The deputy who shot Cole Middleton’s dog, Candy, no longer has a job, but that’s not enough for Middleton and his family. The Middleton family wants to change the system. Last week, they began advocating for what they call “Candy’s Law,” which would require all Texas law enforcement officers to take special training on how to deal with aggressive dogs without using lethal force. They would also be required to carry shock-weapons such as Tasers and pepper spray so that their first recourse isn’t a gun.
Stories of police gunning down dogs for no discernible reason are always heartbreaking, but the case of Candy Middleton was especially grotesque and horrible. Deputy Jerred Dooley put a bullet through Candy’s head when she barked at him, but his shot didn’t kill her; Middleton had to drown her in a bucket of water to end her pain because the deputy left after refusing to deliver a second shot.
To me, Candy’s Law sound like a good start, but it’s only a start. The fact that police departments across the country have regularly refused to avail themselves of free training programs by the Humane Society and the ASPCA is a definite problem, but the problem goes deeper than that, into the culture of policing itself. Over the past few decades, public policy has increasingly depicted police as soldiers on the front line of a war. When you’re in a war, you don’t think of violence as your last resort: It’s often the first thing you do.
Dogs and humans are paying the price for that. In January, 18-year-old Keith Vidal, who suffered from schizophrenia, was shot and killed by detective Bryon Vassey in front of his own house after he had been shocked with a Taser and pinned by two other officers. According to the boy’s stepfather, Vassey said, “We don’t have time for this,” before shooting the boy. Even though Vidal weighed only 90 pounds and was restrained by three officers, the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association defended the officer’s actions.
The problem of police shooting dogs without reason is becoming so prevalent that even the mainstream media can’t ignore it any more. On April 29, Inside Edition broadcast a segment about dog shootings. The report claims that a dog is shot every 98 minutes by law enforcement. Despite the number of stories I’ve written on the subject, I’m inherently skeptical about media statistics without a source. The basic point remains, though: Far too many dogs are being killed by police just because the officers have a badge and a gun and they can get away with it. The Inside Edition report shows video, captured by a 12-year-old on his cell phone, of a police officer who shocked a dog twice with a Taser, then shot her five times. The dog, Chloe, had already been caught by animal control officers using a loop.
Candy and Chloe were not aberrations; neither was Keith Vidal. I could fill the page with similar accounts of humans and dogs. While the training that Candy’s Law would give is essential, we also need to stop training police to see anyone who’s not a cop as the enemy. We need to return to the idea that you use a gun or a Taser only when you’ve exhausted all other options.
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