Police defend fatal shooting of North Laurel pit bull as self-defense

A Howard County police officer shot and fatally wounded a pit bull in late February, upsetting the dog's owner, who said the shooting was not necessary.

Howard County police, however, say the dog not only approached an officer aggressively, but charged toward him as well.

"I'm a nervous wreck," said the dog's owner, Patty Wynston, a 71-year-old who lives in the 9200 block of Whiskey Bottom Road. "She was my dog. She slept with me every night."

Police were called Feb. 26 to Whiskey Bottom Road for reports of two pit bulls running loose. When they got to the owner's home, the dogs were inside, according to police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn.

Wynston said the pit bulls, an 8-year-old named Yayo and Yayo's daughter, 3-year-old Pebbles, had accidentally gotten out earlier. She said police asked Wynston to leash the dogs and bring them out, but she didn't have enough time to do so before officers again knocked on her door

"The doors went open," Wynston said, "and of course the dogs went out."

Police said that an officer was approaching the home when one of the dogs charged out of the house toward the officer, barking aggressively.

"The officer backed away from the dog, which continued to charge and gain speed," Llewellyn said. "When the dog was approximately three feet from the officer, he drew his weapon and fired at the dog, wounding it."

That pit bull was Yayo, who later had to be euthanized.

Wynston said Yayo "was walking toward the officer, but she was not aggressive or nothing until he pulled his gun." The dog, she said, "wasn't an aggressive dog, but when people came in our yard, even if she knew them, she'd bark."

Police said their records show neither dog as being licensed or vaccinated, and that Yayo's license had been revoked in Howard County in 2008.

The dog was sent to New York to live with a family member, and there was no record of her having been re-licensed in the county, Llewellyn said.

Police policy allows officers to fire their weapons at an animal if doing so will prevent the officer or another person from substantial harm, or if an animal is so badly injured that shooting it will keep it from suffering any further, Llewellyn said.

Wynston's other dog was allowed to stay at the home, as officers did not see them running loose, Llewellyn said. A citation was issued for failure to license and vaccinate the dog.

Wynston says Yayo has been cremated and her ashes are now on the mantle.

"I was very attached to her," she said.

In Columbia in 2008 and in Elkridge in 2009, police shot and killed dogs during raids on homes. Those shootings and others in the state, including one in Prince George's County in 2008 involving dogs belonging to the mayor of Berwyn Heights, helped prompt state lawmakers to pass a law requiring local jurisdictions to report how and how often their tactical teams are used.

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