As shelter dogs and cats were designated the official state pets Monday, Gov. John Hickenlooper also signed a measure requiring police to undergo training to prevent animals from being shot.
The measures passed the Colorado Legislature last month amid a combative lawmaking term, putting the state's four-legged friends among the big winners of the recently completed session.
The training legislation, which all 100 lawmakers supported, appears to be the first of its kind. As the bill was being discussed the executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which represents police chiefs and sheriffs, said he was not aware of any state or local government with such a requirement.
Dog lovers pushed for the law, saying several recent deadly pet shootings by authorities were unnecessary and showed that officers needed help in identifying threats.
The legislation requires sheriffs' offices and police departments to offer three hours of online training on recognizing dog behaviours and employing nonlethal control methods.
"The idea here is to keep officers and animals safe," Hickenlooper said. The Democratic governor brought his dog, Skye, along for the bill signing. Hickenlooper also picked up the Akita-bulldog-chow chow mix from a shelter.
The state pet proposal was brought by schoolchildren, in what supporters say was an effort to teach them about the legislative process. It was a true civics lesson, as the measure sparked a fight and almost failed in its House committee.
The training law is similar to a program run by the Arvada Police Department in suburban Denver. The state-level legislation, however, brings awareness to a new level.
"I definitely think it's a big step in the right direction," said Brittany Moore.
Moore's dog, Ava, was killed in a police encounter about two years ago. Moore said her German shepherd was not a threat and was chewing a rawhide treat when she was shot by an officer responding to a report of harassing phone calls.
The law also directs authorities to give dog owners the option to control or remove their dogs during a nonviolent call. The training must be in place by Sept. 1, 2014.
Law enforcement groups offered guidance on the bill, which has exemptions for officers' discretion.
Colorado lawmakers said they recognize that police and sheriff's deputies handle most dog encounters appropriately. However, lawmakers said additional training would be appropriate to try to reduce shootings.
The training law sailed through unopposed in a testy year where lawmakers fought over guns, elections, immigration, oil and gas regulations — and the state pet.
One of the bill's sponsors Republican Sen. David Balmer said, "This is a bipartisan day for dogs."
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