spcaLA in the News
Hawthorne police officers are receiving specialized training on dealing with dogs after an officer fatally shoots a dog during the owner's arrest.
HAWTHORNE, Calif. (KABC) --
The video of Hawthorne police officer shooting and killing Max the Rottweiler during his owner's arrest in 2013 sparked outrage and mistrust of the department. As a result of that incident, Hawthorne police officers are now receiving specialized training on dealing with dogs.
The course, developed by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, teaches officers how to read dog behavior.
For example, yawning is actually a signal of stress. The best way to handle that situation is to give the animal space.
Kissing sounds also let the dog know you're in his territory.
"We have to balance what we have learned about dealing with potentially vicious animals so we don't escalate to a point where we actually end up harming an animal," Hawthorne Police Lt. Gary Tomatani said.
The spcaLA says it's received calls from other law enforcement departments statewide interested in the class.
By Sid Garcia
SPCA president Madeline Bernstein announced a new certified course available for law enforcement officers in California at the Hawthorne Police Department Friday January 15, 2015. The Dog Behavior for Law Enforcement class is the first of its kind and will help reduce the number of deadly force incidents with animals on the streets. Hawthorne Police officers have started the training. (Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)
By Donna Littlejohn, The Daily Breeze
POSTED: 01/16/15, 8:00 PM PST |
Lt. Cesar Perea of the SPCLA teaches how to interact with dogs during class at Hawthorne Police Department on Friday, January 15, 2014. (Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)
When police officers arrive at a crime scene, training tells them project a commanding presence — stand tall, chest forward, yell commands — to establish physical and psychological authority.
It works well with human suspects. But not so well with a pet dog that’s in the way.
In the wake of a 2013 police shooting of a Rottweiler named Max in Hawthorne, a new state-certified training class aims to train officers on how to deal with animals. Put together by the spcaLA, the course went live this month as all officers in the Hawthorne Police Department began going through the eight-hour classroom session.
“This curriculum was designed using the latest science” in animal behavior, said Madeline Bernstein, president of spcaLA, at a news conference Friday at the Hawthorne police station.
The nonprofit organization has been developing the curriculum over the past year, she said. Since getting it certified through POST (Police Officer Standards and Training) with the state of California, she said, there have been a “flood” of requests for the training from departments throughout the state.
Titled “Dog Behavior for Law Enforcement,” the class is designed to reduce the number of deadly force incidents while teaching officers how to recognize animal behavior and body language that can be threatening.
State certification provides continuing education credit for police officers who take the class, which Bernstein said is currently the only course of its kind certified by the state.
For police officers, some of the techniques taught in the course run counter to their training for how to deal with human suspects.
“Officers are taught to be assertive and dominant when approaching a suspect,” said Bernstein, a former prosecutor. “However, the opposite of that ‘alpha’ approach is usually what is needed when dealing with a family pet.”
About a dozen officers were sitting in a classroom in Hawthorne on Friday as their instructor, Lt. Cesar Perea of spcaLA, explained how to modify behavior and appearance when encountering a dog.
A stuffed dog is used for classroom purposes initially, but Bernstein said eventually real dogs might be employed in the classroom setting, provided liability issues can be cleared.
While officers are trained to present themselves in a “loud, commanding and in-charge” manner, he said, that can inadvertently provoke an animal.
So can such uniform staples as a shiny badge, large, polished boots and belts, sunglasses and hats.
“Your overall body language should be rounded, with soft edges,” Perea said. “Don’t make eye contact with a dog. ... That can be very confrontational. If you have to walk by a dog in a yard, you can walk by very softly and walk at an angle.”
Pointing a weapon outward might be effective in conveying a serious message to a human suspect, but it can backfire with a dog, which can see the item as an attraction and decide to lunge.
Hawthorne police Lt. Gary Tomatani said the course was welcomed following the 2013 shooting that drew months of heavy public criticism.
Leon Rosby, the dog’s owner, is awaiting trial on charges of interfering with police. A disturbing cellphone video of his dog’s shooting death went viral in the summer of 2013, prompting the recent focus on law enforcement protocol when dealing with animals they deem to be a threat.
Shooting a dog, Bernstein said, is traumatic for officers and poses dangers to bystanders and the public.
“There’s been an outcry and a rash of legislation to try to deal with this problem,” she said.
But training materials on the market have, until now, fallen short in showing officers how to effectively diffuse a potentially dangerous situation, she said.
“(We) approached this problem from a scientific perspective,” Bernstein said, adding that she’s learned some new things as a dog owner as well in helping to craft the lessons. “There’s a lot of behavioral science out there now that will help officers deal with a family pet or a stray dog.”
Outdated techniques — such as using pepper spray or a fire extinguisher — can often escalate a situation, she said.
