The problem of unjustified police shootings of dogs has been out of control for a long time. Only last week, Michael Leaverton wrote about the case of Igor Vukobratovic, whose dog Otto was shot by police when they showed up at the wrong house to investigate a burglary. Vukobratovic is far from an isolated case. Browsing the news items every day, it’s hard to keep track of all the reports of such police shootings. Journalist Radley Balko coined the term “puppycide” to describe the phenomenon.
So, it’s good to be able to write about someone trying to do something about it for a change. Last month, Texas State Representative Nicole Collier introduced HB 593, which would require officers to be trained in understanding dog behavior and learning nonlethal ways to deal with them. It was unanimously approved by the Assembly; this Monday, it was approved by the Senate, and it now needs only the governor’s signature to become law.
Although unjustified police shootings of dogs have happened throughout the country, Texas counts up to 200 incidents happening just last year. The introduction of HB 593 was partly driven by a video that went viral on the Internet last October, which showed a Cleburne, Texas, police officer coaxing a six-month-old Pit Bull to come closer so that he could shoot and kill him.
If the bill passes, it is only a first step. It requires four hours of training for new officers and for current officers when seeking a promotion. Whether that’s enough to deal with a problem that’s become so pervasive remains to be seen. However, the people who have had their dogs killed by police are expressing a great amount of relief. Cindy Boling, whose five-year-old Border Collie was killed by a police officer who walked down her driveway while investigating a burglary, told the Texas Tribune, “My husband and I have devoted every single day to making this legislation happen.”
Cole Middleton had to kill his own dog, Candy, after Deputy Jerred Dooley put a bullet through the dog’s head but didn’t kill her. When the deputy refused to put Candy out of her misery, Middleton wound up having to drown her in a bucket of water. Since then, Middleton has been a strong advocate for laws like this. “That day, the officer had a gun on his hip — that’s all he had to deal with whatever come to him, whether it be a 10-year-old child or a three-year-old, 35-pound dog,” Middleton told the Tribune. “Other means need to be taught to these officers to deal with these dogs non-lethally.” He’s been pushing for the passage of HB 593, but still seems to see it as a beginning, rather than an end. “It’s been a long, hard road, but change IS happening one step at a time,” he wrote on Facebook yesterday.
But it is a beginning and a better story to write than about yet another fatal shooting. Hopefully we’ll see more steps in this direction from other states and other agencies.
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