Owner of dog shot by RCMP officer says police K9 started fight

An RCMP officer shot Lawrence Mantla's dog Rocko on Wednesday morning when a police canine training exercise in downtown Yellowknife turned ugly. 

Yellowknife RCMP say police dog and handler were injured by 2 'aggressive, unleashed dogs'

Lawrence Mantla's dog Rocko was shot by a Yellowknife RCMP officer on Wednesday.  (Submitted by Lori Dashney)

Experienced hunter Lawrence Mantla is no stranger to the sound of a gunshot — but he had never heard a shot from the other side of the barrel. 

That changed on Wednesday.

An RCMP officer shot Mantla's dog Rocko on Wednesday morning when a police canine training exercise in downtown Yellowknife turned ugly. 

Mantla told CBC he was holding his dog back from a fight with the police dog when the officer fired at Rocko's neck. 

"He shot my dog point blank — I felt my dog's skin ... wobble, shake," Mantla said. He couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if he had been shot instead. "Traumatized … I couldn't talk."

The incident comes at a time when police are being criticized across North America for how they use force.

"Lawrence could have been shot," said his wife Lori Dashney. "That's dangerous use of a firearm. Reckless behaviour." 

Disputing accounts of what happened

Mantla says he was with his dog in his yard, which faces a neighbourhood alley, when a police canine ran by on a long line, far from its handler. He says he was chopping wood when Rocko took a few steps off of their property line to say hello to the police dog.

Lori Dashney and Lawrence Mantla live in the N.W.T. with their dog Rocko. (Submitted by Lori Dashney)

That's when, Mantla says, the police dog started a fight.

He says both dogs were biting each other and he grabbed Rocko and tried to pull him away from the police dog. Mantla says the police dog's leash was too long for his handler to grab, and instead told Mantla he would shoot. 

After an RCMP statement was issued on Wednesday announcing that an officer had fired at an "aggressive dog," Mantla responded with an interview with Cabin Radio where he insisted his dog is gentle.   

RCMP gave more information with another statement Thursday. It said the agency's police dog, Hoss, as well as his handler had been injured, because of two "aggressive, unleashed dogs."

CBC texted Dashney to clarify if there was a second dog involved, but did not get an immediate reply.

In this 2015 file photo, police officers and their and their dogs undergo training in Alberta. RCMP say police dog Hoss and his handler were on a routine training exercise in Yellowknife when they were both injured by two aggressive dogs. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press )

Dogs and humans see things differently: experts

Both an expert witness in American police dog cases and an animal-care entrepreneur in Yellowknife say that a situation between two dogs can look very different to the animals than it might to their owners — but they disagree over how to respond.   

Tiarella Hanna, who runs Happy Pooch Grooming & Pet Services in Yellowknife, says strange dogs, especially those that haven't been neutered, can seem like a threat to a family pet if it comes near their property. 

"Dogs aren't going to know, 'That's a working dog,'" said Hanna. 

That's why she says people who work with dogs should be prepared for dog fights — and there's ways to respond without shooting, including the use of pepper spray, she says. 

To try and personalize and say, 'My dog is friendly' ... does not mean that's what the police dog interpreted.- Kyle Heyen, expert witness in American dog cases

But police dog expert Kyle Heyen in Iowa says even friendly pets can become aggressive.

Heyen says "when dogs go into battle," breaking up the attack could leave an officer in the middle at risk of serious injury.

He says in this case, the officer would have had to decide if they had a clear shot to stop the dog without risking Mantla, and weigh the risk of leaving the situation, possibly causing Mantla to get more hurt in the dog fight. 

"They have to make a split-second decision."

Rocko's vet says he's going to Calgary for surgery on his esophagus. (Submitted by Lori Dashney)

Heyen says it's up to animal owners to keep their dogs on leash or long line — like the police officer did with Hoss.

He also said it's normal for officers to train their dogs in urban neighbourhoods, so that the animals learn how to track scents without getting distracted from urban life.

"Rocko was loose, and that dog came up," said Heyen. "To try and personalize, 'My dog is friendly, and came up to sniff and investigate,' does not mean that's what the police dog interpreted." 

Community rallies around dog

Yellowknifers are now rallying around Rocko.

Friend Melinda Coombs is planning a GoFundMe for Rocko's surgery, and says that his first vet bill is already $1,700. A group on Facebook has promised to donate cans and bottles to raise funds.

Veterinarian Tom Pisz of Great Slave Animal Hospital, where Rocko was treated, says Rocko is on his way to Calgary for surgery on his esophagus. 

But he says it's unlikely that Rocko will recover. That's because surgery on this part of the body is very tricky. 

"These injuries are often terminal," he said. "Of course, we wish him the best."