Do Police Shoot Innocent Dogs? It Happens -- And It's Preventable
Police officers killing innocent dogs might be something you've never thought about. But there's evidence to suggest it's more common than we might imagine. According to a story in the Seattle Times, there is no documented incident of a dog killing a police officer in the United States. Yet police officers have killed many dogs.
A study by the National Canine Research Council concludes that a majority of intentional police shootings involve dogs. The study says several law enforcement agencies in California indicated that at least half of their police shootings involved animals. The percentage was more in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to track such statistics nationwide because no government authority documents these killings. Regardless, we've commented and reported on such incidents, including a Pit Bull killed in Riverside, CA, in his own back yard by a police officer who was assisting in an arrest taking place two houses away.
While shooting a dog is a crime in most states, it isn’t a felony. The general tendency of review committees and juries to give police the benefit of the doubt means that those shootings rarely result in formal charges or convictions, or victories in lawsuits brought against departments. This danger to beloved pets exist whether you live in a big metro area such as New York City or a small one such as Vallejo, CA.
If dog shootings weren’t serious enough, dogs are also hit with stun-guns such as Tasers as well as pepper-sprayed, kicked, and and battered with batons or night-sticks. Officers inevitably claim self-defense, and charges are even less likely when they use these “less than lethal” methods.
The Colorado Senate in April passed Senate Bill 226, called “Don’t Shoot My Dog,” which enjoys bipartisan support and is making its way through the Colorado House. The law, which could become a model for other states, requires training for police on how to deal with domestic dogs. The bill would require training in how the animals act and react, and how to minimize the dangers to themselves and the dogs. Further, the bill will require that police receive additional training in the area annually.
Such trainings are held on topics such as DUI investigation, correct use of pepper spray, and community interaction. Only time will tell whether these trainings, should the bill pass and be signed into law, will reduce or prevent police-on-dog violence.
Dog owners also play a role in protecting our fur children from police. The National Canine Research Council includes as a major factor in the shootings "reckless, uneducated, or inhumane owners." Some of the things we can do involve training and obedience, others involve handling, and still others involve managing certain situations.
Training is important to keep your dogs safe. Police are most likely to react violently to a dog who barks, jumps toward them, or looks like it’s going to bite. Getting your dog as comfortable as possible around strangers is important. Where you can’t do that, having a dog who obeys when you order “sit,” “down,” or “heel” can prevent harm. Preventive training that keeps your dog from barking, advancing, or attacking initially is incredibly important, because most dog shootings happen quickly when police feel threatened.
Handling of your dog as important as training. Anecdotal evidence suggests that leashed dogs have been victims, but, statistics show leashed dogs falling victim to police with far lower frequency than off-leash dogs. We all love playing off-leash with our dogs, but the place for that is in a fenced yard, or a dog park, or another contained area. Walking your dog off leash greatly increases the risk of police violence.
Situation is also key to keeping your dog safe. Most dog shootings happen in the dog’s own yard or home. Often, they happen when a police officer enters a fenced yard and then feels trapped between a dog or dogs and the fence itself. Police don’t always knock or seek permission before entering a fenced yard, especially if they're pursuing a suspect on the run or -- as in the case mentioned above -- guarding against a suspect fleeing. So if you want to keep your dogs safe, make sure that they’re supervised when they’re in the yards. It gives you the opportunity to intervene if a police officer has to visit.
If your dogs have to remain outside unsupervised, keep them in areas segregated from the front yard. A separate fenced enclosure or dog-run can greatly protect your beloved pets. If you don’t have the resources or live in a rental unit, even though it's a highly controversial practice, consider keeping an unsupervised dog tethered in the back yard, so the police officer is less likely to wander into the dog’s area or can at least move to a place the dog can't roam.
I recommend everyone send a message to their elected officials recommending a local version of the “Don’t Shoot My Dog” law. In the interim, following these steps will help protect your dogs from police errors.
About the author: Now that he has finished law school, Cassady's most reliable income is working as a stand-up comedian at a suburban movie theatre (yeah, he spells it the English way, so what?). Cassady specializes in the areas where pet ownership and the law overlap. Mina the Cat taught Cassady everything he knows.
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