With the new curriculum, Bernstein said, “they’re learning how to read those (animal behavior) signals and how to change their approach.”
By Donna Littlejohn
- Amy, a 3-month-old tabby cat, plays CyberPounce, a computer game designed specifically for cats. (Associated Press)
When Laura Fritz's felines play with her iPad, her fat cat loses the urge to eat, her scaredy-cat loses his fear and her youngest just loses interest.
If you've had enough time to play with the tablet you got for the holidays, try turning the device over to your tech-savvy cat. Every cat app, no matter the maker, has something for felines to electronically track, stalk or hunt, such as mice, bugs or laser dots.
"Cats are attracted to things that move, and that is the 'magic' for most of the apps," said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.
"The motion in most apps is jerky and quick, much like an insect," she said, adding that any sound component would quickly be eclipsed by the draw of movement.
Every cat is different, but if they are like two of Fritz's, they will love pawing the screen to catch critters, which breaks anxious Maxie out of his shell and gives hefty Mr. Brutus a way to exercise, said Fritz of Waltham, Massachusetts. But they may be like her youngest, Pansy Rose, who couldn't care less.
Maxie and Brutus work together on the app "Paint for Cats," chasing a mouse and leaving a trail of splattered paint where they have pawed, rubbed, jumped or made other marks with their movements. Many cat owners see the results as art worthy of sharing on social media, so the app allows people to email the creations.
It is among three popular apps created by T.J. Fuller and Nate Murray's Los Angeles company Hiccup. The company also features a mouse chasing game called "Game for Cats" and monster crushing game dubbed "Catzilla."
There are several cat apps on the market. "Pocket Pond" for Android tablets allows cats to follow fish or dragonflies with their paws. Friskies' "Cat Fishing" also taps into the fish theme for Android and Apple devices.
Some people worry about damage to the devices, but claws won't hurt the screen, said Fuller, who ran many tests. But nobody has tested for teeth, and Karen Rittmuller of Salem, Massachusetts, found a problem with a bite.
Rittmuller tried to get her calico cat Pixel to live up to her high-tech name, so she downloaded "Game for Cats," but her pet will only stalk, pounce and bite the iPad, so she took it away.
"I did not want the device ruined or her hurt from biting too hard," Rittmuller said.
Even cats at shelters are joining the tech trend.
When the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles received a couple of used tablets two years ago, the shelter decided to see if any of their homeless cats were hiding inner artists.
Two of them, dubbed Pawblo Picasso and Frida Catlo, created abstract art that looked like fuzzy circles, and the organization turned it into sellable notecards.
Those trading up to a newer model tablet should consider donating used devices to shelters, said Ana Bustilloz, spokeswoman for the organization. People give food, kitty litter and blankets, but many don't think of animal shelters when it comes to tech equipment, she said.
Back at the Fritz house, the cats work out their problems with the tablet. The 21-pound Brutus is only motivated by food and refuses to exercise, so "Paint for Cats" gets him to move, Fritz said.
"Maxie is scared of everything that moves. But when he's painting, he becomes a different cat ... and really gets into it," she said.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS JAN. 6, 2015
LOS ANGELES -- A Long Beach man who aroused suspicion when he sought a refund from an animal shelter for dead "defective" cats was sentenced Tuesday to two years behind bars for animal cruelty.
Steven Ullery, 24, pleaded guilty in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Long Beach to a single count of animal cruelty after a jury deadlocked last year in a trial involving the deaths of several adopted cats.
The Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals began investigating when Ullery and his wife returned two dead cats to an animal shelter in 2013 and asked for their money back. They discovered the couple had returned three dead cats to another animal hospital a few months earlier.
When confronted, Ullery, who weighs 200 pounds, told investigators he had kicked a 5-pound kitten because it bit him, said Deputy District Attorney Paul Guthrie. He said he strangled a second cat to put it out of its misery because he thought it was having a seizure. He did not admit to killing the three others.
Jurors deadlocked 11-1 for conviction on all four cruelty counts in October, Guthrie said. Jurors said the one holdout thought Ullery acted in self-defense.
Investigators didn't buy Ullery's explanations once they discovered the number of deaths, said Madeline Bernstein, president of spcaLA.
It's not unheard of for people to return a dead pet, but the organization always investigates further.
"You wouldn't immediately jump over the counter and scream, 'Liar,'" Bernstein said. "To think that we would just not look into it is a bit naive."
A defense lawyer didn't immediately return phone or email messages seeking comment.
Because of the conviction, Ullery cannot own, care for or live with a pet for 10 years.
"Two years is a great sentence," Bernstein said. "Typically across the county we're battling with people taking these cases seriously. It's a significant crime, a violent crime and can be a precursor of violence toward people."
Ullery's sentence will be served in county jail, where inmates are often released early because of overcrowded conditions.
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS