Dear police: please stop shooting people’s dogs

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A friend of mine post this news story this morning on Facebook, it’s about a Hammond, Indiana police officer who had to get his gun off so bad that he shot a family’s pet pit bull in the face.

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Now, you could argue that I’m biased because I own a politically incorrect assault dog myself, and to a certain extent I am. But at the same time, I’m really tired of reading this story, because it’s always the same. Every single time it goes like this: cop shoots dog, family says dog has no history of violence whatsoever, cop doesn’t get in trouble.

I like cops. I was raised by a cop. I do not think that the cops are “out to get me” or that they’re the enemy. Which is why stories like this are so vexing, because they always feel like a cop wanted to get his gun off, and someone’s pet took a bullet for it.

Now, you can make the argument that a lot of these cases can be avoided if people would train their animals better, and I would generally agree with that. I never really realized how many people are incredibly irresponsible with their dogs until I owned a dog in an urban environment. In defense of the cops, it’s very difficult to tell the difference between a dog charging towards you with the intent to bite your face off, and a dog charging towards you with the intent to lick you to death with love. Usually the difference is subtle, and something that would be hard to determine in a split second.

I guess what really frustrates me about that is that I don’t feel like I should have to defensive precautions for my family pet against the police. Law abiding citizens shouldn’t fear the cops, and if I’m obeying the law I shouldn’t be worried that my dog is going to get shot in the face.

It’s deeply frustrating, because most of my encounters with law enforcement as an adult have been positive. I actually like the cops, and even more so now that I’ve left the Seattle area. But incidents like this one force law abiding citizens to do one of two things: either trust all cops and hope you don’t get burned by it, or assume that all police are like this clown from Hammond, who gets his jollies by shooting people’s dogs. It’s not a good situation for anyone – the police should be trusted by the people they’re supposed to protect, not feared.

I worry that fear of the police among law-abiding citizens is far too common these days.

24 thoughts on “Dear police: please stop shooting people’s dogs”

  1. If the dog wasn’t intent on attacking with violent physical force then the “Cop” murdered someone’s pet and probably family companion.
    Can’t know what the statues are where this happened but in the NE state personally live in all animals are considered “property” and most can “guess” the rest ! At least they have new Felony animal cruelty laws but they probably don’t hinder the police much “in the line of duty” ?

  2. This is a very touchy topic, similar to guns actually. Personally, I trust the officers decision; as you led on to, it had to be quick or he could be the one needing medical treatment. I see people disobeying the law regularly with their canines, meaning they are allowing them to roam freely on sidewalks, in stores and they are not service dogs. As more and more people acquire canines for security and friendship and allow to to roam unleashed, more and more will be shot or killed bia other methods. Take responsibility, follow the laws of your community, county and state as well as considering the effect(s) a loose canine might have upon others. While your at it, clean up after their messes in public too. I sure hope the people I see who do not clean up, are not firearm owners . . . .

  3. The other issue at hand here is that the current American culture is one of cowardliness. How hard is it for a neighbor to first SPEAK to the person with the dog rather than call the police first thing? It’s actually very simple…if you have a pair and are actually social with your neighbors. But nowadays, no one actually speaks to their neighbors…or even knows their names.

    If you know your neighbors, it’s far less likely that they will just call the police on you for every little issue.

    Take this as a valuable lesson and make it a point to get out TODAY and meet your neighbors. There are far more benefits to this than them not calling the police because your dog is “roaming free” or because your trees are overgrowing, or other such nonsense. We need to begin rebuilding the COMMUNITY within our nation, and that starts with all of us in our own neighborhoods.

    1. Thanks again anonymous. No truer words spoken, community has gone to the me-side aka wayside and needs to come back to the we-side. We are all in this together, whether we like it or not. If you don’t like it, well, I guess you need to accept the consequences of wanting to be secluded amongst the masses.

  4. On “The Flipside of Puppyicde” (Dec. 27, 2006):

    In Findlay, Ohio, a police officer allowed an official police dog to escape his property. The dog wandered a quarter mile to the home of a neighbor, where, according to the man how charged, it temporarily kept him and his young son trapped in their own car, on their own property. After managing to get out of the car and into the house, the man came back out with a gun to get his son out of the car. He says he felt threatened by the dog, and shot it once in the chest.

