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Columns : Editorial

It's Not About the Dogs

When an officer shoots and kills somebody's pet, even if it's justified, it's the result of human factors.

November 06, 2014  |  by - Also by this author

The one thing you need to know about the controversy surrounding law enforcement killings of pet canines is it's not about the dogs; it’s about the people.

There can be no doubt that Americans—law enforcement officers included—love dogs. As much as 50% of American homes now have dogs. A home, a family, and a loyal pet dog is the American ideal of domestic bliss. It's the way we live. Or at least it's the way we think we live.

American society is in transition. The majority of American adults are now single. Many of these people rely on their pets for companionship. Their dogs are their best friends. They are four-legged loneliness insulators that no longer live out in the yard but inside where they sit on the couch and sleep in the bed right beside their owners who are now only halfway jokingly referred to as "pet parents."

And pity the officer who shoots and kills one of these dog-children, even if the animal in question is attacking that officer.

Time was if an officer killed a man's dog, one of two things would happen. Nothing. Or perhaps the owner would seek compensation for the value of the dog.

Today, when an officer kills a dog, even if the officer was justified in doing so, he or she should expect a hell storm. Many dog owners today are going to get very emotional about losing their animals, and soon their grief is going to turn to anger. The officer and the agency that employs the officer will become the target of that anger.

The owner will go to the press. He or she will also post on social media. Then the animal activists and cop haters will rally to the cause. People will protest and demand the officer be fired. Maybe the officer will be prosecuted. And most certainly the officer and the agency will be sued.

The point here is that when a police officer shoots and kills a dog, the reaction of the community is not really about the dog. It's about the owner's emotional loss. And if you treat that owner's loss like no big deal, then his or her rage will come back and bite you much worse than any dog ever could.

All this public outrage is not about preventing dog death. If it was there would be much better causes for people to rally around. The most liberal estimate of annual dog fatalities from police bullets is about 11,000 (30 per day multiplied by 365). Each year millions of dogs are gassed and injected out of existence in the nation's animal shelters. So why aren't there marches in front of animal shelters every time a dog is euthanized?

The answer is clear. The only difference between the dogs in the shelter and the dogs curled up on the average American's couch is human interaction.

In other words: It's not about the dogs; it's about the people.

Which includes officers. Despite their characterization on the Internet and on Facebook as enjoying "puppycide," officers don't want to shoot pets. Most officers love dogs. And even those officers who have no affection for canines don't want to face discipline or litigation for unnecessarily using deadly force on an animal.

So why do officers keep shooting dogs at such an alarming rate? One factor is that dog owners fail to properly control their dogs when officers make contact. But perhaps the biggest factor is officers just don't know what else to do when dealing with a hostile canine.

Few academies or in-service training programs teach officers how to react when they come face to face, and often unexpectedly so, with a growling dog that's showing its teeth and communicating bad intent.

Such training is now mandated in several states because of dog shooting incidents that have led to political action. But it's probably better for an agency to just implement the training on its own rather than wait for the lawsuit.

Fortunately, free training is available. The National Canine Research Council, Safe Humane Chicago, and the Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services office have teamed up to produce five short videos that teach officers key points they need to know about approaching dogs and their options for less-lethal force. They can be viewed at http://cops.igpa.uillinois.edu/resources/police-dog-encounters.

Can these videos end lethal police vs. dog shootings? Not a chance. But if officers watch them, they might learn how to reduce the body count. And that could make a lot of people happy.


Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

PMT @ 11/12/2014 11:26 AM

What bullshit. This article is self-serving and only seeks to excuse unwarranted shootings and to shift blame to owners. Too many cops shoot dogs because they can and don't care. The actions of the dogs (barking and running, coming towards me, refusing to come out from under car) have all been used to excuse dog shootings. An 8lb terrier caused an officer "to fear for my life." So, please, look at the officers and their actions before you blame an owner.

Cynthia Davis Merriam @ 11/16/2014 1:21 PM

You must be out of touch with police brutality reality and you must have missed the October 2013 Police Magazine. You appear to be part of the problem - labeling those who bring attention to very serious, deadly and traumatic actions of the less than honorable and respectable officers whose salaries, liability insurance and judgments they pay as COP HATERS?? Apparently COP HATERS hate their own family members, if you are to believed.

About 16,700,000 results (0.35 seconds) for Police Brutality Against Dogs
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About 8,320,000 results (0.17 seconds) for Police Violence on Google
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Oct 2014 Police Mag http://policemag.epubxp.com/i/396079/90

Bonie lee @ 11/16/2014 3:20 PM

You really should have done your research befor attempting to write about something you obviously know nothing about. "Even if the officer was justified" do you know all an officer has to say is he "felt threatened" and that justifies in the eyes of that department.
What about the officer that shoots a dog then refuses to let the owners seek veterinary care for it. Instead lets it lay and suffer while owners watch. What about the cop that calls a dog to it, then when the dog comes he shoots it. Or in my case I was told by sheriffs probation they would call befor they come out. So I coukd secure my dogs. Instead he came and killed one wounded another. Your wrong it is about the dogs.
Justice for dexter and della

Scott Lacy @ 11/16/2014 3:31 PM

This really is a self-serving piece. Whether this is due to denial, naïveté, or ignorance, hard to know.

Yes, officers contend with hostile dogs, and in certain cases they may need to respond with deadly force. But those incidents are NOT the ones that incense mainstream dog lovers. It's the incidents where non-threatening dogs are shot when other options were available. Or the incidents where eyewitnesses contradict the officer's report. Or certainly the incidents where video lays waste to an officer's version of events.

Also maddening: the lack of accountability. Police investigate themselves. Or when they want to make a show of their seriousness, they call the police department one county over (as if that has any chance of being impartial).

Fact is, the people who investigate dog shootings are people who have an interest in making it all go away: cops, city councils, mayors, etc.

No, we get mad about dog shootings because WE HAVE NO OTHER RECOURSE. Other than our voices.

Christopher Jones @ 11/16/2014 3:33 PM

What a farce this "pardon the good hearted officer that had no choice" misnomer notion this author is rambling about.

This article is woefully biased and a byproduct of being grossly uninformed on the majority of these cases.

I would sure like to see these "had no choice" cases. I can say this, for every "justified" case shown, I could show 30 that clearly weren't.

These egomaniacs on adrenaline power trips are shooting small dogs barking on their own porches (emptying their chambers), shooting dogs chained up in their own garage while police raided the wrong house, even cats and parakeets!

Most of these cases are repugnant and clear that these officers are simply acting on kill thrills knowing they will get pardoning by the same flawed reasoning (and uneducated) mentalities of this author and the department. It's a disgrace.

Scott Lacy @ 11/16/2014 4:50 PM

You are partially right in your own way, David. It's not *only* about the dogs. It's also about the frustration in watching as police departments show little regard for the citizens they purport to serve.

Until good cops rise up and defend the honor of the profession, citizens will continue to rail against injustice by whatever means are available to them. You want that to stop? Then root out the bad, the indifferent, and the incompetent. Show the people that you care about your community and your relationship with it.

It's not too late to turn this around.

But if PDs keep sticking their heads in the sand because, well, because they can ... then expect the public broadsides to continue.

Donna @ 11/16/2014 8:15 PM

David Griffith....I could spend time telling you just how ignorant you are....but I think that time is best spent on seeking justice for the dogs police are shooting. So....you are simply I-G-N-O-R-A-N-T !

Nicholas Barone @ 11/17/2014 4:34 PM

Geist, Arfee, Dog, Angel..... these dogs did nothing, NOTHING, that justified their shootings!! Please don't tell me cops aren't targeting dogs, especially pit bulls. You, sir, are a typical cop and part of the problem. Well, guess what? We aren't tolerating this crap any longer! Don't like it, tough shit! Deal with because you now have to deal with us!

Roxanne @ 11/18/2014 1:08 PM

kill the cop if you have a gun because he is crazy

Michele @ 11/19/2014 4:22 PM

1). It IS about the DOGs. 2) Yes, people should keep dogs in control. Kind of hard to do during a no knock middle of the night raid when you are being pulled out of bed half naked in a WRONG ADDRESS raid. Geist was in control by being in a FENCED backyard. Coco was shivering by his heater vent IN HIS OWN HOME. How about the dog that was already detained by a catcher and then shot - did you see that one - of the pansy cops screaming and hopping around like little fools? How about Mr Kiss kiss? The dog was at least 30 ft away - there was NO threat when that little boy shot Maximus. How about Nala - where a woman captured the friendly dog and called animal control. Police got there first and SLIT HER THROAT! Are you kidding me?!?!?! Every one of these dogs were under control and yet they were still shot or stabbed. We the people are scared to death that this exact thing will happen to our own babies. Because obviously, police departments aren't doing their part by keeping police officers under control. 3) You notice I remember the dogs' names? Ya. Because...IT IS ALL ABOUT THE DOGs. They are all innocent. If I do something wrong - you take it out on ME. Leave the damn dog alone.

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