Merced police change policy on shooting injured animals

09/17/2013 8:00 PM

09/18/2013 12:09 AM

The Merced Police Department no longer will take “severely injured” animals to the department’s shooting range to be put to death by gunfire, said Lt. Bimley West during a news conference Tuesday.

The policy, which West estimated had been in place for more than 25 years, allowed officers to take injured animals to the range on Gove Road to be put down.

The Merced Police Department’s policy was scrutinized after a dog-shooting incident in June was reported by the Sun-Star. Merced resident Payton Sanchez’s pit bull was shot by an officer in the 2600 block of Mira Court. The police officer claimed it had charged at him.

Unable to afford medical care, the family brought the dog back to the police station. A second officer took the injured dog to the shooting range and fatally shot it according to police policy, reports confirmed.

West said Tuesday that the change in policy was prompted by community outcry after another article about the policy in the Sun-Star last week.

“Although there were a number of misconceptions and mistruths that circulated from this article, it did give us an opportunity to revisit our method used in putting down severely injured animals,” West said. “We are going to change our policy.”

The new policy will require police officers to call the nearest veterinarian to come to the scene of an injured animal and evaluate its condition. The veterinarian will determine if the animal should be put to sleep or given medical treatment.

If the veterinarian decides an animal should be put to sleep because of its injuries, he or she will euthanize the animal using an injection.

“The evaluation will be made by a vet,” West said. “Our Police Department officers will no longer dispatch an animal due to the severity of its injuries.”

The only time officers will shoot animals is if they are being attacked, West said.

The Police Department hasn’t signed a contract with a local veterinarian, but West said officers will contact the closest one and stay with the animal until the vet arrives. The 24-hour Animal Medical Center on Yosemite Avenue will be used for after-hours calls.

Merced Mayor Stan Thurston called the policy change a “very positive” one, but expressed concerns about getting local veterinarians to agree to the plan while keeping the city’s costs low.

“I hope we can get vets to do that and work out an agreement to minimize costs,” Thurston said. “We’ll try to keep the costs down as much as possible and not have to burden the police officers with the mental trauma of having to shoot an animal.”

Thurston said he’s working with City Manager John Bramble to start a campaign to get local veterinarians to be on-call on a rotating basis, with a different veterinarian’s office being used every 30 days.

Mayor Pro Tem Noah Lor said Tuesday that he felt the police chief made a good decision, and said it will be a more humane way to euthanize injured animals.

“I think this is a good thing for us to move ahead and make that change,” Lor said. “We’re going to need some future discussion and input from the community, but for now, this is a good step forward.”

Merced resident Jules Comeyne, a former officer for the ASPCA, urged elected officials to consider changing the policy during the City Council meeting Monday.

“I would like to voice displeasure of the police taking animals over to the range and shooting them,” Comeyne said. “This has received a lot of negative publicity from all over the country.”

Several others voiced support during the council meeting that led to changing the policy.

West did not say if the Police Department had been contacted by animal rights groups, but indicated it had received numerous calls from residents who “didn’t like the method” of shooting severely injured animals.

“Our citizens have stated the times have changed and it’s time that we make a change,” West said Tuesday. “They have spoken. We have heard them clearly, and we have made a change in our policy.”

After the news conference Tuesday, West said there was a sense of relief among the police officers who did not want to shoot injured animals at the range. Many of them are pet owners, he said.

“I believe there is a sense of relief because it’s not pleasurable for our officers to do that,” West said, adding that the policy change is effective immediately.

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