KUSA - There is a meeting on Wednesday about the new Dog Protection Act in Colorado.
The Dog Protection Act, which tackles the problem of over 40 cases where Colorado police officers shot non-threatening family dogs, passed the Colorado Senate and the House and was signed into law by Colorado's Governor John Hickenlooper. The Dog Protection Act bill is the first such law in America.
Scar was an 8-year-old bulldog mix who was fatally shot by a police officer pursuing a suspect, even though witnesses said he never left his yard and was not barking or growling.
Kupa was a service dog who was shot and killed while a sheriff's deputy was responding to a welfare check on her owner.
And Ava was a German shepherd who had a rawhide treat in her mouth and was turning toward her summoning owner when she was fatally shot by an officer responding to a call.
Dog lovers concerned about recent cases where law enforcement fatally shot people's pets lobbied Colorado lawmakers on a bill back in April that would require new training for law enforcement on how to handle canine encounters in the line of duty, a legislative idea that appears to be unique in the country.
Several dozen dog owners rallied outside the Capitol before the bill was heard in April. Some held signs that read, "Officer, please don't kill me," with an accompanying picture of a dog. The bill specifically cites canines shot by law enforcement in Colorado, including Scar, Kupa, and Ava.
"I believe that Coloradans deeply love their dogs and really want us to work hard here at the Capitol to make sure that their dogs are protected," Republican Sen. David Balmer, a sponsor of the legislation, said in April. "I should say our dogs are protected. I've got three dogs myself."
The legislation would require sheriff and police departments to offer three hours of online training for deputies and officers on how to recognize dog behaviors and employ non-lethal methods to control them when necessary. The legislation would also direct law enforcement to implement procedures to allow dog owners the option to control or remove their dogs during a non-violent call.
However, the legislation creates exemptions for law enforcement to exercise discretion during calls, taking into account their safety and the safety of others in dealing with dogs. Sheriff's deputies assigned to courts or jails are also exempted from the training, as are code enforcement officers.
Balmer said law enforcement handles situations with dogs correctly most of the time, but additional training on canine behaviors could reduce shootings. In the examples cited in the bill, the legislation sponsors say there were questions about whether the dogs actually posed a threat.
The County Sheriffs of Colorado worked on - and support - the legislation.
"We just wanted to be part of the process. We think our voices were heard," Chris Olson, the executive director of the group, said.
Balmer said the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police is not taking an official stance on the legislation, but they're not opposing it. They also helped craft the legislation to make sure any concerns were addressed, he said.
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, said Jill McGranahan, a spokeswoman.
Darrel Stephens, the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, said he's unaware of any state or local government with laws or ordinances requiring training for law enforcement on how to handle dog encounters.
"Unfortunately police officers do shoot dogs from time to time when they feel threatened by a vicious or aggressive dog," Stephens said. He said that in his experience, dog shootings are rare.
"When they do occur, it is difficult for pet owners to see the circumstances in the same way an officer sees them - understandably they do not see their pet as being aggressive and potentially harmful to an officer," he said. "It is also difficult for the officers."
Supporters of the legislation say it can make a difference.
"My best friend was shot in the back," 30-year-old Brittany Moore, the owner of Ava, said - choking up as she spoke at the April rally. "The rawhide bone fell from Ava's mouth, and she made the most awful sound that I have ever heard and immediately fell to the ground."
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