Animals are targets in the majority of Southwest Florida officer shootings.
Officers shot at animals 111 times from 2009-12 compared to human suspects 24 times, according to a database analysis by The News-Press.
Pit bulls that threatened officers accounted for a large percentage of the shootings. Deputies shot at least 22 pit bulls in Lee County — the breed accounted for more than 75 percent of all dogs shot, and 36 percent of all animals shot. Not all sheriff’s office reports identified the breed of dog shot.
In Collier County, deputies shot at least four pit bulls from 2009-12, and the breed accounted for almost half of all threatening dogs shot.
Other aggressive animals shot by Collier County deputies include alligators, bobcats, raccoons and rattlesnakes. Deputies used firearms to euthanize 16 injured animals.
Cape Coral and Fort Myers did not have data available breaking down shootings by breeds of dogs.
Tara Davis had to put down her pit bull, Dutchess, in 2011 after a Lee County deputy shot the dog in the neck. Deputies were responding to a domestic dispute involving Davis’ friend at the Leigh Acres home they shared. Dutchess, trying to defend the property, ran at a deputy and pinned him against the wall. Davis wasn’t home at the time.
“When I got there my dog was bleeding all over my front porch,” Davis said. “She actually got up and was trying to come to where I was. But when I came home, I just fell down in the middle of the driveway. I couldn’t even make it up to the door.”
Davis, who raised 4-year-old Dutchess from birth, said she was devastated. The dog was never aggressive before, but Davis said she understood why the deputy had to shoot.
On Thursday, 16 of 100 dogs available for adoption at Lee County Domestic Animal Services were pit bulls. Spokeswoman Ria Brown said the dogs have a reputation for aggression because some are abused or trained to be aggressive by irresponsible owners. Even if the dogs are friendly, they may naturally become protective when an unknown deputy enters their home.
A pit bull’s strong, muscular body and fiercely loyal temperament also often make it the breed of choice for criminals, Brown said.
“So if (deputies are) pursuing a criminal case,” she said, “they’re probably going to run into a pit bull.”
Collier County Cpl. Uriel Roman said deputies should react the same to any threat of death or injury — whether it’s a charging pit bull or a man with a gun.
“The policy goes,” he said, “if there’s a threat, then you take care of it.”