    The local police department is now charging the man with felony assault, punishable by 5 years in prison. They’re also demanding the man pay $11,000 for the dog.

    And then there’s this story about how “Police Dogs Benefit From Double Standards, Too” (Nov. 28, 2011):

    We know what can happen if your dog so much as growls at a cop. But what happens when a police dog attacks a kid? Well, we get to hear about the dog’s exemplary service record.

    Long story short: a police dog attacked an 8-year old boy while being walked by an off-duty police officer. Cops defend the dog on the basis of the dog’s service record.

    Campbell Police Sgt. John Rusnak said a police dog can’t differentiate between a playing boy and a crime suspect.

    “Anything running, they’re trained … could be a potential threat. And all he’s doing is reacting and doing what he was trained to do,” Rusnak told WFMJ.

    George Orwell wrote that “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”. When it comes to law enforcement vs. the citizenry, police animals are more equal than non-police people in the eyes of the law.

  5. This is an emotional topic.

    I’m going to speak here as a cop, but also as an academic who has put 20 years into Criminal Justice studies. I ask that people not take this personally, and please don’t take my words as those of all police.
    _____________

    1. Animals are property.
    This one statement is going to get a lot of people riled up that I say it, but it’s a fact. They are owned. If someone takes your dog without your permission, and they are caught, that person is caught, they are charged with Theft, not Kidnapping. Animals including dogs are bought and sold at a brisk rate.

    People know this to be a fact, but they cannot embrace it, when their dog is a family member to them. This is about emotion. Emotion, we know, is neither right nor wrong– it simply is. But it can play merry hell with an equation built only on facts.

    2. Emotions seem to trump logic.
    If a cop serves a felony warrant, and uses a sledge hammer to break open a beautiful oaken door, people say, “Well, that’s a shame about the door, but if the warrant was in order and the homeowner wasn’t opening up, then it was time to open it however.” If that same cop is met by a scared and aggressive dog that is doing what arguably is its job (protecting the household), but which is also endangering the cop with bloodshed, and the officer uses his weapon to stop what is the threat of what is, after all, property, from hurting him, the same logic often isn’t used. It is short circuited by emotion.

    3. Officers should not have to be bitten first.
    I have been bitten on the job. I’ve gone to the ER and been treated and then bought new $70 uniform pants out of my own pocket, and never gotten recompensed for it. I’ve had dogs nip at me, and come charging into my taser and baton. I will die with clear scars left on my body that I have obtained from dogs attacking me while on the job. On a couple of occasions, I’ll be honest with you: I should have shot the dog.

    I have heard it said by people upset about a shooting that the dog hadn’t bitten the officer yet. Given a large enough dog, a grown man can be permanently injured by a dog attack. Often it is shocking how small a dog can render lifelong injuries to a man. Without getting into breeds, we all know the breeds of dogs that used the most for dog fighting, which are nowhere near the largest breeds. Sometimes a 40 lb dog is enough to permanently harm a man. Consider also the biological weapons in the dog’s bite. Dogs left to roam and attack are often the same kind of dogs not getting their shots.

    4. Officers should be trained better about dogs.
    Jeff Cooper once said that a properly-trained police officer ought to be able to deal with a single dog attacking him. For the most part, I don’t disagree, and that’s frankly the main reason that I’ve never shot a dog that was attacking me while on the job. I have tazed them, and I have used my expandable baton, and I have used my steel-toed boots on them. A lot of the reason that I have not shot dogs when I would have been approved to do so by policy is because of #2, above: Emotions Trump Logic. I had a lieutenant get on to me about tazing my second dog attacking me in 2 months (both were pit bulls, and I promise you, both were in the immediate act of trying to get a mouthful of me. This wasn’t a dog trotting up to check me out. One was airborne at me when the barbs hit.), because Taser cartridges are more expensive than pistol cartridges. He may have been tongue in cheek, but I pointed out that I was able to resolve the problem without having our department featured in the news for “Another Cop Shoots Another Dog,” and that’s a win. (Also, I was in a vey residential area, and I don’t like skipping pistol bullets around if I can help it.)

