Pet Tales: Trainer offers tips on dog control for police

On the blessedly rare occasions when police officers shoot and kill pet dogs, the public outcry is huge. Heartbroken children and horrified neighbors who sometimes witness shootings are endangered by flying bullets.

A local dog trainer has been offering free classes that would teach police officers less extreme ways of dealing with dogs that may be trying to protect their homes and their people. But despite months of overtures, no police departments have responded to Penny Layne of Irwin, who owns and operates Aunt Penny's Pet-Sitting & Dog Training.

"I teach people how to read canine body language," Ms. Layne said. "I could teach police officers and other first responders to evaluate dogs more intelligently."

She said she could teach "defensive options" to use against dogs and how to "escape" an attack. She has a report from a Maryland police department that used pepper spray instead of bullets in 20 incidents when officers thought they were being attacked by a pet dog. The chemical weapon stopped all 20 dogs.

Free classes for police would be 90 minutes long, Ms. Layne said, "or two hours if they have questions."

Ms. Layne said it wouldn't even cost the police departments. She would be paid by sponsors, several of whom have already stepped up, she said.

Some people may have little sympathy for this scenerio: Police officers storm a house to arrest drug dealers. Residents give their dog the command to attack the officers. The dog is shot and killed by police.

But sometimes officers go to the wrong home and shoot a family pet, Ms. Layne said. She's come up with dozens of cases as she researches dog shooting reports, and so has Randall Lockwood, senior vice president with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He's been following this issue for 15 years.

If municipalities don't care about the grief suffered when a pet is killed, officials should care that dog shootings can be very expensive. Mr. Lockwood said he has seen dozens of cases in which cities have paid five- and six-figure settlements to dog owners.

"Killings of dogs by police becoming an issue," was the headline on a Feb. 9 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story written by Richard Webner and Anya Sostek. The reporters quoted Mr. Lockwood and others, including Elizabeth Pittinger, executive director of the Pittsburgh Citizen Police Review Board. Since 2011, the board has received four complaints from people whose dogs were killed by police.

Ms. Layne has free tips for all of us to protect our own dogs when unexpected visitors come to the front door, including police officers, firefighters, paramedics, mail carriers and UPS delivery people. Although she is confident all six of her dogs would obey her "sit" and "stay" commands, she has three indoor baby gates that keep all of them away from the front door. When she had a severe allergic reaction and had to call for an ambulance, she had the presence of mind to tell the 911 dispatcher that four big dogs and two small dogs were secured in another room and would not bother the emergency responders.

I've been to free classes in which Ms. Layne taught all of us how to read the body language of dogs to avoid being bitten or attacked. She also teaches Dogs and Stork classes at local hospitals, including Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in Oakland, because "we want the dogs to stay with the family and the new baby in a safe way."

At Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville, she teaches a Dogs and Toddlers class because that's the age group that is often bitten by dogs. She would love to get that class into more venues.

Go to or call 724-515-7790 for more classes and services.

She also suggests calling the Dog and Baby Support Hotline, 1-877-247-3407. Leave a message and a volunteer from Family Paws Parent Education will get back to you within 24 hours or sooner, or go to

Biscuits Bingo

For the 16th year, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police are holding the Biscuits Bingo, a fundraiser for multiple organizations.

The event is next Saturday at Guardian Angels Parish, 1030 Logue St., Crafton Heights (15220). Doors open at 9 a.m. Bingo starts at 11 a.m. Admission is $20 at the door. There will be raffles, prizes and gift baskets. People who bring a food item for shelter pets will get a prize. Personal pets are not invited to the bingo.

Proceeds benefit Animal Friends, Animal Care and Welfare, Animal Rescue League Shelter and Wild Life Center, Hog Heaven Rescue, Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team, Rabbit Wranglers, and Western Pennsylvania Humane Society.

A rescue loss

Many people and many dogs lost a cherished and devoted friend when Tina Marie Chergi, 42, died Feb. 19 after a four-year battle with breast cancer. With her at the end at her Versailles home were her parents, Bill and Marlene, and their dog, Sydney, and her own dogs, Rawlie and Pepper.

Ms. Chergi had headed efforts for Western Pennsylvania Westie Rescue, which finds homes for those cute little West Highland white terriers when their owners are unable or unwilling to continue caring for them.

"Throughout her treatment she frequently would work an eight-hour day" at Magee-Womens Hospital, "receive chemotherapy and then drive for several hours to rescue a Westie," said her friend and fellow rescuer Karen Tarolli. "Many people did not know she even had cancer. She had a bright smile that no one could forget, an infectious laugh and a zest for life that she embraced every day. She never wasted one single minute of life."

Ms. Chergi undoubtedly would be very happy if dog lovers would go to for further information about adopting, volunteering or contributing.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Contact Linda Wilson on her Facebook page, or 412-263-3064.