Amber Sorenson pets pit bull Duke in the living room of her home Tuesday in Rossville. Sorenson is fostering Duke while he recovers from being shot through the muzzle last week by a Bradley County sheriff's deputy who said he was forced to shoot the dog after he became aggressive.Photo by Doug Strickland.
CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Duke needed a visit from a Bradley County deputy like he needed a hole in the head.
Yet there was patrol Deputy Darren Miller, knocking on his owner's door in response to a call about an aggressive dog.
No one came to the door and the deputy was cornered on the porch of the residence by the dog, which was "growling and snapping at his legs," said Bob Gault, spokesman for the Bradley County Sheriff's Office.
Miller took action within seconds.
"Due to the dog's continued aggressive behavior and the only exit from the porch was blocked by the dog, the deputy fired his service weapon, striking the dog in the nose," said Gault.
In fact, the pit bull mix was hit right between the eyes in a shooting that a local animal welfare activist said didn't have to happen.
"The shooting of Duke last week in Timber Hills was a direct result of Bradley County having no animal control," said Rachel Veazey, who has been critical of efforts by the Bradley County Commission to privatize animal sheltering services for residents living outside the Cleveland city limits.
A contract with a new provider, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Bradley County, took effect March 17, ending a longstanding contract with the Cleveland Animal Shelter to provide animal control services.
Veazey contends that Duke would never have been shot if the same situation had occurred a month ago.
The good news is that, just a week after he was shot, Duke is recovering with a foster family.
"He's absolutely perfect," said Amber Sorenson, of Rossville, who has fostered the animal since its owner surrendered him to SPCA after the shooting. "I was a little nervous at first -- he's a big dog and he's been through a traumatic situation."
However, he has not uttered the first growl or displayed the least bit of aggression to people or other animals in her home, she said.
Duke is making good progress after receiving a bullet wound that left him with a pierced soft palate and hole in his head that wheezes a little when he breathes, said Sorenson.
Gault expressed regret on behalf of the sheriff's office.
"The Bradley County Sheriff's Office regrets this occurred but unfortunately it sometimes becomes necessary," Gault said in a statement. "BCSO policy allows deputies to use the level of force necessary to keep themselves and the public safe."
Miller was dispatched to the 3500 block of Timberhills Drive on the evening of April 9, Gault said.
The situation escalated after Miller approached the owner's residence after he was shown that the dog was in the complainant's yard, according to the sheriff's office statement.
Miller was reported at the residence at 6:09 p.m. and the dog was reported shot less than a minute later, according to 911 computer-aided dispatch records. Ten minutes after that, a request was made to SPCA of Bradley County, which provides animal handling services for county emergency responders, to retrieve the injured dog.
Duke waited nearly 90 minutes from the time he was shot for transport to an emergency medical facility.
Initial miscommunication about the correct address was a critical factor to the response time of the SPCA humane officer, said Beth Foster, media coordinator for the organization. The officer originally arrived at an incorrect address in about 30 minutes, she said.
Officials outside the sheriff's office have not criticized the deputy's actions.
"The only witnesses were the deputy and the dog," said Foster.
Even though Duke has been nothing but docile to anyone who has handled him since the incident, a dog may act differently in different situations, she said.
Gene Smith, director of the Cleveland Animal Shelter, said Bradley County deputies are limited by what tools they have. They don't have catch poles, he said.
"You can't fault the deputies for not being trained and equipped in the same manner as animal control officers," he said.
According to the county's $80,000 agreement with SPCA that began on March 17, the group provides on-call retrieval and sheltering of animals at the request of the Bradley County Sheriff's Office. SPCA does not patrol streets for strays or serve as first responder animal control.
Until March 17, Bradley County residents living outside the city limits were provided animal control services through the Cleveland Animal Shelter.
That relationship came to a standstill last summer when the Bradley County Commission and the Cleveland City Council could not reach agreement on the county's portion of the shelter's proposed $600,000 budget for 2013-14.
Veazey said things would have been different if the Duke situation had occurred under the tenure of the Cleveland Animal Shelter.
"If this situation had occurred one month prior," she said, "the dog would have been met with an experienced animal control officer who would have humanely contained and retrieved him."
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.