Anne Arundel County police, facing public criticism, announced Wednesday that there will be a full investigation into the killing of a Siberian husky in a Severn dog park by an off-duty federal police officer.
When news of Bear-Bear's death first became public, a police spokesperson said that the matter was closed and that investigators found no evidence of criminal activity.
The county's top cop called the matter "a priority" Wednesday, and County Executive John R. Leopold says he was "outraged" and "deeply troubled" to learn about the shooting. Leopold says he contacted Chief of Police James Teare on Wednesday morning and demanded an investigation.
"This investigation is far from complete," Teare said Wednesday afternoon. "The Police Department takes this very seriously and will continue to investigate all aspects of the case."
Since news of the shooting broke, people from across the country, many with dogs of their own, have flooded online forums and showered officials with complaints. Television stations all but camped outside the home of Bear-Bear's owners, Ryan and Rachel Rettaliata. Animal advocates created Facebook protest pages with names like "Justice for Bear-Bear," while others started legal defense funds for the Rettaliatas and sought help from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
A federal police officer, who's 32 and works at Fort Myer in Virginia, shot Bear-Bear, a 3-year-old Siberian husky, Monday evening at the Quail Run community dog park, which is in a residential area.
Bear-Bear was playing off-leash in the fenced-in park when the officer arrived with his wife and leashed German shepherd named Asia. The husky's owner and the federal police officer have offered differing accounts of what happened next — the officer told police that the husky tried to bite him and his dog, but Bear-Bear's owner says the dogs were playing.
The officer pulled a gun and shot the brown-and-white husky, who died from his injuries a few hours later. Neither the officer nor his wife reported any injuries to Asia, according to police accounts.
Teare said the story of Bear-Bear's death "hit home for a lot of people" and prompted his department to reverse its position on the case.
He said he now had numerous questions about the shooting, including whether the officer was legally allowed to carry a firearm, whether the gun was discharged in an appropriate and lawful manner — and why the weapon was used at all.
"When you use a weapon and discharge a round, you have to take it very seriously," the chief said.
Leopold, who owns a black Labrador and a cat, added, "We've had a number of calls to the office. People share my concern. It's extremely troubling."
"This is a priority case," said Teare, who is also a dog owner. "The citizens need to feel they are safe to go into a park and not have their pets in danger or themselves in danger."
Teare said officials at Fort Myer are also looking into the matter. "[The officer's supervisor] assures us that in addition to our criminal investigation, there will be follow-up there and an administrative investigation."
Martin Mersereau, director of PETA's emergency response division, thought the case merited a thorough, careful investigation. "At the end of the day, a dog was in a dog park and got gunned down," he said. "You can't just OK something like this without investigating it deeply.
"Lethal measures by and large are not necessary in any animal control situation. There'd be a lot more dogs alive right now if officials were well trained on issues involving animals."
The federal officer, whose name has not been released, told police that he feared for the safety of his wife, dog and himself.
Quail Run neighbors and people who knew Bear-Bear described the dog as playful and affectionate — never aggressive. The Rettaliatas adopted the dog about two years ago from a husky rescue called Tails of the Tundra.
Despite the abuse, "he was a very lovey-dovey happy-go-lucky guy," said Tiffany Greco, who fostered Bear-Bear for a month after his rescue. "All this dog wanted to do was curl up on top of you."
The Rettaliatas said they're overwhelmed by the outpouring of sympathy. "Yesterday I was completely frustrated beyond belief," said Rachel Rettaliata. "Today I have so much more hope because of all of the support."
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