From guest blogger: Janeen McMurtrie, Smart Dogs Weblog, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

“Felony” Police Dog Gets Death Penalty

November 27, 2009

Most of the local outlets aren’t covering this, but Minneapolis KARE11 News is reporting on the “euthanasia” of a local police K-9:

At ten years of age, Felony was nearing the end of his K-9 career with the Howard Lake Police Department. It just wasn’t supposed to end like this.

On October 30th, one of Felony’s handlers found that the black labrador had escaped his kennel.  He immediately called the Wright County Humane Society, who reported that they didn’t have the dog.

The County wasn’t aware that Felony had been picked up by a dog catcher working for the Animal Humane Society (AHS) not long after he escaped.

“Our officer contacted the Animal Humane Society shortly after contacting the dog catcher, said Chief Tracy Vetruba. “Unfortunately, at that time the dog catcher still had the dog, who he did not believe was our dog, and it ‘was’ our dog.”

Felony had somehow lost his license and rabies tags — and he had never been micro-chipped.  Thinking that their original calls to Wright County Humane Society and Animal Humane Society were sufficient to alert them to the dog, the Howard Lake police did not make any follow-up phone calls.  So, when he arrived at the Animal Humane Society Felony was placed on 5 day mandatory hold.  During the hold time he was labeled as “dangerous and unadoptable” — so at the end of his hold time, the police dog was killed.

The Howard Lake Herald-Journal reported that the dog was described to AHS and Wright County as being a black labrador.  Since he’s a working dog who’s almost eleven, Felony has a grey muzzle and paws — which reportedly made Kozitka believe he was not the “all black” K-9 he had just been asked to look for.  Why he didn’t think it was important to notify the police department of any black labs or substantially black lab-like dogs he picked up on this particular day is beyond me.  AHS skips out of the blame game by stating they have no record of calls from the police department providing a BOLO on Felony.  I’d love to see their phone records for October… 

KARE11 quotes Police Chief Tracy Vetruba:

“It’s kind of like the perfect storm of events coming together to result in a (sic)tradedy,” said Vetruba. “Our officers were devastated to learn that he was put down. He will absolutely be missed by our officers.”

I suppose a callous disregard for the life of a valuable police K-9 on the part of those whose jobs are (supposedly) to safeguard our community’s animals could be considered as part of a “perfect storm”.   I just see it as blatant, cold-hearted callousness. 

CityPages reports:

Howard Lake police say Felony had been with the force since 2002, after K-9 stints in Ortonville and Hector, and was responsible for more than $25,000 worth of seized drugs, cars  and cash.

This dog spent his life serving the community.  And he didn’t do it for a salary, benefits and a pension — he did his job for the pure joy of it.  What a sad and pointless waste. 

First I’m utterly gobsmacked that the City of Howard Lake couldn’t find the time or money to microchip a $5,000 police K-9.  Second, as dog owning (and tax paying) resident of Minnesota, I’m also deeply troubled by the callous attitude taken by Wright County dog catcher Wayne Kozitka and AHS.  If they make so little effort to identify and return a valuable local police K-9 that they’ve specifically been asked to look for — what kind of treatment can an average pet owner expect?

We’ve blogged here before about AHS’s disturbingly high kill rates.  I couldn’t find information on their website about the methods AHS uses to assess the adoptability of dogs in their care, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find that they use some version of Susan Sternberg’s test.  Sternberg’s Asses-A-Pet program recommends testing a dog for “food aggression” by poking it with a fake hand while it’s eating.  A picture of one of these hands is shown below – next to a picture of the kind of bite sleeve commonly used to train police K-9s.

Take a good, long look at those two pictures and tell me how shocked you’d be to find that a shelter stressed dog who has had any protection training might take one look at the item on the left and confuse it for the one on the right.  And then explain to me how a group who was specifically asked to be on the lookout for a lost black labrador who is a police K-9 doesn’t think to contact them when a short-coated black dog who likes to bite sleeves is seized the day after the loss is reported (oh, that's right – they never got the message [head-desk]).

Felony gave his life for his community.  Instead of dying a heroic death during a drug raid or tracking down a violent criminal – he died a sad and pointless death alone in a shelter death room.  Instead of being lauded as a hero, he’ll be mourned as a “mistake”.   …it breaks my heart…

To help protect these wonderful, valuable, four-legged public servants from similar mishaps in the future, Midwest Animal Rescue & Services has offered free micro-chipping and registration for police dogs across the Twin Cities metro area.  Show them a little love.


Pure Spirit NOTE: Thank you, Janeen McMurtrie for brining this to our attention and bringing light to this tragedy. With just a little effort and follow through from any of the following individuals Felony's death could have been avoided...

  • Felony should have been micro-chipped and/or tattooed and registered.
  • The officer notifying AHS and/or Chief Vetruba should have sent an officer to AHS daily to ask after or insist on seeing held dogs in hopes of identifying Felony.
  • Once notified the Howard Lake K9 officer was missing, AHS should have contacted the police department about any short-haired, medium to large sized black dog they picked up.
  • And before euthanizing, phone records should be double checked to ensure the dog wasn't called about.

On a side note, while working in a facility that also held the contract for a different city's animal control program, a dog catcher came in with a medium-sized fluffy gray dog. The dog catcher showed me the dog and said, "I have no idea what to list this dog as, what kind of mix do you think it is?"  The dog was a purebred keeshond. 

I can't identify every breed of dog on site and neither can other pet professionals, regardless of how many animals they see a year. There are so many breeds, mixes, variations from breed standard and age/medical physiological variances that it's impossible to identify each dog accurately. PLEASE, if you ever lose your animal companion, make regular trips to your local shelter and animal control to find them. A phone call isn't enough.