    I will say, though, that modern expandable batons were mostly built more as pain compliance devices than as bone-breaking weapons, and they are surprisingly ineffective at rendering incapacitating injuries. To this end, the old second-growth hickory batons were FAR superior. The main feature of an expandable baton is that it is always on the belt of an officer. Strangely, most cops seem to forget about it. That’s a two-pound chunk that they carry on their belt every workday for years, but they literally forget to use it. This is frankly a training issue.

    5. There are times to shoot the dog.
    When there is more than one dog coming after the officer, all bets are off. It is my professional opinion that packed-up dogs attacking a person need to be met with deadly force, unless we’re talking about Chihuahuas or Pekinese or teacup varieties of canines. (In which case, proper footwork is key.)

    During documented high-risk incidents, when the dog comes after an officer engaging in something that needs his undivided attention, shooting a dog may be the best option, keeping in mind #1. If the officer is swinging away with his baton to defend himself against a dog, he is not focusing on the other threats around him, be they a felon to arrest, or traffic. This last paragraph is not going to make me popular, because of #2.

    6. We could bear rethinking the dog issue.
    Because the dogs are such a hot topic, and so ubiquitous, we might re-think ways of dealing with them? How? I don’t really know. Shin and forearm guards for warrant service where dogs are known to be come to mind, but I really question how effective they would be. I will tell you that tasers are of questionable use if you don’t have a means of securing the animal while it’s down. Catch poles might be a good piece of kit to bring. Dart guns are basically non-starters, because the amount of sedative that will put a dog down immediately is generally the amount of sedative that will kill the dog. Also, these things are time and resource-consuming. When you are going in to extract a felon, things need to move along rickety-tick.

    For officers making a routine call upon a house for an administrative or non-emergency purpose, teaching them to survey the area before walking into the yard is worth doing. If a dog moves up aggressively, back off an call animal control.

    We need to keep in mind Sir Robert Peel’s 2nd, 3rd, and 4th principles.

    7. A lot of this problem could be fixed by talking to the dog owners.
    I’ve already said at my place that we need to do away with no-knock warrants except in hostage situations.. Knock on the door. Call them. Tell them that you need them to put their dog up. Sometimes that’s what it takes. Kills the element of surprise, but not the dog. This isn’t always possible, but it’s possible sometimes:
    “Hello?”
    “Hey, Mr. Smith? Bob Smith of 123 Main Street?”
    “Yeah? Who’s this?”
    “This is the police. We’re out front. And out back. We have a warrant for your arrest/ to search the house. We are in uniform, and in marked patrol units. We need you to put the dog away and come on out. If we have to come in, and the dog attacks us, we’ll be forced to shoot the dog, and none of us ever wants that. Please comply immediately.”
    “Okay, I’ll put the dog in the kennel/bathroom/closet. Don’t shoot. I’m coming out.”
    This happens. Not all the time. Sometimes it’s not feasible. But it does happen. Maybe it could happen a little more.

    I know of one incident in which someone I know actually was held hostage by a family member of hers, who had put their pit bulls in different bedrooms around the house to prevent SWAT from entering. He was drunk, and actually fired random shots during the stand-off. He finally permitted his hostage to leave. After the hostage-taker finally gave himself up, the former hostage convinced the officers –who were going in to clear the house– to permit her to secure the dogs. The dogs were upset and would have attacked the strangers when they entered the bedrooms unaccompanied by her. My congratulations to the flexibility and professionalism of the North Richland Hills Police Department for handling that situation the way that they did.

    1. I really don’t disagree with anything in your comment, because I really think that this is an emotional issue where it’s easy for people to get riled up and ignore the facts. What I really wanted to use this for was a springboard into the discussion of how police culture has changed observably from “peace officers” to “law enforcement officers” just in my short lifetime. I think it’s an easier topic to use to springboard that than something hotter like the militarization of police.

      But I do agree that no-knock warrants suck.

      1. My apologies for going all 1500 words at your place. I didn’t mean to do that; I was just riffing, and it came out. Yeah, I cross-posted to my place, too, but that’s because I was too lazy.

        Maybe we could put together a call-and-answer on the interaction between police and the people they serve.

    2. “If someone takes your dog without your permission, and they are caught, that person is caught, they are charged with Theft, not Kidnapping.”

      And if they abuse a dog, they are charged with animal cruelty or animal abuse, not destruction of private property or vandalism. Your “they’re just property” is not an accurate representation of what animals are and the laws you are supposed to uphold make this clear. It’s also a bit of an absurd claim given what people are charged with for harming police dogs, if they are just property….

