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Forest Ranger Shoots Family Dog

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When the Liska family took their dogs out for a camping weekend in Arizona, the last place they expected to wind up was in a hotel near the emergency veterinarian waiting to see if their dog would survive a complex surgery to remove a forest ranger’s .40 caliber bullet from its head.

Trax survived, but the extraction would not be successful and he will always live with bullet fragments in his head, no teeth (as the jawbone is not intact enough to reconstruct), and a host of other problems.

His survival can be attributed to his committed owners, his resilient nature, happy personality, and (thankfully) thick bone structure. But the events leading up to this event could have (and should have) been avoided.

The story begins when the family decided to go camping on March 9, 2013 near Apache Lake in the Tonto National Forest in Arizona.

 On March 9, 2013, Shannon Liska and her friend Jerald Williams, took their two children (ages 16 and 5) and their two pit mixes to a favorite camping site. The first night passed uneventfully, their two gentle pit bull mixes, one of whom is named Trax, played with neighboring campers and relaxed in their own site.

By the next evening, tragedy struck the relaxing scene as two Forest Service officers parked approximately 50 yards away from the camp, then walked into the campsite to check for permits.

Trax and his best friend after the surgery

According to the police report, one officer walked about 15-20 feet ahead of the second officer as they entered the camp. The second officer (the shooter), “…noticed a young boy and two dogs in the camp as he entered, and called out, ‘Is your dog on a leash?’,” then “Call your dog.”

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The officer states in his report that no one immediately responded, although according to witnesses, only a “few seconds” passed between the time the officer yelled for him to get his dog and the gunshot.

“We didn’t even know anyone was in camp,” said Williams. “They just popped out of the bushes.”

The officer’s report says, “I yelled several times for [sic] to get [sic] dog and the dog continued at an aggressive run towards me and then stopped approximately 3-5 feet from my location.” The report also states,  “The dog was snarling at me and would snap it’s head and front section of it’s body toward me. The dog thrust it’s head towards me and I discharged one round from my duty handgun into the dog.”

According to Shannon, who was in a tent, she “…heard the officer say, ‘Call your dog back.’ But, before anyone could do anything, he’d shot Trax.”

Williams agrees. “When he did this it was obvious that the other officer was completely unprepared for anything like [his] action and was absolutely stunned by the gunshot, as we all were. My 16-year-old daughter was in the tent directly behind Trax, she had been laying down resting with [a second dog].  She heard our voices when the rangers asked to see our passes and was not concerned, but once the shot was fired, [the dog] bolted out of the tent and [my daughter] came out after her.”

Williams is also understandably concerned about the forest ranger firing a high-caliber weapon in such close proximity to the children, the youngest of which, the officer states in his report that he noticed upon his arrival.

trax-xrays

Trax’s X-rays after the shooting

“As soon as the shot was fired, my first reaction was to find my 5-year-old son,” said Williams.  “I heard him screaming and crying so I came around the truck to find him on his bike just to the right front of the truck, not more than 50 feet from where the shot was fired, pretty much 90 degrees to the officers right side.”

By all accounts, including review of his veterinarian records, Trax is a friendly, well-socialized dog who loves people. During treatment of the gunshot wound, the vet recorded in Trax’s records:

  • 3.9.13: “Gunshot wound in face. Very tolerant dog.”
  • 3.10.13: “Very tolerant dog. Good recovery!”
  • 5.9.11: (initial visit after adoption) “What a beautiful pup! Gorgeous brindle w/ green eyes.”

Liska believes the situation was handled poorly and is primarily concerned for other dogs. “I understand there is a leash law,” Liska says, “I get it. I understand that pit bulls are scary. I get it. But [the officer] had a Tazer and he had mace. Barking is not biting or attacking. Any dog will bark if strangers appear in a camp but they shouldn’t be shot.”

Trax in Happier Days

“I totally distrust their motives,” she says. Williams and Liska, both avid campers who make regular trips to the national forest agree that camping has become too much of a risk for dogs. “We will never take our dogs camping again,” said Liska.

While Trax is expected to survive, the family is need of financial assistance to help with his extensive veterinary bills.

“My 5 year old son now thinks cops are ‘the bad guys,’ as he told my brother in law who is also a sheriff deputy” said Williams.  “I now have to talk to regularly explain the opposite, that this was a single incident.”

At this time, there is no expectation that the US Forest Service will be assisting with the medical bills nor is there an expectation that the officer will face charges.

Why? You ask. Because there are some extenuating circumstances to this story.

  • Trax was off-leash, something the owner readily admits too.
  • Trax was wearing a shock collar, but the owner has not had to issue a warning or shock with the collar for over a year. She makes sure he is wearing it while camping to ensure the dog is always under control. The Forest Service does not agree that a collar like this is an effective method of control.

The family disagrees with the officer’s report and allege that there are several important facts which were incorrect or falsely reported by the officers.

How You Can Help

Donations can be made to the Liska family for the care of Trax through their facebook page or their fundraising page. We urge you to sign this Care2.com petition requiring all government employees who handle weapons be required to receive training on how to handle dogs.

“He’ll never be the same,” said the family. Trax survived but he is toothless on one side of his jaw, and is in need of extensive surgery for reconstruction of his jaw and teeth. With veterinary bills fast approaching 10,000, it’s important that they raise the funds needed.

A History of Governmental Problems

Government employees of local and federal agencies, particularly those in the Department of Agriculture, have come under fire for their questionable policies and practices:

What do you think?

  • Is it still safe to take your dog camping?
  • When is it okay for a federal or state agency to use lethal force?
  • Should forest rangers carry weapons?
  • Is so, should training on how to handle animals, particularly dogs, be required on an annual basis?

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