St. Petersburg police shooting of golden retriever prompts change

ST. PETERSBURG — Police officers have shot and killed a half-dozen dogs this year in the city.

But it was the seventh fatal shooting, involving a 12-year-old arthritic golden retriever named Boomer, that gave St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon pause.

After an internal investigation examining the Oct. 1 incident in which Officer Misty Swanson, 25, shot and killed the dog, police ruled the shooting was justified.

But in releasing the ruling Wednesday, Harmon announced policy changes for the department, including the use of "catch-poles" to help restrain dogs and stricter requirements for deploying officers on vicious dog calls.

From now on, officers will be dispatched to such calls only when a person is in "imminent danger," Harmon said. In the Oct. 1 case involving Boomer, it is not likely an officer would have responded, and the shooting would not have happened.

Boomer belonged to personal injury lawyer Roy Glass. Since his dog was killed, Glass and his wife, Lauren, have led a campaign to demand that police be trained in dealing with animals. The movement includes an online petition at change.org and a dedicated Facebook page with more than 3,700 followers.

Wednesday's announcement was the first time the department addressed the case of Boomer. Citing the ongoing investigation, police officials have declined to comment over the past month.

Swanson and Officer Michelle Fotovat responded to 445 20th Ave. NE after receiving reports of an aggressive dog, officials said. Workers had accidentally freed Boomer from his yard.

The officers found Boomer, who initially seemed "social," according to Fotovat's report of the incident. But when Swanson tried to look at the retriever's tag, the dog became "vicious," Fotovat wrote. Swanson shot the dog from about 2 feet away, the report says.

The Glass family thought Boomer was missing, and didn't know he had been killed until the Humane Society called days later.

"My wife was crying when she heard" of the policy change, Glass said. "It's a mixed thing because Boomer had to sacrifice for positive change."

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

St. Petersburg police shooting of golden retriever prompts change 11/16/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 17, 2011 12:00am]

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