Owner thanks Round Rock police after dog bites officer

Round Rock police have dealt with complaints in recent years about how their officers interact with dogs, but a homeowner reached out to KVUE on Monday to commend the department after a scary situation at his home.

Geoffrey Wightman was at home with his 4-year-old son and mother-in-law when he called police to report a disturbance in his neighborhood. During the call, he said he told the dispatcher that there was a dog at his home.

“She [the dog] is an Australian Shepherd, and she’s really protective of the family,” Wightman said.

The dispatcher sent Officer Randall Frederick to the home, but he arrived earlier than expected, so Wightman didn’t have time to lock his dog, Jillaroo, away. When Officer Frederick came to the door, Wightman’s 4-year old son rushed to answer it. When he saw it was a police officer, he opened the door.

“The dog immediately jumped between him and the officer, and that’s when it was a little bit nerve-racking, because I was watching the dog bite him,” he said.

Jillaroo bit Officer Frederick twice on the leg, piercing his skin. But instead of acting aggressively, Frederick attempted to calm the dog down, much to the delight of Round Rock Police Cmdr. Jim Stuart.

“We talk about different ways to approach animals, to try and keep them from being aggressive towards officers. And if they do get aggressive, [we talk about] how to deescalate that,” Stuart said.

“It’s scary to think how differently that could have happened, but the level of training in his reaction was spot on,” Wightman said.

Jillaroo is aggressive by nature and necessity. Wightman served two tours overseas — in Afghanistan and Iraq — leaving Jillaroo to protect the home in his absence. He said this is the first time Jillaroo has ever had an incident of this magnitude.

Frederick’s calm response represents a major step forward for a department that has faced criticism over how officers have handled aggressive dogs. In May 2014, an officer shot and killed a Rottweiler inside a home after an alarm was activated. Stuart said Frederick’s handling of this situation sets an example for others to follow.

“It’s about remaining calm, and thinking through a problem rather than overreacting,” he said.

All Round Rock police officers were put through a mandatory eight-hour training period with an experienced dog trainer to learn how to handle situations involving aggressive animals.

The chief of RRPD gave Frederick a commendation on Tuesday for his handling of the situation. Stuart said Frederick did receive medical attention for the bites, but was not forced to miss any work.

Wightman said he reached out to KVUE and RRPD after looking online and seeing several negative stories about police officers’ handling of dogs nationwide.

“I think it doesn’t really get recognized a lot. So I wanted to make sure I reached out to people that I could, and make sure that he gets the recognition that he deserves,” he said.

The dog will be quarantined at home for the next 10 days. Animal Control was at the home shortly after the incident to monitor the dog, and to pick up the dog’s most recent shots records. Wightman said Jillaroo is up to date on all of her shots. In light of the incident, Wightman said they are going to train Jillaroo more closely to avoid it from happening in the future.

“He [Frederick] did the right thing. He had the right to defend himself too. If something else happened, I wouldn’t have faulted him either way,” Wightman said.

Round Rock police have a program to alert officers to dangerous animals called BARK, which stands for Be Aware of Residential K9s. Pet owners are given stickers to put on the windows of their homes so officers are aware when they are entering a scene where an animal may be present. Police also encourage pet owners to register their animals with the department, so that dispatchers can alert officers prior to arriving at a scene.

Pet owners can pick up the sticker for free at RRPD, and many officers in the field typically carry the stickers.

Since the program became available to the public in March, nearly 1,000 households have registered. Stuart said they have received positive feedback from the community about the program, which has garnered interest from other jurisdictions as well.