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Ala. Governor Signs Law Protecting Police Dogs

Surrounded by some of Alabama's top canine cops and rescue dogs, Gov. Robert Bentley signed a bill on Wednesday aimed at protecting those animals used in law enforcement.

Bentley, who held the ceremonial signing outside the Capitol after previously signing the bill, was surrounded by search and rescue dogs from Autauga County and Tallapoosa County, and officers with the Homewood Police Department with their dogs.

Some of the handlers and Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, said there are penalties now if someone kills a police canine, but there are not any penalties for interfering with the work of the animals.

His bill, which goes into effect in August, will criminalize harassing or interfering with the duties of the animal or the handler, and assaulting, injuring, killing or attempting to kill the dogs and other animals such as horses used in law enforcement.

And the handlers said those penalties are needed with the time and money that is invested in training the animals and because they deserve protection.

"These dogs are very important, not only in police work, but in rescue," Bentley said. "They're well-trained, and we need to make sure they're protected. In Alabama, we didn't truly have a law to protect them like they do in other states."

Trainer Faye Ingram of Dadeville, who has one dog trained to search for cadavers and to search in the wilderness, is currently training five more dogs. She said she has had people try to kick her dog and do other things to interfere with him.

"This is going to mean a lot that people can't come up and hurt her," said Ingram, who said they must take courses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and carry a backpack with certain supplies in it.

Fabian Mann of the Autauga County Rescue Squad, who lives in Prattville, said the law was necessary because the search and rescue dogs are kind and are not trained to attack but are sent into volatile situations.

"It helps a lot. To this point, our dogs had no rights," said Mann, standing with Remy the German shepherd who is trained to find a human scent in the woods. " -- We've got emotional people in the woods. We never know what we'll run into."

According to Mann and Chauncey Wood of the Alabama Association of Rescue Squads, the law will now treat search and rescue dogs as it does canine units for police departments and other law enforcement.

People will not be able to shine lights at the dogs to interfere, to try to feed them, to taunt them, or try to otherwise distract them from their duties.

Someone accused of trying to interfere with the animals or their handlers, or who injures an animal but does not cause a loss of service for more than 30 days, could be charged with a class A misdemeanor. Anyone who causes serious injury or death could be charged with a class C felony.

Bodi, a K9 with the Montgomery Police Department, was shot in December 2011 when the handler and the dog were responding to an armed robbery call. They tracked the suspect behind a storage building, where the suspect shot Bodi several times. Bodi recovered from the injuries, but lost an eye.

The department soon retired the 11-year-old German shepherd, which died in July 2012.

Copyright 2013 - Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service