Hundreds of people and pets rallied outside Salt Lake City police headquarters on Saturday, sympathizing with dog owner Sean Kendall and calling for accountability from the department and the officer who fatally shot Kendall’s Weimaraner.
“It’s overwhelming, the support of the community,” Kendall said. “That makes the loss of my best friend a little bit easier to deal with.”
Officer Brett Olsen shot the dog, named Geist, in Kendall’s fenced-in backyard on June 18 as police searched for a missing 3-year-old boy who was later found. Police have said Olsen used lethal force because he felt threatened by the dog. The incident is being investigated by the department.
Two-legged and four-legged demonstrators gathered near the street, holding signs that said, “Justice for Geist,” “Man’s best friend should not be gunned down,” and “My pets are my family.”
Chief Chris Burbank said Friday he was concerned about escalating threats against Olsen and the department, including death threats. But the demonstration continued for hours without incident as officers on bicycles quietly watched from a distance.
The shooting ignited controversy and national discussion about how law enforcement handles pets that act aggressively. The rally was organized by dog owners touched by Kendall’s plight and advertised through a Facebook group and word of mouth.
Rally attendees said they would like to see some kind of discipline for the officer but said they are more concerned about whether officers are getting proper training on how to control pets without using a firearm.
Keri Bogardus, a Millcreek-area veterinarian and owner of three dogs, said she hopes the incident inspires police to find peaceful resolutions for such situations. She suggested the department could ask for volunteers from the community to help train officers.
“I handle a lot of what you might call aggressive dogs for my job, and there’s a lot of different things you can do to calm them down,” she said. “They can get protective in their own space when a stranger comes, but there’s no reason that something like this should happen.”
Most demonstrators said they were disappointed by those who had written threats to police, saying it detracted from their cause. Kristen Jolley, a Sandy resident, was raised by a mother who was a cop, and her brother-in-law is a police officer.
She carried a sign that read “I love cops (but not Olsen).”
“I think it’s unfair that people generalize about police because one guy does something wrong,” she said. “But I also think it’s not right for people to say we should just support him and we can’t call him out because he’s a cop.”
Olsen was identified as the shooter by the department on Friday. He was one of the officers involved in taking down a gunman at Trolley Square Mall in 2007. He will remain on duty while being investigated.
Kendall said he and 2-year-old Geist had birthdays days apart in February and celebrated with a joint party. When Kendall was hiking or biking, Geist trotted along nearby, and the dog used to sneak into Kendall’s bed at night.
He said he thinks Olsen deserves to be fired over the incident, a sentiment shared by many rally attendees. But others said Olsen was guilty of “a mistake,” and an apology, internal discipline and department policy changes would satisfy them.
“I don’t think he should lose his job,” said Kearns resident Souri Keochaleun, his dog Tofu cradled in his arms. “But we definitely think this is unjust, and it shouldn’t happen again.”