Steamboat police officer to appear in court after allegedly shooting man’s dog |

Steamboat police officer to appear in court after allegedly shooting man’s dog

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Steamboat Springs Police Department officer is being criminally charged with shooting and killing a local man’s dog while hunting for beavers on private property south of the city.

Robert Sadowski, 35, faces a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to animals, according to court documents obtained from the Routt County Justice Center. Routt County Sheriff’s Office deputies investigated the case and issued the citation.

The police department is conducting a separate, internal investigation into Sadowski’s conduct, according to Chief Cory Christensen. His agency will not take any action in the investigation until the conclusion of the criminal case. That means Sadowski will continue to work as usual for the foreseeable future.

The dog’s owner, longtime resident Eaton Nilsson, approached the Steamboat Pilot & Today because he was concerned about Sadowski’s conduct with a firearm and the risk it could pose to public safety.

The alleged crime occurred Oct. 3 on property along Routt County Road 20, about eight miles south of Steamboat, according to a report from the Sheriff’s Office. Sadowski does not live on the property but was helping a caretaker there kill some beavers that reportedly were causing a nuisance. He was off-duty at the time and had a valid small game license, according to the report. 

Three dogs were on the property, including Nilsson’s 14-year-old female black lab, named Zora. Sadowski told deputies that all of the dogs were with him for most of the day. While he was walking near a pond toward an area the beavers had clogged, Sadowski heard a rustle behind him in the grass. 

The vegetation was about waist-high, according to the report, and Sadowski claimed he could see something moving in the grass that he thought was the glint of a beaver tail. 

“As soon as the animal poked its head out of the tall grass, Sadowski took the shot,” the report states. 

Deputies found Zora’s body with a gunshot wound to the head, according to the report. They helped Nilsson retrieve the dog and take the animal to the Routt County Humane Society for cremation. 

Nilsson had owned Zora since the dog was a puppy, and he used the dog for bird hunting. In a letter to the court, Nilsson explained that his dog, after years of hunting experience, knew how to stay safe around guns.  

“She was trained to stay behind hunters, out of harm’s way until a retrieve was necessary,” he wrote in the letter. 

He therefore sees Sadowski’s sudden use of a firearm as reckless, having taken a shot before clearly seeing his target.

According to county ordinances, it is illegal to  “needlessly shoot at, wound, capture, poison, trap, or in any other manner needlessly molest, inure, or kill any animal.” The first offense for a cruelty to animal charge carries a fine of $100.  

Sadowski is scheduled to appear for a pre-trial conference at the Routt Combined Court on Nov. 13. It could take several weeks before a decision is reached. 

“The outcomes of that will factor into the internal investigation as well,” Christensen said of the trial. 

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