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Attorney: County would have had difficulty proving case in Irmo dog shooting

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IRMO, SC (WIS) -

After losing their family pet four weeks ago, Karen Counts and her family are now free from any charge related to a Labor Day incident that left them without their dog, but with lots of unanswered questions. 

A holiday when most people are off of work and enjoying outdoor fun, the Counts family came home to discover their German Shepherd Labrador mix was shot and killed by an Irmo police officer.

The officer responded to Charing Cross Road after a runner called 911 to say he was chased by a black dog. The officer then shot 4-year-old Kenya twice after he says the animal charged at him, while he was on Counts' property, reports say. A third shot was fired at the dog to put it out of its misery, according to incident reports and dispatch recordings.

The family returned home Labor Day to find a note on their door from animal control stating that the dog was shot.

Counts was given a citation Sept. 3 from Richland County Animal Care for having a dangerous or vicious animal that came with a $1,092.50 fine. Counts appeared in court Sept. 30 with her attorney Neal Lourie, and within a minute, Richland County's attorney told the magistrate judge that they are dropping the charge against Count.

"They were going to have a very difficult time proving the case," Lourie said. "I am pleased with the result."

Richland County's attorney would not comment on why the charge was dropped.

Counts tells WIS that the past month has been difficult for her family, explaining that the legal issue added insult to injury on top of their loss. She is now relieved the charge was dropped and added the family "is glad this is now behind us, and we can grieve our loss and move on."

Irmo Police Chief Brian Buck also had no comment after the charge was dropped. Dash camera footage from the officer's vehicle does not show the shooting incident.

According to an Irmo ordinance, it is illegal for any domestic animal to run at large on the streets or in public places.

Since 2010, Irmo Police have responded to 23 animal-related complaints, including the recent Labor Day incident. Of those, six people were charged in the complaints and four resulted in animals being shot. Other than the dog, the other animals shot included two foxes and one raccoon.

A similar incident occurred in February 2010 when an Irmo Police officer Tasered a 25-pound dog after the officer said the dog was acting aggressive toward him. Read more about that incident here.

Chief Brian Buck previously told WIS that officers are instructed to use whichever weapon they feel is appropriate to protect them in any situation.

Understanding an aggressive dog

Teoti Anderson, owner of Pawsitive Results, has been a professional dog trainer for more than 18 years. She explains that aggressive behavior is determined by a lengthy evaluation of a dog.

"Aggression can be caused by illness, medication and pain," Anderson said. "Most aggression is based on fear, but you have to actually look at a dog and determine if that's the case."

Different types of aggressive behaviors are defined by growling over a bone or toys or at someone jogging by your home; observed when a dog's ears are up and pointed forward; and by a dog's body weight.

Anderson said if a dog is leaning backward and growling that animal is afraid. If the dog is leaning forward and growling, it has more intent to attack. On the other hand, if the dog is leaning forward and backward, the animal is conflicted and is not confident on what he should do.

"Behavior changes (in animals), just like us," Anderson said. "A dog's behavior can change from day to day. There is usually a history of aggression. I get calls and people will say, ‘My dog bit out of the blue.' Dogs don't bite out of the blue. There are always precursors."

Anderson recommends anyone who has a risk of coming in contact with a dog carry food because some animals will stop growling or approaching a person to stop and eat that is thrown out at them. Other suggestions include using pepper spray or activating an automatic umbrella to put a barrier between the person and the dog.

"I think anytime you have a situation where things are unclear, education is critical," Anderson said. "I think the more we can educate people about animals and what they are trying to tell us, the better the community."

Understanding an aggressive dog

Teoti Anderson, owner of Pawsitive Results, has been a professional dog trainer for more than 18 years. She explains that aggressive behavior is determined by a lengthy evaluation of a dog.

"Aggression can be caused by illness, medication and pain," Anderson said. "Most aggression is based on fear, but you have to actually look at a dog and determine if that's the case."

Different types of aggressive behaviors are defined by growling over a bone or toys or at someone jogging by your home; observed when a dog's ears are up and pointed forward; and by a dog's body weight.

Anderson said if a dog is leaning backward and growling that animal is afraid. If the dog is leaning forward and growling, it has more intent to attack. On the other hand, if the dog is leaning forward and backward, the animal is conflicted and is not confident on what he should do.

"Behavior changes (in animals), just like us," Anderson said. "A dog's behavior can change from day to day. There is usually a history of aggression. I get calls and people will say, ‘My dog bit out of the blue.' Dogs don't bite out of the blue. There are always precursors."

Anderson recommends anyone who has a risk of coming in contact with a dog carry food because some animals will stop growling or approaching a person to stop and eat that is thrown out at them. Other suggestions include using pepper spray or activating an automatic umbrella to put a barrier between the person and the dog.

"I think anytime you have a situation where things are unclear, education is critical," Anderson said. "I think the more we can educate people about animals and what they are trying to tell us, the better the community."

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