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Dogs shot in head while eating, buried in pits at suspended officer’s K9 training business

Current and former employees of Black Rock Canines in Naugatuck detailed sickening scenes of animal abuse and death, according to arrest warrants for owner David Rivera Jr. and former manager Daniel Luna.

Naugatuck police arrested both men Monday on several charges related to animal cruelty, illegal euthanization, and reckless endangerment, following an investigation that began in late April after complaints of inhumane treatment. Police said it included the recovery this week of four dogs that had been buried on the property after allegedly being shot to death while eating.

Rivera is a New Canaan police officer who opened Black Rock Canines as a training facility for potential military and police canines, as well as privately owned dogs in need of training. He and Luna are accused of killing dogs who were “useless”—those they felt couldn’t be trained or adopted. Employees reported 10 dogs shot to death. One told investigators, “I [Luna] killed them by putting the food bowl down and then he shot them in the back of the head. After he pushed the dead dogs into the hole, he would shoot them again.” Luna allegedly threatened to kill that worker if she called police.

Witnesses also described abuse during training and had pictures and videos of “canines with blood dripping from their heads, whipped marks, and scars and burns,” according to the warrants. One employee told investigators Luna hit dogs with a metal pipe during training. Another recounted how Luna whipped a dog and told the worker to say the dog ran through a pricker bush if anyone asked about the injuries.

Employees also told investigators puppies froze to death after being left in the harsh elements without heat.

“This is definitely one that pulled at the heartstrings, I know our investigators are certainly disturbed by what they saw as well as the allegations up there,” Naugatuck Police Chief Colin McAllister said during a news conference Tuesday. “As a police agency with three successful working canines that serve our community to their highest capability, we’re appalled at the treatment that other dogs of the same caliber were given while under the care of Black Rock Canines.”

Rivera and Luna are also accused of endangering employees and the general public in Naugatuck with their use of explosives in training. Rivera was first arrested last week on charges of illegal possession and storage of explosives at his el home in Stratford, which led to his suspension from the New Canaan police department.

His arrest warrant from this week said those high-grade explosives were initially stored at the facility in Naugatuck and included “C-4,” “TNT,” “Castboosters” and other highly dangerous explosives in Tupperware containers. One former employee, who was a retired law enforcement officer, told investigators, “Some of the items appeared to be covered in condensation, which is very dangerous for explosives.” He also said teenaged employees were directed to bring those military-grade explosives to the Naugatuck Event Center for the dogs to do explosives detection training inside the building. The center has other agencies and businesses, too.

In court documents, police officer wrote, “All of the witnesses that worked at Black Rock Training stated that because Rivera Jr. is an active police officer and Luna a former police officer, they believed that the killing of canines and burying them, the use of explosives and the harsh treatment of the canines is the standard operating procedure and legal.”

Police also said since Rivera’s first arrest, they’ve received numerous calls from former Black Rock Training clients. “Each one provided their own story of bringing their canine there for training to only receive a canine back that has had injuries, scars, and are not the same behavior wise. That their behaviors are of canines who are scared, fear certain actions, and cower,” according to the warrants.

Police removed 31 dogs from the property this week and said animal control officers and a veterinarian are looking after them. They also said those dogs won’t be available for fostering or adoption anytime soon since they’re considered evidence in the investigation and asked that people refrain from calling or emailing animal control, the mayor’s office, or police with requests about that. A press release stated, “We are thankful for the outpouring of concern and support over the animals in this case, and while they are not available to adopt at this time, there are six other unrelated dogs ready to be adopted down at Naugatuck Animal Control.” These six dogs, some of which have been with us since 2019, are all listed on the Naugatuck Animal Control Facebook page.While they are not involved in this case, they each deserve a good home too, so we ask you to consider adopting or fostering one of these available dogs.”

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