Three years ago, a little pit bull named Chesty was just a stray dog on the streets of Dayton. He was napping under a bush on a hot, summer day, when he came very close to becoming a terrible statistic.
It was the tail end — no pun intended — of summer and 2013 was a hot one in Ohio. Chesty was around a year old, and what his life was like before this moment, we can only surmise.
What we do know, is that while he was taking a nap under a bush, a police officer saw Chesty, and went to go check on him by nudging him with his boot.
There are a lot of sayings that exist for a reason, and “let sleeping dogs lie” is generally one of them.
After being woken up with a boot to the stomach, Chesty reacted in a way that most dogs would react if a stranger did that to them. He barked and charged at what he perceived to be a threat.
The officer reacted in the only way he knew how to react. He pulled out his service weapon and shot Chesty at close range.
Chesty spent the next five days at the county shelter without any medical treatment for his shattered shoulder except for pain meds, while his future was being decided.
A local rescue organization, the Miami Valley Pit Crew, stepped up and stepped in for Chesty. They worked closely with the shelter to allow them to release Chesty into their care.
Chesty went in immediately for surgery. Over 50 bone fragments were removed from his shoulder.
I agreed to foster Chesty, having only the story above and no other information. After a few days with the rescue, Chesty came to my house with a bulging suture and a bag full of pain meds and antibiotics.
Little did I know how important this little dog would become to me, and so many others.
Chesty flew through his rehabilitation, and was quickly integrated with my other dogs. He fell in love with my son immediately, and the love was shared right back from my son.
They became best friends from the get-go and their bond has only strengthened over the years.
In my head, I knew I was going to adopt Chesty from the Miami Valley Pit Crew from day one, but I tried to remind myself that Chesty was “just a foster.” Ultimately, by the end of 2013 I “foster failed,” an affectionate term for people who adopt a dog that was supposed to be a temporary resident.
Over the next few years, Chesty would become Canine Good Citizen certified. As I began teaching dog safety classes to children across the State of Ohio with my own nonprofit organization, the Animal Cruelty Task Force of Ohio, Chesty tagged along as my demonstrator.
In 2015, I began to work with a fellow animal welfare advocate, pit bull owner, renegade dog rescuer, and mostly-retired MMA fighter out of Detroit, Gordon Shell, on a number of projects.
One of these involved developing a class to to teach police officers how to interact with dogs, so that all stayed safe.
Nobody has a clear statistic on how many dogs are shot and killed by police officers each year.
The estimates range from 1 every 98 minutes — 5,363 annually — according to producers of the documentary Puppycide, to 25 to 30 a day, or 9,125 to 10,950 annually, according to Laurel Matthews, a supervisory program specialist with the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services.
Whether it’s 5,000, 9,000 or over 10,000 a year, we can all agree that the number is too high, and something needs to be done about it.
We thought we could help, and Chesty could, too.
In February of 2016, the Lancaster and Millersburg Police Departments and Animal Control Officers were the first group of officers to go through this new training program.
The training was initiated by the Fairfield County Citizens for Animal Rights and Ethical Standards as a proactive way to reduce dog shootings, after several dog-related shootings in 2015.
The impact was almost immediate. In June of 2016, Lancaster Police officers Trent Temper and Raymond Hambel, with the assistance of Dog Warden Todd McCullough and Deputy Warden Jeremy Grant, were able to put their training to use when they encountered two injured and frightened pit bulls who had broken through their owner’s window and were loose on the street.
Instead of using deadly force, the officers were able to apply the training they learned. They safely got Sadie and Lucky into their cruisers, and to the veterinarian for medical care.
“I felt more comfortable, having had the training,” Officer Temper told the Columbus Dispatch.
Chesty spends part of the training class up front with Gordon and me. As we discuss ways to approach a dog, and ways NOT to approach a dog, we use Chesty as a living, breathing example of how the most subtle changes in our body positioning and methods of approach can completely change a dog’s response.
Officers are able to see that if they approach a dog the same way they approach a suspect, the dog is naturally going to be frightened, and might respond accordingly.
The rest of the class, Chesty wanders around and greets the officers off-leash, providing a little bit of a break for each officer he visits with, while Gordon and I continue on with our lecture and demonstration.
Education is the best way to keep communities and dogs safe, and by that I mean all dogs, no matter what they might look like.
The fact that Chesty was at one time another “pit bull shot by cop” headline speaks only to the need for increased education for law enforcement officers.
The fact that Chesty can now help train law enforcement officers to prevent incidents like this from happening in the future, speaks only to the point that all dogs are individuals.
After being shot by a police officer three years ago, Chesty had never been up close and personal with a uniformed member of law-enforcement, much less a room full of them, before we began our law enforcement training courses.
When he was a stray dog being kicked by a stranger, Chesty acted the way I would expect him to. Now, during these training sessions, Chesty acts the same way I would expect a well-trained, well-socialized dog to act in a room full of strangers.
He does AMAZING.
This isn’t just a feel-good presentation, though. Chesty is already helping to save the lives of his canine brothers and sisters.
Dog Behavior and Law Enforcement 101, Public Encounters is a copyrighted course that is offered by Gordon Shell, Steffen Baldwin, and Chesty Puller to law enforcement officers nationwide. Geographically focused in the Midwest (Michigan/Ohio), this program can be brought to any law enforcement agency that is interested in the training. Email if you’re interested in learning more!
PupJournal is proudly hosting National #PitBullWeek, or #NPBW, to celebrate blocky-headed wigglebutts, otherwise known as “pit bulls.” It’s time these pups are able to live their lives free from discrimination and harm. You can find articles, videos, and adoptable dogs on our National Pit Bull Week page and on Facebook. Join us by tagging National #PitBullWeek, or #NPBW!
Header image via Steffen Baldwin