On a May afternoon nearly three years ago, Mark and Cindy Boling were unloading groceries from their truck when a young Fort Worth police officer responding to a nearby burglary mistakenly walked down their driveway.
When the Bolings’ 5-year-old border collie, Lily, ran to greet him, the officer pulled out his gun and shot the dog. The Bolings learned later that the officer was afraid of dogs and had never received training to deal with it.
On Friday, the Bolings watched as the Texas House voted unanimously for a police canine training program they have been calling for since Lily was killed.
“My husband and I have devoted every single day to making this legislation happen,” Cindy Boling said.
House members gave preliminary approval to House Bill 593 by state Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, which establishes a statewide training requirement for law enforcement officers to teach them how to deal with canine encounters on the job. The training program requires four hours of classroom instruction on understanding canine behavior, distinguishing between friendly and aggressive dogs, and using nonlethal methods to defend against a canine attack.
The measure stems from a rash of dog shootings by police officers in Texas and across the country in recent years. On the House floor, Collier credited the Bolings for inspiring and helping to craft the legislation.
“We’ve had a lot of unfortunate situations about animals who have been harmed unnecessarily,” state Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, said at a House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee meeting last month. Giddings introduced a similar measure before lending her name to HB593 as a co-author.
“Peace officers who have not been trained in de-escalation with animals have had to make split-second decisions on how to protect themselves and how to protect citizens,” she added.
The Bolings have been on a mission since 2012, working with police departments in cities like Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin to set up canine training programs. Cindy Boling said roughly 3,000 police officers statewide have now received canine training.
Police groups like the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas have offered support for Collier’s legislation.
“They don’t want to shoot dogs,” Cindy Boling said, adding that many police officers have dogs of their own.
The legislation also got a boost from animal advocacy groups like the Humane Society of the United States, Prevention Against Canine Killings and the Texas Humane Legislation Network.
Data show that police officers are likely to encounter dogs in one in three house calls. But unlike meter readers, mail carriers and delivery people, most officers aren’t trained for canine encounters.
In Cleburne, the shooting of a pit bull puppy by a police officer last year sparked a sharp backlash in the community. In the House, Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, has joined Collier as a co-author, and acting Police Chief Amy Knoll voiced her support for the bill at the committee hearing last month, describing a “training void.”
The original version of the House bill required eight hours of training and barred online training courses.
Cole Middleton, a farmer in Rains County, said at the committee hearing that one of the worst days of his life was the day an officer, responding to a break-in at his home, shot his dog Candy in the back of the head while Middleton was working in the pasture.
“That day, the officer had a gun on his hip — that’s all he had to deal with whatever come to him, whether it be a 10-year-old child or a 3-year-old, 35-pound dog,” Middleton said. “Other means need to be taught to these officers to deal with these dogs nonlethally.”
Cindy Boling sat in on one of the training classes she helped set up in Fort Worth, where officers were taught to use other tools — their nightstick, a clipboard or anything else they might be carrying — to defend against a canine attack.
“It’s definitely hands-on,” Boling said. “It shows the dos and don’ts.”
In the House on Friday, Collier emphasized that her bill would not prevent police officers from using deadly force against a canine.
State Reps. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, and Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, are also co-authors of HB593. A similar proposal by state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, has been introduced in the Senate.
“We have made amazing headway,” Boling said. “I’m anxious, I’m excited, and I’m very, very hopeful.”