Originally created 05/02/97

Shot dog: people disagree about canine's temper



Was he a good dog who was gunned down or a bad dog who had it coming?

That question remained unanswered Thursday as the Columbia County Sheriff's Office continued its investigation into the death of Ruben, a golden retriever shot to death in his owner's Evans driveway by a deputy.

According to authorities, Sgt. Billy Whittington, a reserve officer, was attempting to serve a subpoena about 7 p.m. Wednesday to Marcus Thompson, 4071 Eagle Nest Drive.

As Sgt. Whittington walked toward the house, the dog "approached him in a vicious manner." Fearing he would be harmed, Sgt. Whittington drew his pistol and shot the dog in the neck, killing him.

Maj. Mike Tomberlin said Ruben had a history of aggressive behavior, prompting as many as three complaints that involved the county Animal Control Department. But Animal Control officials were unable to supply any documentation Thursday about calls involving Ruben.

The Thompsons' neighbors say the rotund, 7-year-old family pet was a sweetheart.

Next-door neighbor Lloyd Calhoun said his granddaughter played with the dog when she visited. "I know the dog. He wouldn't hurt anybody."

Mr. Thompson, the dog's owner, said he had never had a problem with Ruben being aggressive, although county Animal Control was called to his house in April because the dog was roaming the neighborhood.

"The dog was 7 years old and never bit anyone," he said.

However, Maj. Tomberlin said the sheriff's office received calls from other neighbors who say the dog was a threat. In tape recordings of two calls, people who describe themselves as neighbors say the dog routinely charged people walking near the house.

Maj. Tomberlin refused to identify the callers but said police are interviewing residents as part of their investigation.

Mr. Thompson doesn't believe shooting the dog was necessary. He said when he opened the door to his house a second after he heard the shot he saw Sgt. Whittington standing nearly 20 feet away from the dying animal.

"Why didn't he just hit him with that stick they carry?" Mr. Thompson said.

Police say the nature of the dog's wound clearly shows the shot was fired at close range, supporting Sgt. Whittington's statement that he was attacked.

"We have a general use-offorce policy that covers anything and everything," Capt. Bill Probus said.

An officer has discretion in using the amount of force necessary, based on the nature of the attack and the officer's perception of danger, Capt. Probus said.

According to Sgt. Whittington's statements, an attempt was made to use pepper spray, but the dog was advancing too fast, so it was not an option.

"According to him, it was about to clamp down on his leg," Capt. Probus said.

An internal investigation into the matter should be completed next week. Meanwhile, the officer remains on suspension.