For the first time in three years, Cindy Boling of Fort Worth can sleep well.
She’s not going to bed fretting about what needs to be done the next day; she’s not waking up in the morning feeling sick to her stomach.
“I found peace,” said Boling, who, along with her husband, Mark, were the focus of nationwide attention when their 5-year-old border collie-English setter mix was shot by a police officer on their property. “I’m waking up with something else on my mind and I’m thinking about something else.”
That’s because this month — three years after Lily was killed — the Texas Legislature passed a measure to require peace officers statewide to go through training that teaches them how to deal with canines they encounter on the job. The measure now is before Gov. Greg Abbott for consideration.
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“After the shooting, when I was trying to see through the grief, I was thinking there had to be a reason a beautiful angel was taken,” Boling said. “I kept thinking there had to be a purpose, a reason.
“This was the reason.”
State lawmakers recently approved House Bill 593, which creates a comprehensive statewide training program for peace officers to learn how to deal with canine encounters on the job, to address a growing concern about law enforcement shootings of dogs.
The measure will require four hours of classroom training and practical training to learn how to understand canine behavior, anticipate unplanned encounters with canines and use humane tools in handling any encounters with canines.
“Currently, not all Texas peace officers receive training to prepare themselves for canine contact, though they will very likely be put in this type of situation many times throughout their career,” said Rep. Nicole Collier, D-Fort Worth, one of several authors of the bill.
Many expect Abbott, who recently adopted a golden retriever named Pancake, to sign the bill into law. The governor’s office declined to comment on specific legislation.
On a May afternoon three years ago, Mark and Cindy Boling arrived home from a shopping trip and were unloading groceries at their east Fort Worth home.
Their two dogs were jumping and running around, and barking, when a police officer walked up their driveway. The officer asked Mark Boling to control his dogs and he asked the officer to stay where he was, as he tried to get them in the back yard.
One, Lily, got out and ran around. In seconds, the officer walked onto Boling’s elevated porch, then stepped onto a pillar several feet higher and shot the dog.
A police statement at the time said two barking dogs charged the officer aggressively while he repeatedly asked a man at the house to call them off.
“As the dogs were getting closer to attack/bite the officer, the officer fired his service weapon, striking the dog closest to him,” the statement said.
Cindy Boling said, “The officer that killed our dog was afraid of dogs.”
When the Bolings asked why the officer was on their property, he said he was there because of a copper theft. Police reports show that the reported theft occurred two blocks up the street.
Cindy Boling has worked ever since to bring about training for peace officers so that other family pets don’t have to die.
She has talked to countless people, helped with training efforts and reached out to countless law enforcers asking for this training to go into effect. She started a page on Facebook, Remembering Lily A Reason for Change, so that people would know the story.
“For three years, every day I wake up thinking about her, trying not to think about the shooting,” she said. “Who do I need to call to get on board with this legislation? What do I need to make this happen?
“My husband hugged me so many nights when I was crying,” she said. “But this was God’s plan for my Lily. It’s making a difference already.”
Some cities, such as Fort Worth, Arlington and Austin, moved forward to create training programs to help officers tell the difference between a dog that is barking out of excitement and one that is ready to attack.
A bill that proposed to take the training statewide died last session, in 2013.
Collier revived the legislation this year in the House and worked on it with a handful of lawmakers including Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth. After the police shooting of a pit bull in Cleburne last year, Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, also joined as a co-author. Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, carried it in the Senate.
“Officers interact with a canine roughly 1 in every 3 times they approach a home while on the job,” Collier said. “Pets serve important roles in many family structures and the idea of losing just one due to mistake in judgment can be detrimental.
“HB593 better informs Texas peace officers on how to avoid and defend themselves against a canine attack as well as protect the life and safety of the family pet.”
Critics have said the bill is unnecessary because some law enforcement agencies statewide have already started implementing similar training.
Supporters include several law enforcement groups including the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, several animal advocacy groups and the Austin-based Texas Humane Legislation Network, which lobbies on behalf of animal protection legislation.
“This bill will go a long way to protecting pets and their people from being shot by officers,” said Stacy Sutton Kerby, interim executive director of the network. “The officers will be trained to recognize canine body behavior and they will learn how to de-escalate a situation.
“They’ll learn to use their firearm as a last resort,” she said. “It’s going to keep everybody safer.”
Anna Tinsley, 817-390-7610