About a week ago, East Texas dairy farmer Cole Middleton had to kill his beloved dog, Candy, with his own hands after she was shot by a sheriff’s deputy.
Deputy Jerred Dooley came to Middleton’s ranch on April 19 to investigate a burglary that Middleton had reported himself. When he drove up, Candy started barking at Dooley, and he shot her through the head.
“She’s barking when he pulls into the driveway letting me know someone’s at our house, an intruder is here, or a person who she would think was an intruder that she’s unfamiliar with. She’s barking. The officer gets out of his car, and all the while we’re headed up [there]. He gets out of his car and shoots my dog in my front yard,” Middleton said in an interview with KLTV.
The bullet through the head didn’t kill her, though. It left her alive, writhing on the ground and in agony. Middleton begged Dooley to shoot her again, just to put her out of her misery, but the deputy refused. He drove away, leaving Middleton to do “the otherwise unthinkable.” Candy was in pain, and Middleton’s guns had been stolen in the burglary. So he drowned Candy, using a bucket of water.
“I had to kill my dog with my bare hands and put her out of her suffering, praying for this to be over with,” he said.
I can’t even imagine what Cole Middleton is feeling this week. There are words that can cover the basics: rage, grief, and maybe even guilt. The last one is always there in the aftermath of trauma, even if your brain tells you that it shouldn’t be; you always wonder what you should have done differently. I know those things, but I can’t imagine having that memory in my brain, of having to kill a beloved companion because I knew that it was the most merciful thing to do.
I’m all for police — or anyone else, for that matter — being able to defend themselves when there’s a genuine threat, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. An autopsy report on Candy said the bullet entered the back of her head. Veterinarian Kevin Bankston concluded that “These findings suggest that Candy was shot while retreating from the shooter.”
It’s possible that those words helped drive the final stake into the law enforcement career of Jerred Dooley. So, too, did the dashcam video from Dooley’s own car, which shows Candy wagging her tail as she jumps out of the bed of the truck to greet the deputy. (You can see the video on KLTV’s website. Warning: although the shooting happens off-camera, you can hear the pained cries of Candy; it is a very disturbing video.)
Yesterday, the Rains County Sheriff’s Department announced that Dooley had been terminated because of the shooting. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. Sheriff David Traylor told KLTV that Dooley was fired not because of the shooting, but because of the volume of complaints and threats received by the department afterward.
“It came to the point that Deputy Dooley was actually in a dangerous position and he put any other officers working with him — if he had been put back out there — into a dangerous position,” Traylor said.
An investigation is continuing into the shooting to see if Dooley can be held criminally liable, but whichever way it turns out, he’s not going to return to his job.
After Candy’s death, Middleton started a Facebook Page called Justice for Candy Middleton, and a crowdfunding page to raise funds for legal expenses to pursue animal cruelty charges against Dooley. The fact that the sheriff’s department has fired Dooley and started to create new policies about how to handle dogs is a good start, but the heartbreaking fact is that the situation is beyond any true justice. There are two injustices here: that Candy is dead, and that Cole Middleton has to live with the memory of sticking her head into a bucket of water to put her out of her pain. No change of policy or legal action will undo either of those.
It’s plain that the problem isn’t the old “few bad apples” argument. It should be obvious to anyone, simply from looking at the volume of stories, that there are a lot of police officers who are poorly trained in handling either guns or dogs. Police receive less training in how to handle dogs than postal carriers do. And that means that they’re not able to either serve or protect us; they’re just another kind of threat, to humans and dogs alike.
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