UPDATED: Alexandria woman shoots, kills her dog to save boyfriend from mauling

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An Alexandria woman shot her dog dead as it mauled her boyfriend at the couple’s Eisenhower Avenue home January 18, highlighting safety issues for pet owners and local animal control officers.

An unidentified man was moving the dog’s toy with his foot when the Dogue de Bordeaux lunged at him and began biting, said Patrick Cole, spokesman for the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. While waiting for police and animal control to arrive, the owner tried to pin his pet to the ground. Unable to subdue it, he told his girlfriend to shoot it, which she did, in the head.

The man was taken to the hospital and treated for his wounds — five to nine bites all over his body.

“These kinds of attacks are rare,” Cole said. “Most of the dog bites we receive calls for are a dog biting someone or another dog on the street … but in terms of a dog basically mauling its owners at home, that’s rare.”

The dog had a history of aggression, including multiple biting incidents and “resource guarding” that went unreported by its owners, according to animal control officers who investigated the matter.

“This unfortunate incident highlights the importance of reporting all dog bites to animal control, regardless of severity,” said Joy Wilson, Alexandria Animal Control chief. “Dog bites do not result in automatic detainment of the animal. We’d rather have all of the facts and work with owners to prevent future safety risks.”

The incident also highlights the risk animal control officers take to protect the public, Wilson said. They are not permitted to carry guns — a catch pole is the extent of their defense — yet the Alexandria Police Department’s policy is to call on the force in all animal-related situations, said APD spokeswoman Ashley Hildebrandt.

This time was no different, though the dog was dead by the time officers arrived. Animal control officer Erika Jewel, who responded to the scene before police officers, shivers at the thought of arriving to an unknown home, hearing a man being mauled and seeing a gun in the hands of an unknown person — with nothing to protect her, not even pepper spray.

“We didn’t now what we were walking into,” Jewel said. “I’m not sure I wouldn’t have said, ‘Shoot the dog.’ [The pet owners] were defending themselves.”

It’s not just pets officers worry about. They deal with humans just as often, and they aren’t always happy with uniformed officers telling them how to treat their animal, Wilson said. She is lobbying the police department for self-defense training and certification with pepper spray, but members of the APD, which certifies officers, believes training animal control officers is a liability; if they misuse a weapon the department would be held accountable, said Capt. Al Tierney. Plus, the use of pepper spray on animals is an unproven practice, he said.

But it all could be moot, because Tierney, who advises animal control officers, says there is no established basis to arm them in the first place.

“I have a Glock 40 caliber at my side right now and I could be in a position where I would need to use a sniper rifle to save someone’s life, but that doesn’t mean I walk around with a sniper rifle,” Tierney said. “I’m equipped for the general situations I encounter.”

He’s unconvinced pepper spray would have changed anything. And if Jewel had arrived during the mauling to see a firearm in the house, she should have exited the home immediately, Tierney said.

Yet animal control officers are contracted by City Hall and are technically agents of the city. They are sworn in to protect residents. The Animal Welfare League of Alexandria, a quasi-city agency that gets significant funding from taxpayers, employs them. And animal control officers remain on the front lines — ahead of police officers — when unpredictable pets are involved. Wilson’s officers were lucky this time, she said.

“When thinking about the scenario, I and any other one of my officers would say, if they arrived on scene, ‘We’re certainly not going to stand by and listen to somebody get mauled by their own animal.’ So we definitely would have stepped in,” Wilson said.

Editor’s note: This article originally stated the dog breed was a Doberman/pit-bull mix. Based on new information, an Animal Welfare League spokesman now says the dog was a Dogue de Bordeaux, a breed commonly mistaken with pit-bulls.