How to Keep Your Pet Safe After the Nashville Dog Shooting
An off-leash dog was recently shot and killed at a park in Nashville. Here are some life-saving off-leash safety tips.
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On September 13, a six-year-old German Shepherd was fatally shot by a man at Percy Warner Park in Nashville. According to the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department (MNPD), the 31-year-old shooter stated that he had felt threatened by the dog as the dog began running toward him off-leash. The dog’s 61-year-old pet parent confirmed his German Shepherd was off-leash, though he added that he was wearing an electric shock collar. He told the MNPD that his dog saw a squirrel roughly 20 feet away, ran after it, and did not respond when he activated the collar. The man also noted that his German Shepherd was not an aggressive animal. No charges were brought against the shooter.
Tennessee state parks do not demand dogs to be leashed while on the grounds, given that they are leashed when entering and exiting. Dog parents are required to have a leash on hand, which the 61-year-old reportedly did. Firearms, on the other hand, are strictly prohibited, as are weapons of any kind. Unsurprisingly, the unarmed pup who was killed for engaging in a very pup-like activity has gathered sympathy and concern from dog parents.
WSMV, Nashville’s local NBC affiliate, reports that a memorial was held in the days following the incident for the dog that has since been identified as Duke. Park visitors spelled out the name using sticks to honor Duke and his playful nature at Percy Warner. A painting was also placed nearby depicting the phrase, “Of all the sights I love in this world — near the top of the list is this one: dogs without leashes.”
The Asher House, an Oregon-based animal rescue, posted a video to its YouTube account detailing the tragedy and calling for legal repercussions, along with the hashtag #JusticeForDuke. “Just because someone has the license to carry doesn’t mean they could just shoot a dog for no reason whatsoever,” the org’s founder Lee Asher said in the clip. The video has amassed over a quarter million views in the five days since it was posted as #JusticeForDuke continues to gain traction across Instagram and X.
A petition nearing 15,000 signatures has even been created demanding just that: justice for Duke. “Eyewitness accounts reveal that despite being off-leash, everyone who encountered this German Shepard [SP] had nothing but praise for its calm temperament and friendly behavior. Numerous witnesses have attested to the fact that they felt no fear whatsoever when in the presence of this beautiful creature,” it reads.
How to keep your off-leash dog safe
Tennessee is an open-carry state, meaning that an individual can stroll along pretty much anywhere, such as an otherwise peaceful park, completely armed. But as long as legislation, or lack thereof, refuses to regulate the weapons, dog parents should do their best to protect themselves and their animals. Thankfully, there are strategies and practices that will help minimize the risk of these dangerous situations because that’s where we are now.
In general, pet parents should keep a tight leash on their dog’s off-leash behavior. Before anything, you should only let a dog off-leash at parks or other public spaces if they’ve been successfully trained to do so. Per The American Kennel Club (AKC), a dog is ready to be off-leash only when they are consistently able to come when called, despite any and all distraction. This should first be tested in a secure location, such as a fenced backyard or gated dog park, before venturing outside and rolling the dice. If your pup doesn’t yet possess perfect recall, they shouldn’t be roaming any open spaces without a leash.
The AKC adds that breeds with traditionally high prey drives, like Terriers or Sighthounds, should be given extra attention before free roaming in public. These breeds may be unreliable off-leash in areas where they could see or smell small animals, the org warns. For this reason, many state parks require dogs to be leashed regardless of training near wooded areas to protect wildlife. In fact, Tennessee parks outright forbid dogs and other pets from traveling through specific trails — though, to be clear, Duke was reported to be near one.
Take precautions even if your dog’s recall is excellent
Now, if your pooch nailed their recall training exam, there are a few more necessary precautions to take. J. R. R. Tolkien was right when he said, “Not all those who wander are lost,” but you still shouldn’t let them wander too far. Not even the best recall will work if dogs can’t hear it to respond. And that’s assuming your dog is of a breed without any social baggage or misplaced stereotypes. If they’re of a breed or breed type, such as Pit Bulls, that people might discriminate against, they could be quicker to feel threatened by them free-roaming.
It’s for that same reason that you should avoid letting your pup greet any strangers without properly communicating beforehand. No matter how friendly your dog may be, you can’t expect the same from every person, unfortunately. Similarly, any dog-on-dog meeting should be premeditated and discussed. Charlie DiBono, trainer and founder of Body and Mind K9, previously explained to The Wildest that this situation at dog parks can often create more behavior issues and anxieties for our animals. Not every dog has the same play style, so what one views as fun might cross another’s boundaries and frighten them, leading to possible reactivity.
Ultimately, tragedies like this can’t be predicted, but minimizing the opportunities for them can go a long way for your and your pet’s safety. That being said, legal accountability would also be nice. If nothing else, the Tennessee District Attorney’s Office announced it would be reviewing Duke’s shooting. The investigation is ongoing.
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Sean Zucker is a writer whose work has been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He has an adopted Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and whose behavioral issues rival his own.