In the last five years, eight dogs have been shot by Ottumwa police officers, according to Police Chief Jim Clark.
Each case draws a large volume of complaints. Ottumwa’s rate exceeds those from three other Iowa cities Ottumwa’s size. The Courier contacted the five closest cities to Ottumwa in terms of population and asked for information about officers shooting animals. Three responded.
In Marion, an average of one vicious dog per year is shot by an officer, said Marion Police Lt. Rich Holland. He said the dog would have to be endangering a citizen or an officer for that to happen.
“We respond to animal complaint calls where dogs are running at large. What we try to do is catch the dog if we can until we can get animal control,” Holland said.
In the last 10 years, there have been four dogs shot by officers in Marshalltown. The most recent incident was about two years ago, said Marshalltown Police Assistant Chief Brian Batterson.
“It’s not that we haven’t shot them in the past. It’s an individual officer decision based on threats,” Batterson said, adding that the department has had success using distraction devices like fire extinguishers and Tasers.
No dogs have been shot by officers in Burlington in the last five years. Burlington Police Lt. Steve Bell said in his 32 years there, he can only remember one instance of an officer shooting a dog.
The animal control officer there uses tools like nets, Tasers and mace if an animal is being vicious, Bell said.
The most recent Ottumwa case came in an incident last month where a vicious dog was shot by Officer Marc Conners after it attacked five people, including a child and Conners. Clark defended Conners’ actions at the time and continues to do so.
“We don’t want to shoot dogs. We would prefer for responsible pet owners to keep their dogs confined like they’re required to. The issue is not about police shooting dogs, the issue is irresponsible pet owners not keeping their animals confined,” Clark said.
Dogs aren’t the only animals the departments report shootng. Other animals like deer, raccoons and possums are occasionally killed, usually after the animal has been hit by a car or otherwise been seriously injured.
In most cases, if the police get a call about a dog running loose, the animal control officer attempts to catch it and return it to the owners, Clark said. The fine for allowing a dog to run loose is $75 plus court costs.
Clark would rather the officers take action before the animal hurts them or someone else rather than wait until someone is bitten.
“We have a duty,” he said. “We have to stop that dog because if we know that it is vicious or that it has attacked or may likely attack someone and we don’t do anything about it, the city could be held liable.”
Number of dogs shot by the Ottumwa Police:
2010 — 2
2009 — 0
2008 — 1
2007 — 1
2006 — 4