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Owners of fatally shot dog wants St. Petersburg police to change procedure

ST. PETERSBURG

Boomer was the seventh dog shot and killed by a St. Petersburg police officer this year.

But he was the first 12-year-old arthritic golden retriever with a collar and an ID tag, and the first to belong to a prominent personal injury lawyer in an upscale neighborhood.

Roy Glass, Boomer's owner, wants the police to know how much the dog's violent death hurt his family. He wants the agency to admit the officer was wrong, and he wants police to change how they deal with dogs.

With the help of a Facebook page and a large cadre of passionate supporters, Boomer's death has already gotten more attention than the previous dogs that were shot, combined.

"I don't want the police officer fired," Glass said. "What I want is for police to not be so trigger-happy in blowing away an obvious family pet."

The trouble started Oct. 1 when Boomer escaped from a fenced-in yard after a worker removed some wire that kept the dog from digging his way out. Later that night, about four blocks away, Boomer approached a woman walking her dog.

Boomer growled and snapped at them when the woman tried to check his tags, according to a police report. Eventually, the woman called the police.

Officers Misty Swanson and Michelle Fotovat responded and at first found the dog to be "social," according to the report, and tried to coax him into their squad car with beef jerky.

When Swanson tried to look at the dog's tag, the dog "bared its teeth, growled and charged," Fotovat wrote in her report.

"Officer Swanson was about two feet from the dog when I observed her pull out her gun and fire one shot at the clearly now vicious dog," Fotovat wrote.

Glass complained that no one from the St. Petersburg Police Department ever called them, despite Boomer's tag information. The next day, Oct. 2, Glass said he reported his dog missing to the Humane Society. Then on Oct. 3, the SPCA called to tell them what happened to Boomer.

Glass and his wife, Lauren, were stunned. Word spread fast. Suddenly, the Glasses were hearing from people whose dogs had also been shot and killed.

"I start getting all these phone calls and I'm thinking, 'What is going on here?' " Lauren Glass said.

Thus began the Glass family's campaign to prevent officers from shooting people's dogs.

They began a Boomer's Voice Facebook page, featuring a photo of the dead and bloody Boomer, which already has over 2,500 followers. There's a petition on Change.org calling for officers to be trained to handle animals.

On Friday, about a dozen people gathered at a deceased pet wall mural on the side of the Gas Plant Antique Arcade building at 1246 Central Ave., where an artist painted Boomer's likeness.

Sheri Traylor, a Treasure Island woman whose chocolate Labs got loose and were taken by men who tried to sell them on Facebook in July, also arrived. She gained the support of thousands, and eventually her dogs were returned. She featured Boomer's bloody photo in her Facebook profile Friday.

Boomer's shooting is under investigation by the Police Department's internal affairs division. That's regular procedure whenever an officer fires their weapon, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Bill Proffitt. Until that investigation is completed, the department cannot comment.

Proffitt said that after a September 2010 shooting that killed two leashed dogs, police Chief Chuck Harmon ordered all officers to go through a two-hour training with the SPCA. Officers were taught how to recognize playful, submissive and aggressive dog body language, as well as how to identify situations where officers have no options other than discharging their weapon.

That's not enough, Roy Glass said. He wants to see officers undergo more extensive training in how to handle dogs they perceive as dangerous. He also wants to see state law changed.

"As the law stands, our pets are nothing but chattel," he said. "They're personal property, and if somebody violates them, or abuses or maims or kills (them), you're not entitled to any compensatory damages other than value of the dog. That's so antiquated these days."

At some point, Glass said, officers need to realize they're shooting too many dogs.

It might as well start with Boomer.

Emily Nipps can be reached at nipps@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8452.

Owners of fatally shot dog wants St. Petersburg police to change procedure 10/14/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 14, 2011 10:54pm]
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