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SALT LAKE CITY — Internal Affairs detectives are investigating why a police officer shot and killed a dog that was in its own backyard in Sugar House.
"The department regrets the unfortunate outcome of this incident," the Salt Lake Police Department said in a prepared statement Thursday.
The dog's owner, Sean Kendall, however, is "very, very upset" over what happened.
"I understand the concern for a missing child. But that doesn't negate my rights as a property owner. And it doesn't replace my dog," he said. "It doesn't justify what that officer chose to do, and that was use lethal force on my animal."
About 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, an officer searching for a missing 3-year-old boy in the area of 2500 South and 1500 East walked into Kendall's fenced backyard. Detectives had received information "that the child was largely nonverbal and likely would not respond to calls by name," said Salt Lake Police Sgt. Robin Heiden.
"Given the urgency to find the child, an officer entered the backyard to see if he had possibly wandered back there," she said.
Geist, a 110-pound Weimaraner who was believed to be in his kennel, confronted the officer. The officer reported that Geist acted in an "aggressive" manner, forcing him to draw his gun and fire.
"He felt threatened by the dog," Heiden said.
But Kendall believes his dog was doing what dogs normally do — protecting his property. He said while Geist would bark at an intruder, he was never known to be aggressive.
"Other than the fact that the officer was on my property uninvited, he was doing nothing but what a dog should do. You buy a dog to help protect your property, and that's exactly what he was doing," he said.
A neighbor said she heard two gunshots and saw the officer leave the yard. Kendall said the dog had a single gunshot wound to the head.
The missing child was found safe in his home about 30 minutes after the shooting.
SALT LAKE CITY — After seeing the story on the death of a Weimaraner Wednesday night, a breeder offered a free puppy for the owner of a dog shot by Salt Lake police.
"They are very protective, but on the other hand, they're very loving," said Trent Devenish, who bred his first litter of Weimaraners that are now three months old. "I've got two Weimaraners of my own and I can't imagine losing one of them."
The puppies are the same breed as Geist, Sean Kendall's dog who was shot by Salt Lake police Wednesday during a search for a missing toddler.
"If Sean is ready, I'm more than happy to let him choose a puppy," Devenish said.
Other dog owners are also showing support for Kendall, and officers from the Humane Society of Utah have also offered a free shelter pup to help replace Geist. A Facebook page called Justice for Geist was created Thursday, and it accumulated hundreds of "likes" within 15 minutes.
Salt Lake police detective Dennis McGowan said officers are trained to use minimum force, including during encounters with dogs. But the shooting of Geist is pushing the department to consider changing its policies further.
"It's probably the most important training we go under as recruits," McGowan said.
The Humane Society's Jamie Usry said the use of lethal force should be the last resort.
"They're first going to try their pepper spray or mace or a taser if the dog is truly coming up to attack them," Usry said.
Heiden said the department feels horrible about what happened and the chief's office called Kendall Thursday to offer condolences. Police officials also plan to meet with him when he returns from burying his dog on his parents' property in Vernal, where Geist loved to run.
Salt Lake police are taking steps to evaluate officer training relative in police-dog encounters, the department said in a statement.
"Lastly, no officer wishes to use lethal force during any encounter. Per policy, all such cases — including this one — are reviewed by the Internal Affairs Unit," the statement said. "Residents are urged to share their opinions in a respectful manner with the department via email at email@example.com."
Kendall said Geist was his hiking buddy, sleeping partner and best friend.
"He was just goofy and funny and he loved to play. He was a big cuddler, big cuddler. But now he's gone," Kendall said of Geist, whom he called part of his family. "Now he's dead, I have him wrapped up in a blanket in the back of my truck and I get to go bury him.
"Just the sheer sight of seeing my dog laying there was traumatizing," he said.
Kendall said Geist, whom he got as a puppy 2 ½ years ago, was the first dog he owned that he could call his own.
The Utah Humane Society has also been in contact with the police department and offered specialized training for officers on how to handle situations involving dogs and other animals. Heiden said the department would likely take the Humane Society up on the offer.
The unnamed officer involved in the shooting, who has more than 10 years' experience with the department, was not on paid administrative leave Thursday as is standard procedure with officer-involved shootings involving people. Heiden said the rule does not apply to animals.