`Dog Protection Act' would guide police

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It's been more than two months since Ziggy's life was taken from Jeff Fisher, but the pain of losing his four-legged best friend has yet to subside for the Westminster man.

“I miss him every day,” Fisher said in a recent interview. “I miss him being there in the morning and coming home to him. He was awesome. He was like a son.”

Ziggy, an 8-year-old border collie mix, was shot to death by an Adams County sheriff's deputy on Jan. 14, in an incident that resulted in two very different versions of events.

But Ziggy's death — as well as several other cases of officer-involved dog shootings around the state — could end up leading to a new law aimed at saving dogs' lives when police are called out to residences.

State Senate Bill 226, which has been dubbed the “Dog Protection Act,” would require local law enforcement agencies to put in place training, and to adopt policies and procedures officers would be required to adhere to whenever they encounter dogs.

Republican Sen. David Balmer of Centennial, a sponsor of the bill, said in a recent interview that the idea would be for police to properly announce their presence whenever they are responding to house calls, in order to give owners some time to put their dogs outside, or into another room.

“We in this bill are creating a duty for law enforcement officers in non-violent situations to give the owner of a dog an opportunity to save their dog,” Balmer said.

The bill states that there have been more than 30 officer-involved dog shootings around the state in the last five years alone. Balmer also said that in cases where dogs are shot by police, the officer had been responding to a non-violent situation.

“Every time it gets covered by any news outlet, we find out about more dog shootings,” Balmer said. “It's a bigger problem than any of us knew it was when we first started (working on the bill).”

Under the bill, a volunteer task force would be organized to develop training guidelines for law enforcement agencies.

Balmer did acknowledge that there is a “giant exception” area of the bill that lays out several instances where police would not be required to adhere to the training. They include cases where police are responding to suspected drug houses, or if the house is included in a “dangerous dog” registry.

Jennifer Reba Edwards of the Wheat Ridge-based Animal Law Center said those exceptions are reasonable, but that the ultimate goal of the legislation is to create an environment where police are better trained to deal with animals who are near and dear to the lives of many people in any community.

“Most people don't see their dog as some piece of property,” she said. “Most people see them as their short, hairy family members.”

For Fisher, that was the case with Ziggy. His dog's death was made even more tragic after it turned out that deputies were responding to the wrong address that night. Adams County District Attorney Dave Young has decided not to file charges against the deputy, citing “significant discrepancies” between Fisher's and the deputies' versions of events from that evening.

Still, Fisher hopes that something good can come from this tragedy.

“It was unreal what happened,” Fisher said. “But I hope this bill can prevent just one person's dog from being killed.”