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Elgin police shoot 23 dogs, killing 19, since 2008

Gracie pit bull licks arm 8-year-old Saliyah Torres. Gracie is one two pit bulls shot by Elgpolice as they were

Gracie, a pit bull, licks the arm of 8-year-old Saliyah Torres. Gracie is one of two pit bulls shot by Elgin police as they were attacking a 9-year-old boy in Festival Park on May 28, 2010. (Submitted)

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Updated: July 25, 2012 6:25AM

Earlier this month, Elgin briefly was in the national media spotlight for a bizarre case in which two dogs — a 50-pound female pit bull and a 100-plus-pound male Presa Canario mix — attacked Elgin Fire Station No. 7 at 3270 Longcommon Parkway forcing the firefighter/paramedics to lock themselves inside the building.

Police wound up shooting and wounding the female, then both dogs scampered home. The dogs’ owner was issued 10 citations for charges that include allowing the dogs to attack, not inoculating them against rabies, having no collars and tags, and allowing dangerous behavior.

The 55-year-old dog owner was not home when the attack occurred. He told police a family member who was supposed to be caring for the dogs might have left a sliding glass door open, unintentionally allowing the dogs to get loose. The man also apologized for what happened, according to police reports, which redacted the man’s name and address.

According to information provided by Animal Control Officer Matthew Ciesielczyk, Elgin police have shot three dogs this year in three separate situations, killing two of them.

Since Jan. 1, 2008, Elgin police have shot a total of 23 dogs over the course of responding to 16 separate calls. All but four of the shootings resulted in killing the dogs — significantly more than in the larger Kane County cities of Aurora or Naperville.

Mostly pits

Among those 23 incidents, 20 dogs involved were identified by police as “pit bull type.” In three other incidents, one dog that police put down had been hit by a car and was listed by police as a Lab/pit bull mix. Another that was shot and wounded (after being deemed aggressive) was a Rottweiler; and a third that was shot and wounded after biting someone was a black Lab.

The circumstances behind the 23 shootings include the dog hit by a car; eight where animals were listed as aggressive dogs at large; three reports related to police executing a search warrant; one listed as a dog bite; one as a dog fight; one as a dog out of control; and one listed as an “animal complaint.”

Three of the 16 reports involved more than one dog being killed or injured, including the following:

In 2010, Elgin police shot six “pit bull type” dogs while executing a search warrant. According to reports, on Feb. 21, 2010, while raiding a home across the street from Ellis Middle School that police said was being used as an indoor marijuana farm, a task force of police also discovered 21 pit bulls that apparently were being trained for dog fighting. Officers said that when the dogs began attacking them and each other, police shot six of them to death and trapped the other 15.

Earlier that year, on May 28, police were told that two pit bulls were loose and wandering around downtown Elgin about 4 p.m. According to police, the animals made their way to the water and playground equipment at Festival Park on the city’s South Grove Avenue riverfront. There, one of the dogs bit a 9-year-old boy, and both dogs reportedly charged at Elgin cops, prompting the officers to shoot both dogs.

Few shots at people

In the last 15 years, according to Cmdr. Glenn Theriault, Elgin police have used their weapons in the line of duty only three times in incidents involving people:

In August 1999, John Bierdz, 38, was shot and killed by a patrol officer who was trying to stop Bierdz from stabbing his ex-wife to death in the driveway of what was the couple’s west-side home.

In January 2006, police arrested Sherron D. Sharpe on a charge of attempted murder, four days after he allegedly tried to run over a police officer following a traffic stop on the near-west side.

According to reports, an officer stopped Sharpe’s car in the 100 block of South Crystal Street and Sharpe fled on foot. The officer gave chase, but Sharpe, 20, reportedly managed to circle back to his car.

Sharpe allegedly tried to run the officer down, police said, and the officer fired a single shot that struck Sharpe’s driver-side door but missed him. Sharpe reportedly then ditched the car and again ran away after colliding with two parked vehicles on Jewett Street south of South Street.

