Owner miffed at police for shooting dog Report says officer feared for his safety

February 26, 1996|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

John Norman considers it a miracle that his dog, Max, survived a close-range gunshot from an Anne Arundel County police officer's pistol Saturday night.

But his relief over the dog's survival was overshadowed yesterday by his anger at the officer for shooting his dog in the first place.

A police officer shot the dog while he and two other officers were investigating a possible burglary next door to Mr. Norman's house on the 8400 block of Elvaton Road in Millersville.

Shortly after 7 p.m., said Mr. Norman, "I go outside and I see Max barking at the cops."

"The cop said, 'You have to come get your dog,' and I said, 'Don't worry, he doesn't bite. He's OK.' At that point I'm climbing over the fence saying, 'Max, calm down.'

"I get 15 feet away, and I see [the officer's] got his pistol out. Right before he shoots him, he says, 'I'm sorry.' "

Mr. Norman and police reported that Officer Daniel Rodriguez fired two shots, but only one shot hit the dog -- in the neck.

A police report stated that the dog "charged" at Officer Rodriguez and two other officers, "was barking and showing teeth" and "was advancing in a violent manner toward the officers."

When the dog began "snapping inches from Officer Rodriguez's leg," the report said the officer feared for his safety and shot the animal.

Mr. Norman said he does not believe Max put the officer in danger, but he acknowledges Max was on the neighbor's property barking a few feet from the officer.

"I said, 'I can't believe you shot my dog,' " Mr. Norman said.

"Why couldn't they have Maced him?," he asked, referring to a pepper spray police sometimes use. "I was two or three seconds away," he said.

Officer Rodriguez's supervisor defended the officer's actions yesterday.

"It is debatable whether cayenne pepper spray works. It may agitate the dog further," said Sgt. Gregory Eshleman.

"We're all dog lovers here, but the bottom line is that the dog was advancing on the officer and he was pinned [against the house] and had nowhere to go," said Sergeant Eshleman.

"It's a really bad situation. The whole thing could have been avoided if Mr. Norman had kept his dog chained up," he added.

After examining the officer's gun and the spent shell cases, Sergeant Eshleman said, he filed a report saying Officer Rodriguez acted reasonably in shooting the dog. "He was completely justified in what he did," Sergeant Eshleman said. No disciplinary action was taken or is planned against the officer, he said.

Officer Rodriguez did not return a reporter's calls yesterday.

After the shooting, 4-year-old Max -- who is half Labrador and half Chesapeake Bay retriever -- fled into the woods behind Mr. Norman's home, leaving a trail of blood.

After police searched the woods in the dark unsuccessfully, Mr. Norman said he presumed the dog was dead. He said he worried how he would tell his three children that a police officer killed their pet.

But shortly after 6 a.m. yesterday, a neighbor knocked on Mr. Norman's door to tell him that a wounded Max was lying on the neighbor's back steps.

"The vet thinks it's a miracle he's alive. The bullet went straight down through his chest, but missed all the vital organs," he said.

The bullet still is lodged in the dog's chest and Mr. Norman said his dog "faces pricey surgery."

This weekend was not the first encounter police have had with Max.

In August, another police officer sprayed Max with pepper spray while investigating a burglary at the Norman home -- but the spray had no effect on the dog, said police.

Police reported in the August incident that Max "attacked" the officer, but Mr. Norman said his dog was only barking.

Saturday's incident was the second police shooting of a dog in the last few weeks in the Baltimore area.

On Feb. 7, a Howard County police officer shot a German shepherd in Columbia after the dog repeatedly bit him. The officer received 23 stitches in his right leg.

The German shepherd's owners later had the animal euthanized.

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