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SAN MARCOS, TX - The San Marcos police chief has reprimanded an officer who drew brickbats from around the nation for delaying two college students as they tried to rush their dying dog to a veterinarian this month.
Officer Paul Stephens, who said, "It's just a dog," as he held the pair beside Interstate 35, received an oral reprimand and counseling, Police Chief Howard Williams said Tuesday.
"We sustained the complaint that was filed," Williams said. "We made him watch the tape with his supervisor and he was counseled on how to improve his performance."
But Williams said he believed his officer's assessment that the dog was not alive when he pulled over Michael Gonzales for going 95 mph on the highway after midnight Aug. 5.
Gonzales and his girlfriend Krystal Hernandez, both Texas State University students, were rushing their teacup poodle, Missy, from San Marcos to an all-night vet clinic in New Braunfels after the dog choked on her food and went limp.
The couple pleaded with Stephens to allow them to get the dog to the clinic and then turn themselves in later, or to let Gonzales stay and get his speeding ticket while Hernandez completed the trip alone. Instead, they were kept at the scene for almost 20 minutes waiting for Stephens to issue the ticket as he chatted with two other officers who arrived.
The students say the dog died while they waited.
At one point, the patrol car's dashboard camera showed Stephens telling a distraught Gonzales: "It's just a dog. You can buy another one. Relax."
Gonzales said Tuesday he thought an oral reprimand was not sufficient.
"That's not really a punishment at all," he said. "I don't feel a person like that should be working in law enforcement."
Gonzales said he was surprised and gratified by the outpouring of support he has gotten from pet lovers. The story has aired nationally on "Good Morning America" and "Inside Edition."
Two Internet petitions demanding Stephens be fired, both launched Monday afternoon, collected more than 300 signatures in a day. And a YouTube clip of the "Good Morning America" segment has been watched more than 1,500 times and collected dozens of comments, some wishing a similar fate for Stephens as the one that befell Missy.
"I'm glad people understand that it's not just a dog, it's a member of the family," Hernandez said.
Williams said Stephens was right to stop the speeding car and said the dashboard camera shows Gonzales was clearly too upset to drive safely. But the officer should have tried to calm him down; by showing no sympathy, he made Gonzales more upset, not less, the chief said.
He denied Stephens' actions led to Missy's death.
"This dog was already dead," Williams said. "That is one of the reasons the officers showed no urgency. Nothing the officers did or said caused this dog to die."
Hernandez said Missy was still breathing as they waited for the ticket to be written. Gonzales has not decided whether to pursue a lawsuit against the department.

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The officer didn't use the right tact but he is right, nobody has the right to put other drivers in danger over a dog. He obviously couldn't let the guy get back in the car and go. It's alledged that the guy was doing 90mph cutting in and out of traffic. The officer may have, if it wasn't against regs, drive the owners to the vet in the police car.
 
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