Quick and decisive action by a Toronto officer probably saved the life of a woman who had been surrounded and attacked by three guard dogs in a locked compound.
The woman had decided to cut through the property as a shortcut when she was met by the dogs there to provide security.
Nearing the end of their shift, Constables Michael Avelar and Gurpreet Pannu were heading back to 13 Division station when they received an unknown trouble call. They rushed to the scene where they found passersby shouting from the fence at the dogs as they bit the woman. There were multiple calls to 9-1-1.
“When we pulled up outside the compound, there were about 30 people screaming, ‘Help! Help!,’” said Avelar, noting the victim’s screams had drawn people from a nearby building out to their balconies. “I could also hear the woman faintly saying, ‘Help me, I am dying’. My partner was trying to take aim at the dogs through the fence, but it was hard.”
At that point, Avelar decided to scale the nine-foot fence, calling for his partner’s less-lethal shotgun once he reached the top. Jumping down to the ground, he found himself less than ten feet from the dogs who circled the woman, gnawing at her as she lay in the fetal position.
“I yelled at them first to see if they would back off, but they didn’t,” he said.
He then trained the weapon on a dog and fired, striking it. The dog that was hit and one of the other dogs ran off.
“The sound must have scared the second one away,” said Avelar, noting despite it being less lethal, the shotgun still makes a similar noise to a gunshot.
“I shot the remaining dog once and he turned to look up at me,” he said, of the tense standoff with the largest of the dogs. “I discharged another round and hit him again and he ran off.”
Fired from a shotgun with bright orange markings to indicate it is less lethal, the sock round is aimed at the centre mass of a person or animal to inflict pain but not penetrate the skin.
Paramedics arrived within a few minutes to treat the woman who had many wounds, as did the superintendent of the property who was able to give additional emergency responders access through the main gate.
Sergeant Frederick Kozar praised Avelar‘s bravery.
“He put his life in danger,” he said. “That was a huge decision he made to jump the fence with those vicious dogs inside there. He relied on his training and instinct. Anything that gives you an option over lethal force is fantastic and I am glad that he had a less lethal weapon and was able to deploy it. If he didn’t, there wouldn’t have been another option but a Glock.”
Avelar said he was fortunate to have the less lethal option at his fingertips.
“If the dogs had moved and I somehow managed to hit the woman, she would have survived,” he said, of using sock round rather than a bullet. “I thought it was the best option to save her that day.”
It was the first time Avelar used the less lethal weapon since training.
“For an animal scenario, it was really effective and I think it was the best option at the time,” he added.