Dog Goes After Deer in Attack Caught on Camera

Actions Raise Questions About Off-Duty Police Officer’s Judgment

Video of a dog attacking a deer is outraging some hunters and animal lovers alike.

We want to warn you, the video in this NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters investigation may be disturbing. It was taken by a Hartford police officer while off duty and raises serious questions about his judgment and the high profile positions he holds.

There is considerable debate about using dogs to hunt or pursue deer. Some states permit it. Connecticut does not. But a Connecticut police officer insists he did nothing wrong when he sent his dog after a deer.

The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters obtained a clip where you can hear and see a dog attacking a wounded deer, seemingly at the command of the off-duty officer. We are not showing some of the most graphic parts.

"This is the first time I've seen anything like this," said Bob Crook, executive director of the Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen. "And it's horrendous."

The cellphone video was shot by John Cavanna on Cavanna's family farm in Glastonbury.

Cavanna, a veteran Hartford police officer, explained off camera he was trying to get his dog Daisy to "hold" a deer he believed took off after he shot it earlier that day so he could euthanize it.

"It goes against all hunting ethics," Crook said.

Cavanna said he was on an afternoon walk, was no longer hunting and did not have a shotgun, when he found the deer. He said using his dog was the only way to keep from leaving the wounded animal behind.

Besthoff: Even if you just look at the video and don't know the other circumstances behind it, is there any way that what's on that video is okay?
Crook: No. It's illegal, and they're taught it's illegal in hunter safety courses.

Crook said Cavanna should have followed the deer tracks or blood trail until he located the animal. Cavanna told the Troubleshooters he tried that the morning he shot it.

The Troubleshooters asked the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which oversees hunting regulations in Connecticut, to weigh in. Spokesman Dennis Schain explains hunters can not use or allow a dog to either hunt, pursue or kill deer.

"That's behavior in violation of state statutes," Schain said.

The DEEP launched an investigation and interviewed Cavanna after we brought the video to the agency's attention. Schain said investigators briefed him on their findings.

"Unfortunately, from their interviews, they determined this took place two or three years ago and the statute of limitations on that offense is a year. So as deplorable as it may be to see that kind of behavior, there's nothing we can do to press charges in this," he said.

The brass at the Hartford Police Department, where Cavanna is a member of the SWAT team and was recently transferred to run the gun range, also did not take any action against Cavanna, saying what he captured on video did not violate the HPD code of conduct.

Cavanna keeps busy outside police work. He hosted a group of Hartford kids at his family farm for a maple sugaring event this winter and, coincidentally, worked as an environmental conservation officer with the DEEP the past two summers.

Cavanna made the news this past summer as part of an Environmental Conservation team that took down a rabid bobcat terrorizing an eastern Connecticut neighborhood.

Yet, in the report written about Cavanna's deer video, he told DEEP investigators he "would not apply for the seasonal conservation officer's position this year due to the investigation and content of the video."

"Given what we see in the video, that's probably a wise decision, because that would be a difficult decision for us to want to bring onto the force somebody who looks like they violated the game laws of the state which are part of their job to uphold," Schain said.

When asked why he recorded his dog going after the deer, Cavanna told investigators he did it "to prove to a friend that his dog, a pit bull, had more of a pursuit drive than his friend had thought."

The Coalition of Connecticut Sportsmen hopes the Cavanna video is a lesson for all hunters.

"He should be nowhere near the woods, having conducted this… not everybody knows all the rules. Not even police officers don't know all the rules, ignorance is no excuse. And we get the information out and again, it probably will not happen again," Crook said.

As far as Cavanna's hunting license, the DEEP says without any charges or a conviction, this will not impact Cavanna's future hunting priviledges.

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