"He shot the puppy!" several neighbors screamed simultaneously, shocked by the actions of one Chicago police officer.
On Saturday afternoon, Dec. 1, Al Phillips, who lives on Chicago's north side, received a call from a neighbor that a police officer was writing a parking ticket in front of Phillips' house. It was a beautiful day, and Phillips' three dogs had been playing in the yard, but, "as I walked outside the gate to talk to the police officer, I left the door ajar and the puppy walked out," Al told me.
That puppy is Colonel, a 7-month-old Miniature Bull Terrier affectionately dubbed "Col. Phillips" by neighborhood residents.
Al, 75, said he didn't hear the police officer issue a warning, or say anything. In TV reports, witnesses claimed the officer said, "The dog is loose." Within seconds, and without any additional warning, the officer shot at the puppy, twice.
"I heard the shots, but couldn't believe it," Al told me.
There were several witnesses, and their accounts to local TV have been consistent. Not only was the puppy not approaching the police officer, but Colonel was at least a car length away, sniffing at a tree.
It was only a matter of minutes before additional police arrived on the scene, and neighbors streamed from their homes and the high-rise across the street. About this time, Al said, his daughter, Morgan, happened to pull up.
"Some people were screaming," Morgan recalled.
Meanwhile, Colonel had run down the street. A neighbor had grabbed the dog, who was bleeding profusely. Police on the scene were saying nothing, some looking down to the ground, but none offered to help, Morgan told me. She rushed Colonel to the Chicago Veterinary Emergency and Specialty Center.
(It's possible neither shot was a direct hit. According to news reports, the bullets ricocheted off concrete or a fence. Had they had been direct hits, Colonel might have died, Al and Morgan Phillips said. After surgery, the pup is recovering well.)
As for the officer who shot at Colonel, Al, his wife, Barbara, and Morgan said (and witnesses confirmed in TV reports) that he calmly finished writing the ticket, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred.
Phillips, who owns World Gym locations in the Chicago area, told me, "Clearly, the parking ticket was a higher priority for this officer. What kind of person does this?"
"I once lived with a Chicago cop, and they are taught that even when they're under fire, not to shoot in busy neighborhoods, unless they absolutely must," Morgan told me. "It was a nice day, and people were everywhere. Right where Colonel was when he was shot, a woman was walking down the street with her dog pushing a baby stroller. Her baby might have been hit. It's only a stroke of luck that a bullet didn't hit anyone."
This story made the news, which apparently the police weren't too thrilled about. Two days after the shooting, a sergeant and a lieutenant from the Chicago Police Department showed up at the Phillips' home.
"I thought they were sending honchos over to apologize," Barbara told me.
Instead, Al and Barbara said, the police questioned why the family had gone to the media, and insisted that the officer who shot at their dog is a "good man." When Al and Barbara were clearly unwilling to promise "no more media," they were issued a ticket for Colonel being off-leash two days prior.
At first, the City denied this visit ever took place, however, a TV news crew happened to be there and caught it on tape. Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy weighed in with these comments on Fox TV News:
"Unfortunately, officers get bit by dogs frequently. We don't have to wait to get bit by a dog, we don't have to wait to get shot at before we take steps to protect ourselves. We have to shoot dogs frequently in the city. There's a story about last night where we made a robbery arrest and somebody released a pit bull and attacked the officer and had to be shot."
"I don't even know how to respond to that statement," Al Phillips told me. "It's one thing when police are threatened by a dog; it's another to shoot an innocent puppy."
The Phillips' have sued the city and police officer for "in excess of $50,000."
"What we really want," Al said, "Is for the officer (who shot at Colonel) to be taken off the streets and to get help. And for a change of attitude, perhaps through mandated training, so this never happens again."
According to Ledy VanKavage, senior legislative analyst at Best Friends Animal Society, "Incidents like this happen all the time across the country, where innocent dogs are shot by police. This ranges from officers approaching the wrong house with a warrant and shooting a dog, to shooting a lost 12-year-old Golden Retriever who wasn't threatening anyone. It's amazing. All states should mandate training and these actions should not be deemed acceptable."
As for the Chicago police side of the story, a spokesperson told me they had nothing more to add.
After all, what more can they say? Barbara Phillips noted, "How about, 'I'm sorry that I shot your puppy'?"
Of course, Colonel should never have been shot at in the first place, assuming all witness accounts of the incident are accurate. Aside from training to help police better recognize canine body language, and so officers don't instantly resort to lethal force, perhaps understanding why dogs are so often a target would also be helpful. Dogs may legally be property, but emotionally they are beloved members of our families.