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Bill would offer protection for police dogs, horses

January 17, 1997

By GUY FLETCHER

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - For police dogs, the work is hard, the pay is lousy and the risks are many.

"The only reward that the dog asks for in any type of apprehension is a pat on the back," said Maryland State Police Sgt. Steven McCarty, who was a canine officer at the Hagerstown barracks for the past three years.

McCarty testified before a state Senate committee Thursday in favor of legislation that would make it illegal to kill, taunt or interfere with a police dog or police horse.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, would make killing a police animal a felony. Conviction on such a charge would carry a penalty of up to a five years in prison and a $7,000 fine. Taunting or interfering with the animals would be a misdemeanor offense, with the maximum penalty of a year in prison and a $500 fine.

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McCarty asked Munson to submit the legislation because police animals now have no additional protection beyond the existing misdemeanor cruelty to animals law. Police horses were added to the bill after Munson read a newspaper story about someone who punched a police horse in New York City.

"I figured we might as well cover both of them in this bill if it has a chance of passage," Munson said during the hearing before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

McCarty, a Halfway resident who recently was transferred by Maryland State Police to Garrett County, said that last week a person being apprehended by Hagerstown City Police tried to choke the dog that bit him.

That prompted a comical response from committee chairman Sen. Walter M. Baker, D-Cecil: "Sergeant, with all due respect, if a dog tried to bite me, I'm not going to stand around and let him bite me."

But Loretta Staten, a canine officer with the Montgomery County Police Department, called the Munson bill "tremendously important" in protecting animals that are often placed in the line of fire to protect the human officers.

"The issue is the animals are literally here to take a bullet for us," Staten said.

She said the legislation also is a matter of protecting an investment. Untrained police dogs often are imported from Europe and cost $3,000. Including training, about $10,000 might be spent on the animals, she said.

"That alone maybe says something to people," Staten said.

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