Petaluma Police Chief Steve Hood said his department exhausted ?all reasonable options? before euthanizing K-9-trained Max, who had worked on the force alongside his handler, Officer Rick Cox, since 2003.
The police dog, Hood explained in an interview last week, was euthanized after he began biting his trainers and handlers, a standard warning sign of ?psychological disorder.?
Hood?s explanation came on the heels of a firestorm of public outrage when Petaluma Police Lt. Tim Lyons reported that ?Max was no longer as effective, and didn?t meet the standards we need. Euthanization is our very last choice.?
That story ran in the Argus-Courier July 3.
Hood acknowledged on July 17 Lyons did not have all the facts in the case when originally interviewed, adding the lieutenant was at a disadvantage in explaining the events which led to the decision to euthanize Max. Hood also colored the case as a ?total anomaly. This hasn?t happened before and we?re not anticipating it happening again.?
After telling people we ?have a dangerous animal, we couldn?t find anyone who was interested? in placing Max into retirement, Hood explained. ?We wanted to place him, but the problem is he?s not like a horse you can put out to pasture. He was a danger to other animals and people.?
Hood said his department called on the expertise of its Rohnert Park-based supervising veterinarian, Beth Far-hart, and southern California-based trainer, Dan LeMaster, to help evaluate the aggressive and unpredictable behavior of the six-year-old, 75-pound trained Belgian Malinois.
Farhart, in a faxed response, wrote, in part, ?The police officers and their canine comrades have nothing but our utmost respect for who they are and what service they provide. I have always found the officers from my observations to have very personal and affectionate relationships with the dogs.
?I cannot even begin to express the magnitude and gravity of the decision to euthanize him,? she continued. ?It was absolutely necessary and possibly something people who do not work in our professions find difficult to understand.?
Admitting he was ?frustrated? by the criticism generated among animal lovers from as far away as Seguin, Texas, Hood said the case against Max and the decision to put him down ?was as painful for us as anyone can imagine. It was a tragedy; the first time I?ve seen it happen and I?ve been involved in the department for 25 years.?
Max was the eighth trained K-9 member to serve the Petaluma Police Department since the corps was introduced here in 1967. Max worked with the department for five years without incident and only recently showed signs of ?psychological disorder in training,? Hood explained in a letter to the Argus-Courier, published today on the Opinion page.
?This was the responsible thing to do,? his letter continued, ?but it was very difficult on all of us at the police department, and particularly for Officer Cox. In all other Petaluma cases, retired dogs live out the rest of their days with their handlers, their best friends. Unfortunately, this wasn?t possible with Max.
?Max?s ashes,? wrote Hood, ?remain with Rick and his family.?
Officer Cox was unavailable for comment.
(Contact Liz Watson at email@example.com)