By Kim Bellware, Washington Post
Clayton Crawford let his service dog outside last Thursday for a nighttime bathroom break. It would be the last time he’d see his Doberman named Hilo alive. After Hilo got into the street through an unfenced portion of the backyard, Crawford heard four shots and emerged to find his dog dead in the street, he told WDSU.
An officer with the New Orleans Police Department inexplicably fired on the dog in an incident that has prompted an investigation and raised questions about the department’s use-of-force practices.
In initial reports from the Jan. 2 incident that occurred near the New Orleans Fair Grounds, NOPD said the dog bit the officer who was responding to a nearby incident, which spurred the officer to shoot. Then, nearly a week later, police backtracked on that version of events. The NOPD did not respond to several calls and an email from The Washington Post on Saturday but told the Times-Picayune/the New Orleans Advocate that the initial report was “premature.”The NOPD said the officer never reported to investigators that the dog bit him and the officer was not injured by the dog.
“Officers with the NOPD never want to resort to using force,” the statement said. “Unfortunately, in this instance, the involved officer felt it was unavoidable. ”
Crawford, who could not be reached for comment, told the paper that he’s a disabled military veteran living with post-traumatic stress disorder and that Hilo was his helper. He described the incident to WDSU as traumatizing.
“It’s been just spasms of crying and wailing since it all happened,” he told the station in an interview. “All I can see is her body in a pool of blood lying in the middle of the street.”
Though Crawford said he forgives the officer, he disputed to local news outlets that Hilo would have been aggressive and immediately dismissed the initial narrative that his dog bit the officer. He told WDSU that he also has questions as to why the officer didn’t first use a Taser rather than opening fire.
“My dog didn’t attack the officer,” Crawford told the Associated Press. “She barked at him and rushed at him, that’s it.”
It’s unclear what Hilo was trained to do or how she was trained, but it would be unusual for a dog trained through a reputable organization protected under the Americans With Disabilities Act to bite someone, said Therese Finnegan, a volunteer service dog trainer with the nationwide service dog training nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence.
“I would be totally shocked if that dog bit anybody,” Finnegan told The Post by phone. “It happens, but in the 30 years I’ve been doing this, I can count on less than one hand the times I’ve heard of a service dog doing that. ”
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At organizations like CCI, Finnegan said, service dogs are carefully bred and assessed throughout their two years of training to ensure they don’t exhibit aggression, unwillingness to work or distractibility.
The loss of a service dog is personally devastating for the owner who is left without the support to which they were accustomed, according to Finnegan. And demand for service dogs far outstrips supply, she said.
“At CCI, to get the initial service dogs, the waiting lists can be up to two years,” Finnegan said. The cost for a dog can also range from about $55,000 to $60,000 and includes breeding costs, food, veterinary services, stipends for volunteer “puppy raisers” and the salary of the professional trainers who take over for the final period of the dog’s training, Finnegan said.
Since the cost of service animals is so prohibitive, organizations often donate the animals to veterans and other qualified recipients, or community groups will sometimes raise funds to defray the cost for someone who is unable to work because of disability.
Finnegan, who did not have insight into Crawford’s diagnosis or needs, suggested that at the very least, he may be able to get another service dog without a lengthy delay if he has a mental-health diagnosis.
“It varies from organization to organization, but since PTSD and mental health are so much in the forefront, he may be fortunate enough to have a ‘successor’ dog fairly quickly,” she said.
Crawford told WDSU “the sound of the gunshots still rings in me every day.” To commemorate his companion, Crawford, an artist, drew a painting of her with angel wings and a halo marching in a traditional Second Line parade.
The NOPD said its Public Integrity Bureau Force Investigation Team is reviewing the shooting.