TAYLORSVILLE — Joshua McGillis could hear the puppy yelping and knew he had to pull his dog off the smaller animal.
He grabbed the hind legs of his dog, Clementine, a 53-pound bull terrier, and was about to "wheel-barrel" him backward, when the owner of the puppy — with his .40-caliber gun drawn — pulled McGillis out of the way.
"I looked over my shoulder and saw Mr. Talbot had already had his gun drawn and was coming towards us at that time with the weapon drawn. He just began shouting he was going to shoot our dog," McGillis said. "He shoved (my girlfriend) Caitlin away from the dog and pulled me back by my hood, out of the way of them, and then shot Clementine."
The bullet entered and exited the bull terrier, miraculously missing all vital organs. Clementine was resting at home Tuesday, expected to make a full recovery once the bullet wounds heal.
The incident is now being investigated by West Jordan police who received the case Monday because of potential conflicts of interest with West Valley City, Taylorsville and Unified police authorities.
The Saturday shooting happened at the Millrace Dog Park, 1155 W. 5400 South. The puppy owner who allegedly shot the older dog is Skylar Talbot, an off-duty West Valley animal control officer and a registered concealed weapons permit holder.
Talbot did not return messages for comment. The director of the West Valley Animal Control said Talbot was off duty at the time of the shooting and he had no comment.
The incident was one of two over the weekend in which a dog was shot. In Payson, a 3-year-old Lhasa-Cocker Spaniel mix and an 8-month-old Beagle were both shot and killed after wandering onto the property of an off-duty Utah County sheriff's deputy. The deputy claims he was protecting his livestock as the two dogs were allegedly engaged in a confrontation with a turkey.
Although both incidents were under investigation Tuesday, Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Utah Humane Society, said on the surface, Utah law is in favor of the gun owners protecting their property.
A person can harm or kill a dog that is chasing, threatening, harassing or "worrying" another dog or livestock, he said.
But just because deadly force is legally justified, Baierschmidt — and the owners of the dogs that were shot — said the shootings weren't necessary. He called the incidents "overuse" of deadly force.
"You shouldn't be going to a dog park with a gun expecting to have a confrontation like that," Baierschmidt said. "People shouldn't go to dog parks with guns. It's supposed to be a pleasant experience."
Furthermore, Baierschmidt contends Utah law is far too vague and changes need to be made.
"How do you define worrying? To one person, worrying is one thing and to another person it's a completely different thing," he said.
"In my eyes with the way that law is written, you can say that dog over there looks pretty scary," he said, noting its flaws.
He said he knows the law is not on his side on this incident, but he contends his dog was not "attacking" the puppy.
"I personally don't feel it was an attack, more of an altercation I suppose. She didn't sprint across the park to get this dog. I think the history of them playing together that day for the 15, 20 minutes that they were there clearly shows she was not a threat to the dog or to other people that were there or any other dog," McGillis said.
He said he and Clementine were at the dog park for about 15 minutes before Talbot and his dog showed up. At one point the two dogs were playing together but it got a "little rough." But McGillis claims Talbot told him not to worry about it.
Later, the two dogs met up again. A few moments later, McGillis could hear the puppy yelping and saw the two dogs in a confrontation.
"She had the scruff of the puppy's neck in her mouth," he said. "(I) felt it was playing that got out of hand. ... I do not feel it was life-threatening toward the puppy for any means and I don't think the injuries the puppy received showed that either."
McGillis said the puppy suffered a puncture wound about the size of an eraser but was otherwise in good shape. He said he wasn't given enough time to attempt to separate the dogs before the shot was fired.
Rather than guns, Baierschmidt believes dog owners should carry a whistle, air horn, pepper spray or water bottle with them and should try those methods first rather than immediately resorting to lethal force.
Taylorsville police, who were the initial responders, said there were conflicting stories between the two owners about whether Clementine's owner was also threatened during the encounter. That was also expected to be part of West Jordan's investigation.