by Anna Giaritelli
Two dogs assisting a Texas sheriff's department were strangled to death by an illegal immigrant over the weekend after helping police chase more than a dozen others who jumped out of a truck during a traffic stop Saturday, according to local authorities.
Aransas County Sheriff Bill Mills said the two canines had been lent to the department by kennel owner Joe Braman in neighboring Refugio County, Texas. The dogs were trained to track people with dementia or Alzheimer's disease who had gone missing, according to a statement issued Sunday.
"Sept. 1, 2018 in an area just north of Holiday Beach in Aransas County, two highly valued canines were destroyed by individuals believed to be in this country illegally," Mills wrote on Facebook. "While most 'Bail Outs' end with detentions after exhaustive searches they do not show this level of aggressive behavior. Serving as a reminder to officers yesterday afternoon that while we are still dealing with individuals who may have questionable immigration status these encounters can turn just as violent as any domestic dispute we respond to."
"And while every effort is being taken to insure everyone’s safety, we are reminded that not everyone we encounter shows the same level of respect for the rule of law and or life even for highly trained animals,"he added. "It was an afternoon that left me wondering how many lives of Dementia and Alzheimer’s individuals in the future may have been put at risk with the deaths of these two Canines."
On Saturday morning, a police officer pulled over a black Ford pick-up truck north of Holiday Beach on State Highway 35, located on the Gulf of Mexico. After being pulled over, the truck suddenly took off, prompting a vehicle chase through a rural area filled with brush. The vehicle stopped and between 14 and 16 people jumped out of the truck and ran in separate directions.
The Aransas County Sheriff's Office, Texas Department of Public Safety, Refugio County Sheriff's Office, Texas Department of Wildlife game wardens, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel were called in to help with the search.
"Rufugio [sic] County offered a canine unit to assist; they brought tracking dogs that were non aggressive, non-bite trained. We have used canines like these to ensure safety of individuals in events like this. We have other well-trained canine units that can defend themselves, but we consciously avoid deploying them off leash in environments like this," the department noted.
The dogs had been let go, off their leashes, while officers followed them on foot and horseback.
Five people determined to be in the country illegally from Central American countries were found and taken into custody.
A sixth person, caught in the brush and later deemed to be an illegal immigrant, was told by officers to come out after the two dogs found him. He refused and told the officers in Spanish, "If you want me, come and get me."
Officers moved in and found both dogs — eight-year-old Grunt and three-year-old Nell — laying on the ground, dead. Law enforcement said the man who killed them used their tracking collars to cut off their breathing.
The dogs were a mix of black and tan coonhound, bluetick coonhound, and redtick coonhound, according to their owner, Braman, who spoke with a local paper.
"The're not real aggressive dogs — they'll just hold someone at bay until you get there," Braman, a commissioned deputy for the Refugio County Sheriff's Department, said. "I just wasn't able to get there quick enough."
"That could be an officer that got hurt just as easily as [these] dogs," he added. "These were some valued dogs that had saved lives, found people in Refugio County and neighboring counties, and I feel horrible for the kennel owner. That is not something we expected to see out there yesterday afternoon."
Officials involved in the search concluded it around 2 p.m. local time Saturday due to the heat. As many as 10 people who fled the truck remain at large.
"They're behind bars ... right now, they're not going to hurt anyone else," Braman said of the six arrested, including the man believed to have killed the canines. "That's our main concern — I don't want some innocent bystander to have been assaulted by these people because it's apparent they have no respect for anyone, not even an animal."