2 Investigates: Nearly 100 dogs shot by metro police since 2010

by: Erin Coleman Updated:

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ATLANTA - A Channel 2 Action News investigation found nearly 100 cases of local officers shooting dogs within the past two years.

The investigation looked into the heartbreaking circumstances when a police officer kills a family pet -- probably one of the most difficult scenarios for a pet owner and for police.

Nearly two years after Basil was shot and killed in an empty lot by Fulton County Marshals, Elizabeth and Carey Cullifer said they still feel every bit of the pain.

"She was a really kind and gentle dog," said Elizabeth Cullifer.

She left their 45-pound dog outside alone for a moment. Marshals then came to their address with a civil lawsuit for someone who had not lived there in eight years.

Then Cullifer heard gunshots.

"I came out to see my dog in a pool of blood under the truck," said Carey Cullifer.

It is a story Channel 2 Action News has heard over and over from pet owners whose dogs had been shot and killed by police.

A Channel 2 Action News investigation uncovered dozens of cases all over the metro area. Individual department records show since 2010, dogs were shot 25 times in Atlanta, 32 times in DeKalb county, 19 times in Gwinnett County, 10 times in Clayton County and eight times in Cobb County, including the most recent shooting this past September.

"I had to watch him bleed to death and gasp for air and they just stood there looking at me like I was stupid," a Cobb County man said.

Cobb County officers responding to an alarm call shot and killed Luke, a chocolate lab when he ran out of the home barking. It was a false alarm.

The officer said he felt threatened by the dog and was cleared by the department of any wrongdoing.

In fact, every single case found in multiple departments, the officer was exonerated.

"There isn't an officer out there I know that wants to shoot a dog, any animal!" said Kliff Grimes a national representative for the International Brotherhood of Police Officers.

Grimes told Channel 2 that every day officers encounter dogs, some of them vicious.

"That officer unfortunately has to make a split-second decision to protect himself so that he can go home to his family," said Grimes.

When it comes to making that decision, Channel 2 only found one metro area department that requires officers to have training, specifically on how to respond to dogs. Cobb County started its training just this year.

"Even if the officer is trained to deal with the dog, the dog isn't trained to deal with the officer," said Grimes.

"I think it would be a help. It would be information that's certainly valuable," said Cyndy Dougan a dog trainer for 22 years.

Dougan is an expert on dog behavior and she says the issue is not black and white.

"I tell people even though you think you know how your dog is going to react in a situation where the police are called to the scene you may not be correct about that," said Dougan.

Elizabeth Cullifer said in her case she knows Basil was not aggressive and she believes officer training is key.

"With training there would be some accountability. There is no accountability in the situation with us. It was like he felt threatened, he shot your dog. That's it," she said.

Animal behavior experts tell Channel 2 knowing animal behavior is everything in these types of situations. A dog that appears to be aggressive may really just be nervous.

Dougan showed Channel 2's Erin Coleman how dogs at her kennel would respond to Coleman, a stranger. After letting several of the dogs go, one by one, unrestrained out into the yard.

"It's going to be a surprise to them that we're even here," said Dougan.

Some dogs did not pay attention to Coleman during the experiment, others started barking right away, running for her.

"Sometimes tail high and wagging isn't really a good sign. Didn't that scare you?" Dougan asked Coleman.

"A little bit," said Coleman.

"A little bit, I saw you jump. If you push this dog hard enough, this dog would be dangerous," said Dougan.

Another dog approached Coleman, "He's running away, he did not approach us, that is good," said Coleman.

Dougan said knowing animal behavior is key. For years the U.S. Postal Service has trained its mail carriers on dealing with dogs. Georgia Power meter readers also receive some training.