Hamner, Nicholson bill to protect police dogs
Summit County legislators Rep. Millie Hamner and Sen. Jeanne Nicholson are going to bat for police dogs, pushing legislation that would require individuals who injure or kill law enforcement service animals to pay for vet bills or the cost of replacing the dog.
The measure, which specifically defines cruelty to a service animal, passed in the House Committee on Health and Environment earlier this month.
“Law enforcement invests a lot of money in the training of these animals,” Hamner said. “If an animal is injured, current law doesn’t require the criminal to pay for the damages.”
The bill is set for second reading on the house floor Monday.
With the cost of training included, a single police dog is worth $15,000. The Summit County Sheriff’s Office has two deputy dogs: Tommy, a Dutch shepherd and Bobby, a German shepherd.
It was Bobby, a veteran deputy that has taken down his share of bad guys, that inspired the legislation after a particularly heroic arrest last year.
Jason Oberg, later convicted in connection with a string of burglaries in Breckenridge last year, was fleeing the scene of an intrusion alarm at a local business when Bobby chased him down. Bobby caught up with the criminal, who began punching the dog and at one point tried to break the animal’s jaw using both hands.
“If he would have snapped (Bobby’s) jaw, there’s probably no way to fix that,” said Summit County Sheriff John Minor, who began looking into legal ways to protect the dogs following the incident.
Minor and his office began researching laws protecting service dogs in other states and eventually worked with Hamner to draft the current bill.
“We have a very small line item to deal with medical issues with our (canines) so we wanted restitution there if they were ever injured or killed,” Minor said. “They’ve caught some people, so I think it’s well worth it.”
The bill was initially drafted to extend to all service dogs, including seeing-eye dogs, but since no legal definition of a service dog exists, that aspect had to be scrapped from the final language.
Another legislator is in discussions on a second bill that would extend the protection to all service dogs, said Chris Kennedy, Hamner’s aide.
Hamner’s bill in its current form protects animals in the service of a peace officer.
“Cruelty” under the proposed legislation could include causing bodily injury or death to the animal, taunting or tormenting the animal or laying traps for or throwing things at the animal.
Individuals convicted of cruelty under the bill will be required to pay restitution.
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