    3. Excellent post,, Matt. As a retired cop, I too have experienced the push-pull decision of how to handle dogs. Luckily, in all my years, I only had to shoot one dog, a Rottweiler. It had been terrorizing the neighborhood and no one knew who it belonged to. Two of us were chased back into our patrol vehicles when we attempted to contact the complainant at her house. My supervisor was the other officer involved so the decision was his. Animal Control refused to respond because it was after hours and no one had been bit yet. Anyway, I didn’t like doing it but the really hard part was that I had a beautiful Rottweiler myself at home. I know what great dogs they are when properly raised.

      What I found worked quite well once it made it’s way onto our belts in the late 90s was OC spray. if I knew I was headed into dog territory, I would have the OC in my left hand and right hand on my holstered P226. I would often just hose a mist into the area the dog would have to come through to get to me. 90% of the time this worked as they didn’t want to wander into it. For the brave ones that did, they got the blast straight in the face. I never had one attack beyond that stage. And if they did start back towards me for round two, usually my raising the OC up in their direction would stop them in their tracks. At least the smart ones. The stupid ones got blasted again and would slink off to their corner of the yard to tear and blow snot chunks.

      That said, a search warrant is a totally different situation. The confines of the inside of a house do not allow for much reaction time and definately not much of a change in the use of force. I am not reaching for OC on my belt when I already have my SIG or MP5 in my hands unless the aggressive animal is not charging. Then I would use it to educate the dog that it is best to go elsewhere and behave for the rest of our visit.

      One of the problems with attacking dogs is that they are much faster than cops. It is slower to deploy OC from the belt than a handgun from a holster. And since dogs can cause serious injury or worse, faster is usually better.

      This is a touchy subject and I know if someone shot my dog, it would probably get real ugly too.

    4. I agree with nearly all of this. Sometimes dogs need to be shot. Mostly cops need to be better trained of how to handle dogs that don’t need shooting, and how to not put themselves in situations where the dog needs to be shot.

      If someone broke into my house in the middle of the night, they would need to shoot my dog. If they gave me 2 minutes under close observation to lock her in the backyard, they wouldn’t. It’s as simple as that.

    5. Gotta disagree a lot here.

      This is an emotional topic.

      I’m going to speak here as a cop, but also as an academic who has put 20 years into Criminal Justice studies. I ask that people not take this personally, and please don’t take my words as those of all police.
      _____________

      1. Animals are property.
      Yes and no. They may be property legally, but morally they are life, and many people consider them part of the family. People cry and grieve over the loss of a pet, and many bury them. We don’t do that with other property.

      And honestly, its irrelevant. Police should not be unjustly destroy any property, but it happens all the time.

      2. Emotions seem to trump logic.
      Yes, and that’s our problem with the police. They have no logic, only emotions. There is no logic to preemptively shooting a dog, even with signs of aggression. Part of the problem is the overabundance of unconstitutional no-knock warrants- this occur in situations that they should not be used (just search the internet for countless examples). But its also with the emotional, illogical “officer safety” argument, as well as the full power of the police unions and government that prevent any actually consequences from being given.

      3. Officers should not have to be bitten first.
      Sort of. If its the choice of being bitten first, or shooting an innocent dog, then the cop gets bitten. Remember, a cops primary job is NOT to go home at night. Its to protect the citizens lives, liberty, and property.

      And really, there are ways of telling if a dog is going to attack, or is just putting on a show. We can have it both ways- cops not getting bitten and innocent dogs not getting shot. But cops would rather just shoot first because they know there is no way they will be punished for it.

      4. Officers should be trained better about dogs.

      Agreed on this one. But this illustrates my problem- you seem like one of the good guys. You actually do the right thing. But you need to shun your co-workers who don’t. They all do.

      5. There are times to shoot the dog.

      Of course there are, but all of these situations show that there are many more times not to shoot the dog.

      6. We could bear rethinking the dog issue.

      Agreed.

