It seems that every other day we see a story about police shooting a family dog. Not a vicious dog that has mauled a baby or is about to attack an officer, but a dog that is not doing anything but wagging its tail.
Each year, hundreds, possibly thousands, of animals are fatally shot by police. The National Canine Research Council says nearly half of intentional shootings by police are to dogs. While some of them may be vicious or are irreparably injured need to be put out of their misery, most of them die for no reason. Animal rights and behavior experts say police execute these dogs because of prejudice, or even worse, simply because it is more convenient. It is more convenient for a cop to shoot a furry family member than to think of a better solution.
It would be understandable if these dogs were actual threats, but there is not one documented case of a dog killing a police officer. There aren’t even very many dog bites. According to the NYPD’s 2011 Firearms discharge report, there were 28,000 calls to police about dogs or other animals. Out of 28,000 calls, only five officers and two civilians were bitten during shooting incidents.
But there have been so many incidents of innocent dogs being murdered at the hands of police officers, who we are taught are there to serve and protect us, that police integrity is being called into question. In Fairhope, Alabama, 10-year-old Maddie was shot on her own porch. The police officer claimed she was running at large and tried to bite him, and even tried to jump in his patrol car, but his tale was contradicted by an eyewitness.
“The dog was not vicious at all,” a shaken Tyler Swafford said. “It didn’t even come off its porch [when the deputy pulled up]. The deputy got out of his car and knelt down by the side of it. There was a dog sitting at the edge of the porch, wagging its tail, and he shot it. It looked like he did it for no reason.”
Photos show that Maddie was shot several times in the head and leg. The devastated family said she was a gentle dog and was greatly loved by their children.
Axel was an 18-month-old yellow Lab from Charles City County, Virginia in training to be a service dog, and was shot in the face three times by Animal Control Officer Franklin Bates.
Rosie was a four-year-old Newfoundland in Des Moines, Iowa, who was hit twice with a Taser, then chased from her own yard and gunned down. A neighbor had only called to report that she was loose and feared for the dog’s safety. Rosie’s owners, Deirdre and Charles Wright, were unsuccessful in having the officers involved charged, and they were cleared of wrongdoing by the department.
But these trigger-happy police have not been cleared in everyone’s eyes, even if their superiors are more than willing participants in the blue code of silence. The federal Department of Justice has recognized that this is a problem that needs to be addressed. Last year they issued a 46-page police training and information guide entitled “The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters,” which was distributed by its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).
The guide was developed after the ASPCA’s 2010 position paper determining that “most instances of police shooting dogs are avoidable,” and implored officers to better understand dogs and use a minimal amount of force on them.
The COPS guide educates police on dogs’ “posture, vocalizations and facial expressions” so they can assess whether or not they are even threatened. Outlined are defensive options that do not include the use of deadly force. Myths about dogs and biting are also debunked. The reports of a “dog bite epidemic” were contradicted, as the numbers have actually declined. The canine population in the US has grown steadily, but the whopping 37,000 dog bites reported in NYC in 1971 has been pared down to 3,600 in 2009.
It can be difficult to determine accurate numbers of dog shootings because many police departments do not even require any kind of formal review for the slaying of a dog, and some don’t even have to write a separate report. But in the public’s eye, every innocent dog shooting is one too many.
“It’s not about animal rights. And nobody is questioning an officer’s right to protect himself or the public,” said Donald Cleary, director of communications for the National Canine Research Council. “But police need to know, to really understand, is that it just doesn’t look good.”
Few would question an officer who shot a dog because they were defending his or her life. But most dogs are not brutally aggressive, and it seems that in many cases, it is the police who are brutally aggressive. A child wielding a knife would pose a threat, but it is unlikely that an officer would shoot them. Perhaps if they are so worried about their safety, they should carry tranquilizer guns to manage perceived threats instead of killing family members.