A pit bull's owner kneels over the animal after it was shot by a St. Petersburg Police officer. (photo courtesy Kathleen Flynn, The Tampa Bay Times)
St. Petersburg, Florida -- Despite improved training and new set of policies when it comes to confronting animals, St. Petersburg Police say they had no choice but to shoot and kill another dog Thursday.
It happened when a couple's loud fighting prompted several calls to 911.
"He was dead before he even hit the ground," said a sobbing Keilli Applegate.
Applegate, the dog's caretaker, was upset, but neighbors say it was an argument between Applegate and her husband that brought officers to the address on 10th Avenue North near 4th street.
And ultimately it was Phero, a pit bull that was well-known and well-liked in the neighborhood, that got the worst of it.
"The cop went - boom boom. Just like that, quick fast and in a hurry," said Applegate, "And I told the cop, 'You didn't have to do that. You didn't have to shoot him like that!'"
Phero was killed. He becomes the latest in a long list of dogs shot dead by St. Pete police officers over the past year.
There were seven of them in 2011.
The public outcry even prompted Chief Chuck Harmon to put new policies in place this past November.
But in this case, police say the improved animal behavior training and new equipment, including noose-like catch poles, would not have made a difference.
The officers were responding to a domestic call with reports of a possible stabbing, and had no idea they would be facing Phero.
"Things happened so fast, the officer only had a chance to shoot," said department spokesman Bill Proffitt. "The officers heard a growling, snarling, charging dog and they had just a second or two to respond to that."
"Actually he's a sweet dog. I feel really bad," said neighbor Paulette Benson.
But Benson also said Phero was often off a leash, running up to people. That, she said, could be intimidating at first, but ultimately Phero was very gentle. It's a quality she admits the responding officers had no way of knowing.
"The St. Petersburg police did the right thing, I'm sorry," said Benson. "I mean, what if that dog attacked them?"
Still, in a city with a seemingly disproportionate number of canine killings, Phero's death is hard for Applegate to accept.
"I have never seen anything like that," she said. "I have never seen a life taken just like that."
St. Petersburg police are conducting an internal affairs investigation, which is considered standard anytime an officer's weapon is fired.
Investigators say the officer who shot Phero will remain on active duty.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)