County Investigates Dog's Death

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Since the death of a Great Dane in the noose of a county animal control officer, an incident report has been released and the county has taken action to address the issues brought to light by the dog's death.

The March 26 incident began when the dog, Tonto, owned by Mary Hansen, jumped his fence and went into a neighbor's yard in which a dog was in heat. A 2-year-old boy was playing in the yard and when the child's grandfather yelled at the dog to go home, the dog bumped the child, causing him to fall down. The grandfather, not knowing the dog's temperament, called animal control.

Officer Mike Spaulding responded. Witnesses describe Spaulding going into Hansen's yard, after Tonto had returned home, with a shotgun in hand. They later describe Spaulding putting a "choker" (noose) around the dog's neck and attempting to load him into his truck. Witnesses described the officer as pulling the dog continuously until the dog collapsed.

After repeated requests, a copy of the officer's report was given to the dog's owner.

According to the animal control officer's report, the dog, Tonto, "ended up strangled on the catchpole." He told Hansen, "Tonto twisted on the catchpole and either strangled to death, or possibly had a heart attack."

Spaulding's version of events differs from witness statements.

"I walked back the way I came and again saw the dog sitting at the front door (of his owner's house). Since the dog was not acting aggressive at this time, I placed the shotgun on the ground and placed the loop of the catchpole around his neck. The dog did not struggle. I picked up my shotgun and walked with the dog up the driveway to my truck."

Spaulding said when he attempted to get the dog into the back of his truck, the dog pulled away.

"He continued to come at me and to try to pull away. I held on and pushed the tip (loop end) of the catchpole down, since I did not want the dog to rear up. As the dog struggled, the loop was starting to twist tighter around his neck. All I could do at this time was hang on so that the dog did not escape. At one point the dog laid down and stopped struggling."

April 14, Hansen, along with Payson Humane Society president Pat Boettcher, met with County Supervisor Ron Christensen to discuss the incident. The Roundup was not allowed in the meeting, but spoke with both Hansen and Christensen after the meeting.

The meeting addressed the specifics of what occurred during the incident as well as the general question of training and conduct of county animal control officers.

The staff of the humane society works closely with county animal control and has had previous complaints about the conduct of the animal control officers assigned to northern Gila County.

Complaints have been made not only regarding Spaulding's conduct with animals, but alleged inappropriate behavior around humane society staff and volunteers.

"I've had calls at home from volunteers shocked about his behavior -- he jokes about killing animals," Boettcher told Christensen in the meeting.

According to Boettcher, Spaulding is getting training.

"Mike will be off for 10 days for training," Boettcher told Christensen in the meeting. "which the humane society has requested for the last two years."

Hansen questions whether training will resolve the issue.

"It's not just about how to use the noose, it's the attitude behind it," Hansen said. "Training won't change the way someone feels about animals."

According to Hansen, at the conclusion of the meeting, Christensen asked her to put her demands in writing and give them to him by the end of the day and he would take them to Globe the following day when he attended the supervisor's meeting.

Hansen requested that animal control officers be required to have more training, that Spaulding be terminated, that she be reimbursed for her expenses, that the county pay for her dog to be cremated and his remains be brought to her.

"Certainly animal control and the training that animal control officers receive is absolutely vital to the success of the program," Christensen told the Roundup. "People do expect that an animal that is picked up is going to be treated humanely and handled that way as well."

By April 15, Hansen learned that Christensen had ordered the health department to reimburse her for all the expenses she incurred and deliver the remains of Tonto to her.

"They have called the University of Arizona and have instructed them to get Tonto individually cremated and to send the ashes to me," she said.

As of Thursday, April 24, Hansen has not received Tonto's ashes, but county officials assured her that they would eventually be delivered to her.

What policy changes, if any, the county will make to prevent further animal deaths remains to be seen.

Spaulding remains employed as a Gila County animal control officer.

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