Brittany Moore said the awful sound her 4-year-old German Shepherd, Ava, made as an Erie police officer fired a bullet that severed the dog’s spinal cord was all part of the most tragic day of her life.
“Imagine watching your best friend get shot to death,” she said at a rally Wednesday at the Capitol, as tears welled behind her thick sunglasses. “Watching her in agony when she is dying, moaning in pain, and you’re not able to comfort her; not able to hold her until she breathes her last breath; not able to say, ‘I love you’ one last time.”
Moore has become the face of a growing movement to train Colorado police officers in an effort to cut back on seemingly senseless dog shootings by law enforcement. More than 40 such incidents have been reported across the state. Senate Bill 226 — the Dog Protection Act — has been introduced to advance that effort.
The measure received unanimous approval Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was its first hearing and now heads to the Senate floor. Sens. David Balmer, R-Centennial, and Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, and Reps. Lois Court, D-Denver, and Don Coram, R-Montrose, are sponsoring the legislation.
The measure would require police officers to offer owners an opportunity to save their dog if the officer is responding to a nonviolent call. It would create a volunteer task force, including animal welfare experts, to create a three-hour training webinar. Because the effort is a largely volunteer effort, there is no cost to the state.
Moore, 30, is the perfect poster child for the popular measure. Her harrowing incident in May 2011 has brought some of the most emotional testimony to face the legislature this year. Before testifying, Moore joined about 200 dog lovers outside the Capitol. They brought their dogs — big and small — in tow. The crowd cried as she recalled her devastating tale.
“I watched as Ava, my best friend, was shot in the back by officer Jamie Chester. The rawhide bone fell from Ava’s mouth and she made the most awful sound that I have ever heard, and then immediately fell to the ground,” Moore told the crowd. “She tried to get up one last time, but her hind legs wouldn’t work because her spinal cord was severed…
“Our golden retriever went over and was nudging Ava trying to help her,” Moore continued. “Ava fell back on the ground and laid there and died slowly… I will never forget the sounds of my daughters’ torturous cries that night…”
Moore was not allowed to comfort Ava in her last moments on earth. Since the incident, her daughters have stopped trusting police officers.
“I raised my girls to trust police officers, that if they ever got lost, to find a police officer and they would help them. Now they don’t trust them,” said Moore.
Chester was cleared by the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office in the shooting. Moore has filed a lawsuit against Erie and the officer in federal court.
The department claims that the dog acted aggressively toward Chester, and the officer has reported that the dog flashed its teeth and lunged at him. The department has declined to comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.
Moore’s tragic story cast a shadow over an otherwise joyous rally on a beautiful day outside the Gold Dome. Citizens walked their best friends on leashes by the west steps as a DJ blasted “Who Let the Dogs Out?” by Baha Men. The crowd carried signs that read, “Gone, but not forgotten!” with photos of Moore kissing Ava.
Balmer brought his German shorthaired pointer, Digby, with him, and Guzman brought her beagle, Lula.
“This bill that we’re hearing today is not anti-police,” said Guzman. “It’s pro-cops, pro-dogs, pro-Senate Bill 226, because we want to make sure that the police in the areas in our local communities do everything they can to learn about dog behavior.”
Balmer asked the crowd to symbolically “scratch the grass” in an act of solidarity: “An army of dog lovers started to contact us…” he said. “We’re going to be a giant movement nationwide that began here in Colorado.”
During testimony later in the day, there was no opposition to the measure. It has the support of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, who helped write the bill. The Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police has also been working on the bill, according to Balmer.
“This bill represents an opportunity to make local law enforcement more effective, more efficient, and very frankly, presents another unique opportunity for government to avoid or prevent any potential future liability,” testified Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson.
Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, a member of the Judiciary Committee and a former police officer, was careful to point out that dog shootings by law enforcement are not a common occurrence.
“Is it your experience that the vast majority of law enforcement is dog lovers?” he asked Robinson, fishing for the sheriff to of course say “yes.”
The committee also heard from Gary Branson, whose pit bull, Chloe, was Tasered and fatally shot by a Commerce City police officer in November. Branson told the committee that the incident could have been avoided had the officer been trained.
The shooting received national attention when video of it surfaced on the Internet. The officer, Robert Price, has been charged with felony-aggravated cruelty to animals.
“It’s a shame that a dog could be lost out of someone’s ignorance about how dogs act,” he said. “It’s like losing a family member… there’s no difference to me.”
Jeffrey Justice, a former UPS delivery driver, said he never found a need to shoot a dog in his 14 years, pointing out that he came into contact with multiple dogs every day on his routes. He said he’s not a dog expert, but a little training could go a long way.
“I was charged by dogs many times over those years,” he said. “More times than any Colorado law enforcement officer.”