The group “Freeze Don’t Shoot” plans to hold a rally at every state capitol Saturday to highlight officer-involved shootings of family pets.

The Minnesota chapter was formed in July. Julie Whalen, the administrator of the Minnesota Facebook page, says the local group has about 130 members, and about 50 plan to attend Saturday afternoon’s rally in St. Paul to address what they call an “epidemic” of shootings.

“The organizer of FDS, Donna Earley … has been an animal advocate for 20-plus years, and I had met her in Facebook groups,” Whalen said. “Within two weeks of my taking [the role as Facebook admin] three dogs were shot by law enforcement in the Twin Cities. I started hearing from more families who had been effected by this — not just here but in other states, too. I quickly realized the importance of organizing this rally to show support for the victims, to give them a voice.”

The Department of Justice‘s Community Oriented Policing Services Office estimates that between 25 – 30 pet dogs are killed each day by law enforcement officers.

Whalen says her group wants officers to receive training to employ non-fatal tactics during dog encounters.

“Training is available to departments, including free modules, but few departments are utilizing it. It will take a lot of work, and won’t happen overnight, but our goal is that canine encounter training be part of every officer’s training,” she said. “As it is, dogs are dying, families are devastated, children are traumatized, departments are being sued and the lack of trust has already put a strain on community-police relationships and perceptions of safety. No one wins in these situations.”

The group has been raising funds on their individual state Facebook pages by selling clothing with graphics ranging from a dog paw print with the group’s name on it, to an unsettling image of a dog with two guns and the words “I Don’t Think So.”

Outgoing St. Paul Police Public Information Officer Howie Padilla says his department was not aware of Saturday’s event. News of the rally was also a surprise to Minneapolis Police Public Information Officer John Elder.

He released the following statement about the tragedy of officer-involved animal shootings:

“Police officers are placed into situations where, at times, they must make immediate decisions based on only the facts that are present at that moment. The officers are mandated to make the decisions to preserve their own safety as well as the safety of others.

The decision to shoot, or harm, an animal is not made lightly, but at times must be made immediately. Officers have no way of knowing the history of the animal, or what the animal may do. Every threat must be taken seriously.

These are very sad and unfortunate incidents and ones that no one wants to occur.”

Elder says he has a dog himself.

“Most of us cops do,” he said. “And we love dogs.”

The march will be held from 12 p.m. – 2 p.m. at the grounds of the State Capitol in St. Paul.

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~Stephen Swanson

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