CHARLES CITY, VA (WWBT) - An 18-month-old yellow lab was shot to death by a Charles City County animal control officer November 1, sparking outrage from Sandston to Singapore.
"This was a friendly family pet, and he didn't have to die," said Debra Cowan in an interview Thursday. "Someone in the community started an online petition to remove the animal control officer, and we can't believe the response."
Cowan's pet, a Labrador-mix named Axel, was in training to become a therapy dog. More than a month after the animal was shot in the face, over 1,600 people have signed a petition to remove the officer at the center of the controversy.
Charles City County officials say Franklin Bates, an animal control officer and county employee of 30 years, properly responded to a neighbor complaining about the dog. At one point while Bates visited Cowan's family home, the officer shot the dog in the face.
X-ray photographs taken after Axel's death show at least four bullet fragments lodged in the dog's head. Charles City County Administrator Zach Trogdon defended Bates's actions.
"He doesn't like this. [Bates] felt like he was doing his job," Trogdon said in an interview Thursday. "At the end of the day, the dog was being aggressive towards the officer. He had to defend himself."
Cowan disputes the notion her pet was aggressive, instead asserting that the animal was needlessly provoked.
"Labs aren't even an aggressive breed," Cowan said. "My dog was following my neighbor's 17-year-old son. That's what spurred the complaint to animal control."
Cowan's neighbor could not be reached for comment on the matter. A Facebook site titled, "Axel RIP," now approaches 1,200 friends, and links to the online petition found on Change.org.
The Virginia State Police are now investigating Bates, and he has been put on inactive duty with pay as the investigation proceeds. If evidence is found implicating Bates acted maliciously, the case will be handed to the Commonwealth Attorney.