A GoFundMe campaign has been launched on behalf of the family whose dog, Gunner, was shot and killed July 6 by a Lebanon city police officer.
The 1-year-old rescue dog, a German shepherd mix, was released from his family’s property, apparently as a prank by a passerby. Lost, the dog wandered into the backyard of another city property, where the resident called police to collect the stray dog and take it to a shelter. Instead, three officers tased the dog, captured it using a catch pole and, once it was lying on the ground, fatally shot it.
The dog was wagging its tail up to the moment it was shot, according to video taken by the resident, who was inside her home with her children. Lebanon city police Chief Todd H. Breiner issued a statement two days later saying the dog was killed “as a last resort … to protect officers and the public from endangerment” after the dog “became aggressive” and bit the catch pole.
Gunner’s owner, Jacklyn Shughart, said she and her family are heartbroken from their loss. Now, a friend of the family has launched the fundraising campaign to help them memorialize their dog – and pay for legal fees in a possible challenge over the officers’ actions.
The GoFundMe account, “Justice For Gunner,” was started by Morgan Innocent, who co-owns the Innocent Reptile Experience at Lebanon Valley Mall, where Shughart’s daughter Riley Major works as a volunteer.
“Riley is one of my volunteers at my animal sanctuary. She’s only 15 years old and a cop has taken the life of her dog,” Innocent explains on the GoFundMe page at https://gofund.me/433bd7b3. “There is a video of the incident & it shows he was not showing signs of aggression. Riley is a sweetheart. She adopted Gunner from an animal rescue a little over a year ago, and he quickly brought her such happiness that helped her cope with the challenges of being a teenager. I ask for donations to help with any costs that will accrue during the process to fight for justice and for memorial efforts for her beloved Gunner.”
Shughart shared the GoFundMe link on Facebook and said that any funds that are left after their legal efforts “we will donate back to rescue(s) who are willing to assist with getting the proper equipment, giving proper education and also physical training to the city police so that situations like ours has a better ending when retrieving dogs.”
The campaign had raised $180 toward a goal of $10,000 as of late Sunday morning.
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Riley, on Friday, posted a Facebook message telling friends that “our loving, adoring, family friendly dog was shot.”
She has always been taught to respect police, but said her dog was shot through negligence.
“My dog shouldn’t be dead,” Riley wrote. “He should be in the house sleeping with us, waking us up with a face full of slobber. … We will get justice for Gunner. One way or another.”
Innocent explained that Riley participates in the youth leadership program at the Reptile Experience, which involves taking care of animals and participating in community events. The program, she said, gives youngsters “a foundation for learning life skills.”
“This whole situation has me really sensitive – something traumatic like this can lead a teenager down the wrong path. Every teenager has a rough time, and with COVID and everything, it’s been a rough couple of years,” she said. “Gunner was her happiness. That’s how she coped with life.”
Innocent said Riley was working in the retail area of the Reptile Experience when she got the news about Gunner’s fate. “She started screaming and crying. She said, ‘They shot my dog.’ I was really heartbroken for her. Nobody deserves this.”
On the other hand, Innocent said, “I’m so happy that the community has been so supportive. It makes her feel better, she knows she has people that care. … They saw the video, and they’re just as upset.”
The fund drive started as a way to help Riley heal, Innocent said.
“I felt like, whatever Riley needs to do to help cope with this, whether she wants to get a memorial for him, get his ashes and spread them somewhere, or if she wants to plant a tree in his memory – I want her to do whatever she needs and not to worry about money,” she explained. “I’m raising the money. She can use it for whatever she wants to do with it. It’s all going to her.
“There’s nothing I can say to make it better. I thought if we could help with money, that’s an area we can do something.”
She also said continued community support is important to the family’s healing.
“I am so grateful,” Innocent said. “All of their support is making a big difference. They don’t feel alone, and that’s really important.”
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