In Thomasville NC, police officers are charged with handling animal control duties on weekends. Last year on Thanksgiving weekend, Thomasville police officer Lee Patton and Cpl. Jeff McCrary responded to a call about an aggressive dog at large. Officer Patton reportedly shot the dog in the face and shoulder after the dog “charged” him. The wounded dog ran away but was later located on a nearby street. Several residents gathered at the scene of the shooting. In order to protect these residents, the officers loaded up the wounded dog, drove him to the Davidson Co Animal Shelter – operated by the Davidson Co sheriff’s office – stuffed him in the gas chamber and flipped the switch.
Several questions arise:
- Was lethal force the only option available to the officers when the loose dog “charged”? Could a catch pole, tranquilizer or non-lethal weapon have been utilized instead?
- After the wounded dog ran away and was found nearby, was he still a threat to the residents who had gathered at the scene of the shooting? Would that threat have been eliminated simply by removing the dog from the scene and bringing him to a vet clinic or shelter for care?
- Did the officers scan the dog for a microchip, examine him for ID tags and tattoos, check lost dog reports, post the dog online or make any effort whatsoever to locate the dog’s owner before gassing him?
- Did the officers complete the appropriate records in conjunction with the dog’s killing? Did they verify death using a method prescribed by state law after the gassing cycle was complete? Did they clean the gas chamber and dispose of the dog’s carcass in accordance with state law?
NC state law dictates that only a “certified euthanasia technician” may kill pets at a shelter and prohibits the gassing of pets who are “near death”. Neither officer in this case is a certified euthanasia technician. It is unknown if the dog was near death at the time of gassing but having been shot in the face and been rendered unable to flee more than a block away, it’s certainly a relevant question to my mind.
Shelley Swaim, a state animal welfare technician and Lee Hunter, a veterinarian and the director of the N.C. Veterinary Division’s animal welfare division, investigated the killing. [Note to readers: Sit down. Hold on to something solid. Remember to breathe.]
[T]he officers didn’t technically violate the code because they are not shelter employees and are not covered by it, Hunter said.
As of a December 27, 2011 letter written by Thomasville Police Chief Jeff Insley, officers are now prohibited from using the gas chamber at the pound. And:
[T]he two officers who euthanized the dog were counseled about using the shelter’s equipment, including its gas chamber.
So there ya go. Honestly, the determination that NC state law doesn’t apply to the actions of these officers at the pound because they are not employed by the pound makes the Chewbacca Defense seem well-reasoned and logical. I fear this finding could be interpreted as an open call to wannabe pet killers to stroll on into any NC pet gassing facility and fulfill their heart’s desire since they too can likely avoid prosecution by claiming they don’t work for the pound. Assuming they can face the “counseling”, of course.