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Why are dogs – our best friends, our companions, our children – such a threat that police shoot dogs every 98 minutes; when not one single police officer in recorded history has ever been killed by a dog?
A recent federal court ruling that granted police the authority to shoot and kill a dog that either moves or barks when an officer enters the dog’s home has dog owners around the country fearing for the safety and security of their own furry family members – and rightfully so.
Every year, somewhere between several hundred and several thousand animals, mostly dogs, are killed by police. However, because these incidents are often under-reported, kept quiet, go unpenalized, and because a central database does not exist to track them, an accurate number is impossible to establish.
Laurel Matthews, a supervisory program specialist with the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services (DOJ COPS) office, calls fatal police vs. dogs encounters an “epidemic” and estimates that 25 to 30 pet dogs are killed each day by law enforcement officers.
According to a study performed by the National Canine Research Council, up to half of the intentional shootings by police involve dogs.
Sometimes, the animals have been injured and are put out of their misery. Sometimes, they are involved in an attack or are deemed vicious and killed for reasons of public or officer safety. But most often, they are victims of misunderstanding, prejudice, or simple convenience, according to animal-rights and behavior experts.
While a small percentage of police on dog shootings are considered justified, a majority of cases are not.
Stockton, California police, responding to a code enforcement violation – at the wrong address – shot a family’s 50-pound Rottweiler-mix, Daisy, after the friendly dog came running to greet the visitors to her home. The bullet ricocheted and struck Kari Bailey, 23, and her 5-year-old daughter Hailey who were standing only a few feet away.
In 2013, The Bullock family’s dog, Jack, was shot and killed by Blue Ash, Ohio police. When the Bullocks returned home from a family member’s funeral, they found blood and three bullets on their front porch — along with a note to call the Blue Ash Police Department about their dog. The Bullocks learned that Jack had gotten out of the backyard when two officers who tried to catch him ended up shooting and killing him right on the family’s front porch. Jack was a 7-pound Chihuahua-mix.
Just take a look at some more examples compiled by Cops Shooting Dogs:
Patricia McConnell of Fishers, Indiana, was taking Reese, a 7-year-old, 18-pound Rat terrier mix, out for a late-night potty break. Reese was harnessed and on a retractable leash, but as she bounded ahead around a corner, she saw a neighbor and started to bark. The neighbor was Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal William “Buzz” Brown. Reese was able to bark only two times before the deputy shot the leashed dog twice.
A Spartanburg, South Carolina a sheriff’s deputy shot dead an 8-year-old shepherd mix named Diamond who was tied to the front porch. “Why did you shoot my dog?” the owner pleaded. The officer’s response: “She tried to bite me.” Diamond was at the end of her restraint when she was shot, according to the dog’s owner.
One night in April 2011, police in Camden, New Jersey sprayed a neighborhood with gunfire to take down a pit bull puppy named Capone — even as one lone police officer pleaded, “Don’t shoot him!” Witnesses say more than 30 bullets were fired, ricocheting across vehicles and piercing a home.
A Newfoundland named Rosie who had escaped from her home was Tased multiple times before being executed by officers in Des Moines, Washington. A dashboard video of the long ordeal shows officers wondering aloud what to do with the dog if they catch her — then they conclude, “We should just shoot [her].” They chase her down to finish the job. Another officer hollers “Nice!” when Rosie is shot. A witness says the officers high-fived one another afterward.
A Gulfport, Mississippi police officer, investigating a possible break-in at the house next door, fired five or six times at an 11-year-old dog named Melmo in the dog’s own backyard. Melmo was on a chain that ended “about 30 feet away” from the officer, according to the dog’s owner.
On New Year’s Day of 2013, a pit bull mix named Kincaid was barking at a man running from police who had trespassed into his yard. Baltimore police shot six times at the dog; half the shots missed Kincaid and his owner (who was reaching for the dog’s harness) by only inches. Kincaid died on the scene.
A Miniature Bull terrier puppy named Colonel, who had just wandered out of his home in a bustling Chicago neighborhood, was shot twice by an officer who happened to be out front writing a parking ticket. Multiple witnesses say the puppy was simply sniffing a tree about a car-length away from the police officer who shot him. Colonel is lucky to be alive after five hours of emergency surgery.
Baby Girl, a pit bull mix who was so sweet that one of her best friends was a rabbit, was taken to a dog park on Staten Island, New York when a fight broke out between two other dogs. Baby Girl was not involved in the fight. While those other dogs were being separated, the police were called. When they arrived, witnesses say Baby Girl got scared and ran toward the woods. Officers fired shots that would ultimately take her life.
Given how often police officers encounter pets, one would think training for handling dogs would be an obvious necessity. With between 37 and 47% of the U.S. population sharing their homes with dogs, police can expect to encounter a family dog about as often as they can expect not to. Yet, police are largely untrained in how to appropriately handle a dog encounter.
An officer untrained in recognizing a dog’s body language, for example, could easily mistake a bounding dog for a charging one, a nervous or frightened dog for an angry one, or an aggressive dog from one that’s merely territorial. Groups like the Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, along with hundreds of individual dog trainers and behaviorists, offer free training to police departments, but both organizations say few departments take them up on the offer.
In stark contrast to the growing problem of police on dog shootings is the U.S. Postal Service, another government organization whose employees regularly come into contact with pets.
A Postal Service spokesman said in a 2009 interview that serious dog attacks on mail carriers are extremely rare. The vast difference is likely because postal workers are annually shown a two-hour video and given further training on “how to distract dogs with toys, subdue them with voice commands, or, at worst, incapacitate them with Mace.”
In 2011, the Department of Justice published a 46-page police training and information guide, “The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters,” (below) through its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). The report, funded by a grant from the NCRC and developed by the University of Illinois Center for Public Safety and Justice, aims to dispel myths about dogs and dog bites and provide resources to help police develop nonlethal strategies for officer-dog encounters.
COPS Director Bernard Melekian, a former Pasadena, California police chief and K-9 officer, wrote in the preface to the report that the number of dogs killed by law enforcement is on the rise and that “officers must advance beyond automatically using their weapons when encountered by a dog.”
Five years after the DOJ study was published, police on dog shootings are reaching an all-time high.
Still not convinced there’s a problem?
Many believe police on dog shootings are largely justified, that vicious or dangerous dogs posing and immediate threat are most often being gunned down. Whether based on the public’s general trust that officers inherently value our dogs’ lives, or if it’s a result of good PR, post-incident federal rulings like the one in December, or a broad lack of charges against police involved in killing dogs, the belief that most dog shootings are justifiable is grossly misguided.
Are most dog shootings justifiable? What are police doing to stop the growing problem of police on dog shootings? CLICK NEXT