      7. A lot of this problem could be fixed by talking to the dog owners.
      Agreed.

  6. While I can see why this dog was shot and I’m not willing to call the cop in question a clown for doing it. I see this as potentially the biggest PR problem cops have. I’ve read far more about cops shooting dogs unjustly than I have about cops shooting people unjustly. Somehow, society has become more callous towards humans being killed than the family pooch. I’ve owned dogs, loved them and cried when they died, but I’m not going to call for officers to be fired for shooting a dog that wasn’t on a leash unless I know for a fact that the dog wasn’t threatening to him.

    BTW, I do feel that dogs are unnecessarily shot and agree with nearly all of Matt’s post.

    PS Agreed RE: No-Knock Warrants.

    1. You’ve read more because there are procedures in place to investigate and punish police officers who shoot people unjustly. There are also large efforts at training officers to not shoot people unjustly.

      Dogs, on the other hand, are shot by the hundreds by most major police departments, who don’t consider it a priority. You can find several “bad” shoots a week without trying.

  7. I live in a rural area that is covered by a fairly small county Sheriff’s office with about 40 deputies. There’s a city about 15 minutes away with a much larger police department. I’ve witnessed a lot of interactions between both agencies and the public and the differences are shocking.

    First of all, the deputies wear light brown uniforms with a tie and soft armor underneath, and they carry the typical gun, radio, baton, OC spray combo. The city guys wear all black with turtleneck shirts that have “POLICE” printed in white on both sides of the neck and what looks like plate carriers over them. They each carry everything the deputies have plus tasers and two pairs of cuffs. They can be quite intimidating, which is why they get very little cooperation from anyone.

    The deputies are always polite and approach people in a friendly manner and only raise their voices when needed. They know that backup is half a county away and they are on their own for the most part. The city cops however never respond to a call alone and when they arrive, they seem to think that every situation requires Robocop. They treat everyone as if they they have just murdered someone, and even the most relaxed dogs respond to that as the threat to their owner’s safety that it is.

    My point is, when you are trained to intimidate everyone as a means of controlling even the most non-threatening situation, don’t be surprised when nature takes exception.

  8. “it’s very difficult to tell the difference between a dog charging towards you with the intent to bite your face off, and a dog charging towards you with the intent to lick you to death with love.”

    This is simply not true. The postal service, and many other industries that send their workers out and about provide training on this and it proves quite successful. 5 minutes on youtube would about do it for you… It’s not difficult, police just don’t care…. All part of the larger trend…. on a systemic level police are no longer expected to assume any risk whatsoever if they don’t want to. Do whatever you want, claim you felt threatened, end of investigation, if there was even one to begin with….

    1. That was going to be my point. The postmen and post women survive just fine dealing with dogs every day.

      But then again they don’t have the protection of the government and the mindset of kill first, ask questions later.

  9. I have strong “emotions” about this as I have personally had a dog (boxer) shot and killed by a officer. Yes my dog had gotten out, yes he was running free, but did he deserve to be shot……..no. It was the middle of night. Was the officer attacked….no, could he have called animal control……yes, use pepper spray or a taser…..yes. Instead the officer I mean, spec ops warrior, shot the dog. 1 carefully placed shot broadside. The write up in the local paper read. …” officer shoots pit bull”. I imagine that was done because no one is going care if the world is less one more “horrible, savage, blood thirsty, killer” pit bull. The post above about the man charged with killing the police dog is just one example of the double standard that exist between the “above the law police” and “ordinary” citizens. Much like the double standard between the political elite and citizens of this great country.

  10. I have a ton of respect for police officers. My interactions with them have been much more positive than negative. And, I respect that they are doing a necessary, often thankless, job that I prefer not to do.

    I have heard that in some areas, that the most frequent situation in which a police officer discharges his firearm (away from the range), is not an ND, not at an armed perpetrator, but at a dog. Now, I am a cat guy, but this saddens me nonetheless.

    http://blogs.bestfriends.org/index.php/2013/07/24/police-shootings-of-dogs-a-disturbing-trend/

    Is there some training or protocol problem? It seems too systematic to be a lone officer or department.

  11. I think the core of a lot of it is that most police officers are given ZERO training in how to deal with dogs. Mailmen are given a ton of it, and despite the fact that they aren’t allowed to be armed and are invading dogs’ space constantly, most don’t see significant injuries.

    If police used force against people the way they do against dogs, police departments would be shooting people left and right. There are plenty of alternatives to calming even aggressive dogs, and especially to separating aggressive from overly excited dogs.

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