Owner of dog shot by deputy reaches settlement with Sheriff’s Office

Sheriff offers to name department’s next K-9 after dog that was killed
Owner of dog shot by deputy reaches settlement with Sheriff’s Office
Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 1:57 PM EDT
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PENDER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The Pender County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) has reached a settlement agreement with the man whose dog was shot and killed by a deputy two summers ago.

Deputies had responded to Bruce Benson’s house in August of 2020 to perform a welfare check, after friends were unable to reach him. They knocked on Benson’s door, and his dog, Astro, a Dutch Shepard and Belgian Malinois mix, reportedly ran out barking at deputies and chasing them. A rookie deputy pulled out his service weapon and shot Astro, killing him.

“Astro was more than just pet. He was - I leaned on him, literally and figuratively. And it just, I live alone, and he was he was my companion. And just see him lay in a pool of blood under my carport, [it] just tore me up. Pushed me into what they call now a mental health crisis used to be called a nervous breakdown,” Benson said of Astro’s death.

In February of 2021, Benson filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office over the death of his dog. Benson is a military veteran, and Astro was his emotional support dog. To keep the case from going to court, the Sheriff has agreed to train officers on an annual basis to help officers recognize and best respond to certain dog behavior. As part of the settlement agreement, the department will also pay Benson $12,500, the approximate cost to acquire and train a new dog similar to Astro.

“One of the questions when we were in discovery and in mediation was, what would it take for me to feel whole?” Benson recalled. “I would not have taken a million dollars for Astro when he was alive and a million dollars wouldn’t replacing at this point, but I feel good about the agreement that we reached. I think it satisfied my need to feel like I’d done something to maybe prevent this from happening to someone else locally.”

The PCSO has agreed to issue a press release apologizing for the circumstances that led to Astro’s death, and Sheriff Alan Cutler volunteered to name the next canine the department acquires in honor of Astro.

“It really moved me when when the mediator came back and said, ‘Oh, by the way, Sheriff Cutler has offered to do this.’ It gave me a much greater appreciation for his position and his humanity,” Benson said.

After Astro’s death, Benson adopted another rescue dog, that he named Maggie. He says she has helped plug the whole in his heart left by Astro’s death.

“I’m doing much better. I was in therapy up until this past December. And my therapist retired. And I’ve I’ve come to grips with it. And I think this will allow some closure on the whole affair, reaching this agreement,” Benson told WECT.

When asked for comment on the recent settlement, the Pender County Sheriff’s Office provided the following statement:

“We have learned that a close-knit bond existed between Mr. Bruce Benson and his emotional support canine, Astro. We are sorry for the circumstances that led to Astro’s death. We did not intend to cause the loss of Astro. As a result of the loss of Astro, the Pender County Sheriff’s Office has instituted a training program to help officers recognize behaviors presented by dogs and how to react to those behaviors. We also agreed with Mr. Benson regarding the next K9 purchased by the Pender County Sheriff’s Office for service will be named Astro.”

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