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Petitioning Newton Police Chief Jeff Hoebelheinrich and 2 others

Impartially, thoroughly investigate incidents of officers shooting dogs

Far too often, law enforcement officials react in unjustified and dangerous manners, including when dealing with situations involving animals. In September 2012 alone, already media in Iowa, Michigan, and Virginia have reported on incidents in which three officers shot three dogs. Two of the dogs died, while the third luckily is expected to recover.

In each case, reports from witnesses and owners are very different from the officials’, which is why all cases like these must be thoroughly and impartially investigated so that appropriate actions can be taken. And it must begin with their superiors: Newton Police Chief Jeff Hoebelheinrich, St. Louis Police Chief Patrick Herblet, and Accomack County Sheriff Todd Godwin.

Perhaps officers and deputies are not properly trained to deal with animal encounters; if that is the case, departments across the country must be reevaluated. Indeed, it appears something was seriously wrong in Accomack County, Virginia, where Deputy Zachary Widgeon shot a 2-year-old Great Pyrenees named Chief when Chief allegedly attacked Widgeon’s police dog on Sept. 7. Accomack County Sheriff Todd Godwin is quoted by DelmarvaNow.com as saying “ ‘Actually, I told him, ‘Good job,’ ’ said Godwin, who was a K-9 handler himself for a decade. [...] It’s a tool and we’re not going to let it get destroyed.’ ” Of course no one wants ANY dog destroyed. In this case, however, it appears Widgeon may have acted erroneously. 

Another potential explanation for these incidents is that the officers—and no doubt hundreds of others in similar situations—may be exhibiting what could be serious judgment issues. Issues that quite possibly could, in the future, manifest themselves in incidents with humans. 

Regardless of the possibilities, these individuals must be held accountable for the deaths and injuries they caused; they must seek psychological assistance; they must, at the very least, be suspended and if warranted, face animal cruelty and felony charges. Just last year in Virginia, Northampton County Patrol Deputy Charles Graham was sentenced to 90 days in jail (though all but two days were suspended), 100 hours community service, and fined $1,745 for using a pellet gun to shoot a beagle who ultimately died of his wounds, according to Pet-Abuse.com.

SFGate.com recently reported that a Vermont sheriff’s deputy resigned after being “accused of fatally shooting a neighbor's dog.” And in Tampa Bay this month, a civilian shot “a flare gun at a dog on Saturday after a fight with the pet's owner,” according to TampaBay.com. He was arrested and “charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of cruelty to animals.”

Cruel and unnecessary actions against animals happen frighteningly often, and much more needs to be done to prevent such tragedies. Stricter punishments, higher fines, longer jail sentences. Animals do not have a voice—they only have ours, the people who care about their safety and well-being. Let us take a step in the right direction and do our best to protect them, starting by encouraging rigorous, unbiased investigations into the three disturbances that took place this month. 

This petition was delivered to:
  • Newton Police Chief
    Jeff Hoebelheinrich
  • St. Louis Police Chief
    Patrick Herblet
  • Accomack County Sheriff
    Todd Godwin


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