When violent offenders aren't human: Responding to K-9 attacks

From the Calibre Press Street Survival Newsline

A Kansas City officer shot and killed a pit bull in 2004 after the dog attacked him. The officer was responding to a call about a dog chasing people in the neighborhood and scaring them.

The officer, who suffered minor wounds to his arm from the attack, attempted to fire his Taser as the dog charged at him, but missed. When the dog sunk his teeth into the officer’s arm, the officer shot him.

What do you do when attacked by a dog?

The Kansas City incident is not uncommon. In fact, a similar attack happened in Kansas a couple of months earlier when officers were investigating a home for narcotics and a 150-pound Mastiff/ Rottweiler mix charged them. The officers fired at the animal for their own safety. The dog was injured, but survived. And, without fail, incidents like these are always followed by accusations of inappropriate use of force from the pet’s owner.

Newsline had the opportunity to speak with Detective Sgt. Rafael Muniz, a K-9 drug/narcotic handler since 1996, who experienced a deadly force encounter two years ago against a 130-lb. Rottweiler. The most frightening part of his story is that his family was being threatened.

Muniz was getting ready for work inside his house when he heard a commotion outside. The Rottweiler was aggressively approaching his wife and 8-year-old daughter while they stood in their front yard waiting for the school bus.

Muniz ran outside to see his daughter in his wife's arms and the dog, named Bear, circling his family...growling and then jumping for the girl, sinking his teeth into her right calf.

Muniz yelled the dog's name to get his attention, and he let go of the girl's leg and charged him.

Muniz, knowing he'd have to take a hit to be able to control the dog, extended his left arm out (his non-shooting arm) as Bear jumped toward his face. The dog bit into his wrist, and the officer drew his gun with his right hand. As Muniz drew back, the dog clamped down on his wrist even harder.

Three things ran through the detective's mind:

1. He had to get the dog--the threat--away from his family.

2. He had to stay aware of his backdrop to make sure innocent bystanders were not in the line of fire.

3. If he shot the dog, he'd have to justify the shooting. His injury was a justifiable cause.

Bear's owner arrived and was frantically calling the dog off, but it would not respond. It continued to attack. Muniz, while keeping his neck and head away and positioning himself away from the waiting school bus and his family, brought his gun up to the dog's head and fired one round two inches above the dog's left ear.

Bear released his grip, turned around and charged toward Muniz's daughter one more time. It turned around again, and then fell to the ground.

Lessons learned

Muniz explained that he had observed his surroundings and knew that his wife and daughter were right in the line of fire from where the dog was positioned. Further, they were waiting for the school bus, so there were innocent children witnessing the event from the bus in addition to neighbors who were running out of their houses to see what was happening.

"If I wouldn't have shot him, and he attacked one of my neighbor's, I would've been responsible for that, too," Muniz said.

Fortunately, Muniz is a K-9 handler and had taken bites from police dogs before -- he knew what to expect.

"Once they latch on, they don't let go until they drag you down. Then they're going for your throat," he explained.

That's why his positioning was so important -- knees bent and non-shooting arm extended. Once the dog bit down on his arm, his attention was completely diverted from Muniz's family, and Muniz had him in a more controlled position, which allowed for a more controlled aim.

Despite Muniz's thorough assessment of the situation, he was still out for a month for wrist injuries, and faced possible lawsuits from the dog's owner.

"Once you pull that trigger, you have a lot to deal with," Muniz said. “But when your own safety, or the safety of innocent bystanders, is at risk, you have to respond appropriately.”

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