And this March 17, Elgin police reported that as an officer was driving a prisoner to the Cook County Courthouse in Rolling Meadows for bond court, the prisoner kicked out a rear window of the squad car and got out of the car. The officer then shot him, police said. Theriault said the matter remains under investigation by state police.

Other cities

In Naperville, for at least the last 10 years, police have not shot any dogs, Police Sgt. Greg Bell said.

And Elgin police dog-shooting numbers are higher than in the biggest city in Kane County, Aurora. According to Dan Ferrelli, Aurora director of public information, that city’s police have shot and killed eight dogs since Jan. 1, 2008.

“Five of the eight reports specifically indicated they were pit bulls,” Ferrelli said. “One described the animal as possibly a pit bull, another was a St. Bernard that bit an officer, and one dog’s breed was not specified.”

Elgin police do have a policy for when dogs may be shot, which was last modified in December 2011. And all cases involving the discharge of a weapon are reviewed to make sure the correct actions were taken, Theriault said.

“We don’t take firing a gun lightly. Ever,” Theriault said.

The policy calls for police first to try to capture the animal, then to use a chemical immobilization dart. It also allows for police to use “pepper balls” “at a humane level and not to be used excessively.” A pepper ball is a pepper-spray projectile that breaks upon impact, releasing the chemical that irritates the nose and eyes.

However, Theriault said the department has just one tranquilizer dart gun, which officers must be specially trained to use. That dart gun is shared among two animal control officers and a community service officer, thus covering the three daily shifts the department operates.

Animal Control Officer James Rog estimated that the tranquilizer gun has been used about 24 times in the last two years. Police had no estimate for the number of times pepper balls have been used in recent years.

According to Theriault, culling the information about dog shootings was challenging in part because the department has gone through changes in its record-keeping systems and because of the way police reports are coded. In most of the dog shootings, the shootings were not the primary incident but were related to other matters such as executing search warrants, Theriault said.

Tougher law

In March 2010, the Elgin City Council unanimously adopted a tougher animal control ordinance but without the bite of suggested pit bull-specific regulations.

Since refinements to the process that went into place in June 2010 and through June 19 of this year, there were 997 dog-related tickets brought before the city’s adjudication court, which Theriault oversees.

Theriault said that during that period, 348 tickets were issued for dogs roaming at large; 180 were citations for a dog not having a collar and tags; 141 were for not having rabies vaccinations; 111 were issued for bites or attacks; 107 were for animals displaying dangerous behavior; four were for dogs in heat roaming loose; and two were for having farm animals in town.

He also noted that between Jan. 1, 2008, and March 20, 2012, 9,901 dog complaint calls were made in Elgin, 392 of those initially coming in as dog bites.

Fewer in Aurora

In Aurora, where the animal control division is separate from the police department, there were 232 reports in 2008 for bites and/or attacks resulting in 29 tickets; in 2009, there were 242 bites/attack reports resulting in 41 tickets; in 2010, 224 bite/attack reports and 22 tickets; in 2011, 187 bite/attack reports and 25 tickets issued; and this year, through June, 138 bite/attack reports resulting in 30 tickets issued.

“The discrepancy between bites/attacks and the number of tickets issued comes down to the totality of circumstances surrounding individual calls,” Ferrelli said. “For example, we respond to calls where animals are not ultimately found, such as in the case of stray dogs. We also do not generally ticket in instances of in-home bites or those that are provoked, such as people walking onto private property or sticking a hand into a car window and getting bit. But, again, it all depends on the situations.”

“Bites cover those to people as well as other animals,” Ferrelli said. “Attacks constitute any chasing or contact but not biting. An animal running up to a person and barking and growling likewise constitutes an attack.”

In Elgin, the lion’s share of bite or aggressive dogs cases being seen involve pit bull-type dogs, Theriault said. He added that it is not known how many dogs of any sort there are in Elgin, so it is not known if this is in proportion to the city’s dog demographics.

What is frequently heard from those charged is “My dog would never do that,” Theriault said. At the same time, he said, “It’s rare to see the same dog (and owner cited) twice.”

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