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Petition demands more animal training for SDPD officers

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SAN DIEGO --  The San Diego Police Department's shooting of a 6-year-old pit bull named Burberry in Pacific Beach more than a week ago has thousands of people demanding increased animal training for law enforcement in San Diego and elsewhere.

Around 30,000 people have signed the "Justice for Burberry" petition mandating officers be trained to better handle animal encounters.

Surveillance video captured the March 15 encounter between San Diego police that resulted in the fatal shooting of a dog named Burberry. The video has led to an outcry against current police practices in dealing with pet animals.

People want a bill similar to the Colorado Dog Protection Act that mandates officers receive training in dog encounters specifically in differentiating between threatening and non-threatening dog behaviors, as well as to employ non-lethal means whenever possible.

“It’s about assessing the situation, reading the body language, and the verbal cues of the animal,” said SDPD Captain Brian Ahearn.

Ahearn said specific animal training like that specified in the Colorado bill has already been in place.  The department has been using a Department of Justice animal encounters training course for all officers and are helping to create a dog training video for California.

“It is a high priority for our organization and the officers have received the training. But we also understand that sometimes we’re not going to be able to place some of those safety mechanisms before an officer has to make a choice,” said Ahearn.

San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Captain Scott Ybarrondo said it has had a formal animal training course in place since 2013.

“It’s very unfortunate, no deputy or officer wants to shoot a dog. But I think in many cases if we understand that dog behavior a little bit better, we can avoid a number of situations," said Ybarrondo, adding training will never eliminate the possibility of shooting a animal at a call.

He said the training provides other tools and alternative actions to use before having to resort to lethal force.

“What the training really does, it helps deputies recognize dog behavior. It allows them when they’ve got the opportunity to preplan for a dog encounter, and also gives them certain options that they may not have thought of when dealing with dogs," said  Ybarrondo.

SDPD says it appreciates the public’s right to voice it’s opinion and will wait to see what comes out of the petition.

An investigation into the dog shooting and procedures used is currently underway

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