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Owner of golden retriever fatally shot by St. Petersburg police sues city

Boomer, a 12-year-old arthritic golden retriever, was shot and killed by a St. Petersburg police officer in 2011. His owner is suing the city and challenging state law.

SCOTT KEELER | Times (2011)

Boomer, a 12-year-old arthritic golden retriever, was shot and killed by a St. Petersburg police officer in 2011. His owner is suing the city and challenging state law.

ST. PETERSBURG — Boomer's death was just the beginning.

In the year since the 12-year-old arthritic golden retriever was shot and killed by a St. Petersburg police officer, his human family has led an unrelenting campaign for a change in police policy and now, a change in law.

Roy Glass, a personal injury lawyer, is suing the city of St. Petersburg over Boomer's death. In the lawsuit, which was recently filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, Glass outlines an argument for why pets should be viewed under law less like property and more like people.

"From the standpoint of how damages are assessed, a jury is restricted to consider a dog as property," Glass said. "But a dog is so much more than that. He means so much more than that. Our kids grew up with him; he was part of the family, a sweetheart. We miss him."

Boomer died on Oct. 1, 2011.

He was shot by Officer Misty Swanson after a report of his snapping at a neighborhood woman walking her dog. Boomer charged at two police officers with teeth bared and growling, the officers reported.

It took two days for the Glass family to learn what happened to their dog.

"I can't stop replaying the picture of him dying in somebody's driveway all alone," wife Lauren Glass said. "I can't imagine his pain, his fear." She started a Facebook page that launched a petition, which brought public outrage and media attention. Then, the St. Petersburg Police Department changed its policy. The city offered a settlement.

Glass declined, saying the offer was "inadequate."

According to the lawsuit, damages exceed $15,000. But, Glass said, it's not about the money.

Under Florida law, pets are considered property, like a car or a television set. If a pet is killed, its value is assessed accordingly.

"It's an antiquated law," Lauren Glass said through tears. "All you have to do is look around and you see dogs in strollers. That leaves quite an impression on me. Our dogs are our family. And we grieve for them the same way you'd grieve for any other family member."

Glass declined to predict how his lawsuit would be received, though he acknowledged it was likely to be appealed to a higher court.

Though there is little precedent in Florida, a Texas court ruled last year that "dog owners should be awarded damages based on sentimental value" of a dog. That lawsuit was filed after a dog was wrongfully euthanized.

If the law can't be changed through the courts, Glass said he would seek help in bringing legislation to Tallahassee.

"We want to bring change that can save other families this awful grief," said Lauren Glass, who still finds herself opening the back door for a dog that will never come.

Seven other dogs were fatally shot by St. Petersburg police in 2011. Since police changed the department's policy, there have been two.

In at least one of the incidents, the officer first tried to corral the dog using nonlethal force. When the animal charged at police, the officer was forced to shoot, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz.

Assistant City Attorney Joseph Patner declined to comment on the lawsuit until the city is formally served.

Owner of golden retriever fatally shot by St. Petersburg police sues city 10/10/12 [Last modified: Thursday, October 11, 2012 9:24am]

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