Given the circumstances, police were completely justified in shooting to death a Lancaster couple's two pet dogs last weekend, Lancaster Police Chief Thomas E. Fowler said Wednesday.
"This is the first time in well over 20 years that we ever had to do anything like this, and we regret it. But it was justified, and it was done to protect the public," Fowler said, adding that eight or nine witnesses corroborated what the officers reported.
The findings were the result of an investigation into Sunday's shooting. Officer Pasquale Ardino was called to a home on Old Orchard Common shortly before noon to investigate a call of two dogs attacking another, said Capt. Leon Trzewieczynski. When Ardino stepped out of the patrol car, a 2 1/2 -year-old Siberian husky named Nikki and a 6-month-old Australian shepherd named Three-Pete ran toward the officer, barking and growling, Ardino said.
The dogs ultimately ran away, Fowler said. But fearing that they would attack someone, Ardino, Officer Andy Koss and an assistant dog-control officer searched for the dogs and found them in a field off Stutzman Road in Bowmansville.
Again, police said, the two dogs ran toward officers, barking and growling.
Feeling threatened, Ardino tried to use his baton to keep the dogs away. But the confrontation escalated to a point where the officer thought that he had to pull out his gun and shoot the shepherd puppy, police said. The husky, meanwhile, turned more aggressive and was shot, too.
Owners Darren and Dawn Swetz, of Heritage Drive, were issued a citation Tuesday for violating the town's leash law and for both dogs' not being licensed. Darren Swetz does not dispute the chain of events, but he continues to question the use of deadly force.
"Why was there no attempt to restrain the animals?" asked Swetz, a lawyer. "The dog-control officer was so close, why did Ardino engage the dog himself the second time?"
Swetz said he was home with his child when his dogs apparently dug under a wood fence to get out of the yard. He said he did not know that the dogs had escaped until it was too late.
"I heard the dogs barking, but I didn't notice their absence until the police called me to tell me what happened," he said, adding that they are still looking for answers but are not getting them.
Though he understands that the owners are upset about the loss of their pets, Fowler said, the outcome could have been far worse if the dogs had gotten to a child.
"We're not saying the dogs were ferocious forever. They may have been the most wonderful, gentle animals at home, but on that day, at that moment, they were so out of control that they could not be restrained in any way," Fowler said. "The two cops feel bad about it, but there was no choice."