. “We’ll always miss her.”
Law enforcement offered guidance on the bill, which has exemptions for officers to exercise discretion during calls and take into account their safety and the safety of others when dealing with dogs. Sheriff’s deputies assigned to courts or jails are also exempted from the training, as are code enforcement officers.
The Arvada Police Department in suburban Denver has been training police to recognize different dog behaviors, and the program was recently expanded to include all officers. But the state’s new law appears to be fairly unique in the country. Darrel Stephens, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, noted last month that he’s unaware of any state or local government with laws or ordinances requiring training for law enforcement on how to handle dog encounters.
Lawmakers said they recognize police and sheriff’s deputies handle most dog encounters appropriately, and that their goal was never to put them in a bad light. However, lawmakers said additional training would be appropriate to try to reduce shootings.
The bill passed the Colorado Legislature with every lawmaker voting in favor.
“This is a bipartisan day for dogs,” said Republican Sen. David Balmer, one of the bill sponsors.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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