On the afternoon of Saturday April 2, police shot and killed a dog at a home on Shattuck Avenue where a number of men had been shooting targets with pellet guns in their backyard.

According to a Berkeley Police Department statement, the police received a call at about 3:30 p.m. from a resident in the 3200 block of Shattuck who reported that a man was firing a handgun in the rear yard of a nearby residence.

“BPD Officers responded immediately and met with the witness/caller who pointed out the home to the officers,” the release stated. “Officers contacted the occupants who complied with officers’ orders to exit the home. During the process, a pit-bull dog came out of the residence and refused to comply with the verbal commands issued by one of the occupants. The dog then growled and lunged at one of the officers causing that officer to fear for his safety. This officer fired one round from his pistol at the dog and it died instantly.”

“During the ongoing investigation, the resident admitted to participating in target practice with a pellet gun in his rear yard, a violation of the Berkeley Municipal Code. Inside the home, officers located a pellet gun that resembled a semi-automatic handgun. The gun investigation has been concluded and the case will be forwarded to the District Attorney’s office.”

According to the Berkeley Daily Planet, the dog’s owner is Shay (Sean) ben Yishay. Yishay told the Planet that he and three others with him had purchased an Airsoft air pistol at Big 5 Sporting Goods after being told that it was legal for them to fire it in their back yard. According to Yishay’s brother, who contacted the Planet, Shay ben Yishay also asked the police officers if he could put his dog, Rock, on a leash as he was being led away from the house. He said that he and his companions had not been charged with any offense.

The police statement concludes: “All Use of Force incidents are thoroughly reviewed by BPD. No officer wants to be put in the position of using force, particularly deadly force, on animals or individuals, but sometimes must do so to protect him/herself, the safety of others and community safety.”

Berkeley resident Sue Tomasello said she is very troubled by the incident. In an email to Berkeley’s City Council members, she said: “I was very concerned when I heard about the dog that was shot and killed by a police officer on Saturday night. Why was the dog shot? Was the dog really a threat to the police? Is it true that the owner offered to secure the dog, but was not given permission? If the police felt threatened,  wouldn’t it have been appropriate to call an animal control officer to help? Isn’t that one reason the City of Berkeley has an Animal Control Department? I understand the police often have to make decisions based on very little information, but were the circumstances really that dangerous at the time?”

Update 5:15 pm: Berkeleyside spoke to Sgt. Mary Kusmiss of the Berkeley Police Department this afternoon and asked why the dog’s owner was not allowed to get his dog and secure it on a leash. “The owner asked if he could go and get the dog and the supervisor decided not to allow him to do that because the supervisor felt the situation was not deemed safe at that moment,” said Sgt. Kusmiss. “They didn’t know if there were additional suspects inside that may be armed.”

“The dog came out and was growling around. It stopped in front of an officer, crouched, growled and started to leap up. The officer felt the animal was a threat to him.”

Berkeley’s deadly force policy allows an officer to dispatch an animal that poses a threat, said Sgt. Kusmiss. This fell under that policy, she said. This only happens a few times a year, she added.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...