Owner of dog shot by deputy reaches settlement with sheriff’s office

PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – The Pender County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) has reached a settlement agreement with the man whose dog was shot by a deputy two summers ago.

MPs had responded to Bruce Benson’s home in August 2020 to carry out a wellness check, after friends were unable to reach him. They knocked on Benson’s door, and his dog, Astro, a mix of Dutch Shepherd and Belgian Malinois, reportedly ran away barking at the deputies and chasing them. A rookie deputy drew his service weapon and shot Astro, killing him.

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

In February 2021, Benson filed a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office for the death of her dog. Benson is a military veteran and Astro was his emotional support dog. To keep the matter from going to court, the sheriff agreed to train officers every year to help them recognize and better respond to certain canine behaviors. 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 we asked ourselves when we were in discovery and mediation was, what would it take to make me feel whole?” Benson called back. “I wouldn’t have taken a million dollars for Astro in his lifetime and a million dollars wouldn’t replace at this point, but I’m happy with the deal we made. I think it satisfied my need for feel like I had done something to maybe prevent this from happening to someone else locally.

The PCSO 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 dog the department acquires in honor of Astro. Astro.

“It really moved me when the mediator came back and said, ‘Oh, by the way, Sheriff Cutler 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, whom he named Maggie. He says she helped plug it all into his heart left behind by Astro’s death.

” I feel much better. I was in therapy until last December. And my therapist retired. And I took it. And I think that will close the whole thing, get that deal done,” Benson told WECT.

WECT has contacted the PCSO to see if they have any additional comments regarding the settlement agreement, and will update this story when they respond.

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