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Exclusive: Increase in police tasering of dogs prompts concern from SPCA, SAFE as new disturbing footage is released

Police are defending their use of Tasers on dogs as new stats show the number tasered each year is on the rise, prompting welfare concerns from animal groups.

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Police say the dogs suffer no permanent effects, but Taser's manufacturer says the 50,000 volt weapons can definitely kill. Source: Supplied

Statistics from Police show the number of times Police use Tasers against dogs is on the rise. Source: NZ Police/1 NEWS graphic

Statistics obtained under the Official Information Act show the number of incidents per year where police used a Taser on a dog has steadily risen over the past five years, increasing from eight in 2013 to 16 in 2017.

1 NEWS has also obtained Taser Cam footage from several recent incidents under the Act, with police only releasing the confronting videos after a complaint was made to the Ombudsman.

Police's Taser operations manual - 'TASER (Electronic Control Devices)' - contains extensive aftercare requirements for officers who use a Taser on a human - they must have a first aid certificate, be trained and ready to perform CPR, and the target must be monitored afterwards until they are examined by a registered medical doctor.

The manual also has investigation procedures for if a person dies after being tasered by the 50,000-volt weapons.

However, there are no aftercare rules for police tasering an animal, despite police saying they will call a vet "if required".

Along with the Taser cam footage, police released summaries of the context surrounding each incident, which said a vet was called to check a dog's welfare in only one of the eight incidents.

ANIMAL RIGHTS ORGANISATIONS HOLD WELFARE CONCERNS

Any animal tasered should receive appropriate vet treatment as soon as possible after the incident - SPCA CEO Andrea Midgen

SPCA chief executive Andrea Midgen said in a statement that her organisation has "serious welfare concerns about the tasering of dogs by the police" and that "where a Taser is used, the SPCA expects that it is fully justified and all other options exhausted".

She acknowledged that using a Taser instead of a gun would generally result in a better outcome, but also said "where a Taser is used, the SPCA expects that it is fully justified and all other options exhausted".

SPCA CEO Andrea Midgen says its time for Police to update their guidelines with care procedures for animals, as well as humans. Source: 1 NEWS

"In a high pressure, time-sensitive situation, and without canine behaviour training for the police, it is possible that in certain circumstances that this is the safest course of action," Ms Midgen said, but added that "it is potentially dangerous to use a Taser on an animal, just as it is with humans".

"There should absolutely be rules in the guidelines about what happens after an animal's been tasered ... that it gets checked by a vet and has follow up medical care that's required after the incident.

"Tasering can cause significant welfare compromise to dogs, and even death at times."

SAFE spokesperson Hans Kriek also voiced concern, saying a Taser strike on a dog would not only leave it "absolutely petrified", but that it also could lead to death.

Spokesperson says the dog will not only be 'absolutely petrified', but also that it could die. Source: 1 NEWS

"We know that some people have died after being tasered, so a smaller animal being tasered - it's clear that's going to have a very bad impact on them and some will die," Mr Kriek said.

"They're designed to stop a fully-grown human in their tracks... if you use it on a dog which is maybe half the weight, that obviously has a very strong impact on the animal, so we're very concerned."

Police Superintendent Chris Scahill, National Manager of Response and Operations, told 1 NEWS police only use Tasers on dogs where absolutely necessary to protect their own safety, or that of the public, and said it is still a safer and more humane solution than a firearm.

He said police's overall use-of-force framework - officially called TENR - governs the decisions of front line staff on whether to use a Taser on any target, including dogs, and that "the welfare of the animals concerned, as well as the safety of the public and our staff, is carefully considered when making any decision to use force".

Superintendent Chris Scahill says a Taser is still the best and most humane way to deal with an aggressive dog. Source: 1 NEWS

Mr Scahill confirmed police have not sought any advice or research on tasering animals in the eight years they have been used in New Zealand.

He also said Tasers cause only "temporary pain" and have "no permanent effects" to dogs, pointing to the fact there have been no deaths or reported injuries - "to my knowledge" - as good evidence of their safety.

Dogs often run away after the conductive Taser barbs still embedded in their skin, Mr Scahill said, but in most cases "there is no need for any medical intervention".

While we rarely have to use Tasers on animals, this is always dictated by the circumstances and risks presented at the time - Police Superintendent Chris Scahill

He added that sometimes the owner of the dog will refuse to let police check on the welfare of dogs.

Asked whether he was aware of dogs dying overseas after Taser strikes, he said he "wouldn't know", adding "I don't have the research on that".

OVERSEAS CASES OF TASERED DOGS DYING

There are overseas media reports of dogs dying after being tasered, including a bulldog in Hampshire in 2010, a dog in Leicestershire in 2014,  a German shepherd in San Diego in 2015 and a pitbull in Portland last year

A spokesperson for Taser's manufacturer, US company Axon's Steve Tuttle, told 1 NEWS while they are mostly safe, a Taser can definitely kill a dog.

"CEWs have been shown to be an effective option for dealing with aggressive animals and have generally been successful," Mr Tuttle said.

"We suggest that if CEW’s [conducted electrical weapons] are used on animals, consider having animal control stand by to apply a restraint during the cycle.

"CEWs intended for human use may be dangerous to smaller animals and may result in a lethal outcome of the animal unintentionally."

The SPCA agrees, with Ms Midgen warning "it is potentially dangerous to use a Taser on an animal, just as it is with humans".

"Tasering can cause significant welfare compromise to dogs, and even death at times," she said.

Mr Tuttle said Axon does not offer any training or advice on Tasering an animal, but added that some animal control groups overseas have developed guidelines themselves for tasering animals, and that law enforcement groups sometimes reached out to those groups for advice on shaping policies.

POLICE SAY THEY WILL CONSIDER CHANGES TO THEIR TASER RULES - BUT NOT ALTERNATIVES

When the lack of animal aftercare procedures was put to police, Mr Scahill said it is still a relatively small issue, but acknowledged there could be room for improvement and said police will look into it as part of their regular reviews.

"While the numbers of Tasers discharged on animals is still very low, as part of our normal review process police will look at the Taser policy to consider any specific new information or guidelines for staff on using Taser on animals," he said in a statement.

Ms Midgen said the Ministry of Justice had made contact with the SPCA's chief scientific officer this week.

"The SPCA is happy to work with the Ministry of Justice to ensure that their policies and procedures around the use of Tasers with animals takes into account the welfare of the animal, including using other techniques to ensure their own safety and that of the dog".

She said the SPCA is keen to offer advice on "what happens when an animal's been tasered and what should happen following that process and also offering some alternatives instead of having to taser in the first place".

Mr Scahill said alternatives to tasering an aggressive dog, such as a net, tranquiliser or ultrasonic deterrent device had not been considered by police - and would not be - because they are "very narrow and specific tactical options that [are] only applicable for the still-infrequent occurrence of an attacking dog".

"There comes a point where you have to consider what's realistic for the 7500 frontline police officers who are out there every day and what they can be equipped with," he said, adding that Taser "is still seen as our safest, most effective and most feasible and realistic option".