Law Enforcement Today Article Advises Police not to Kill Family Dogs

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Gunner was shot in the neck by an off-duty Texas officer who claimed the boxer attacked him, his wife and his dog.  Twelve-year-old Dalton Fitzhenry says Gunner was just curious and sniffing the other dog when officer Mark Condon fired at point-blank range.
Gunner was shot in the neck by an off-duty Texas officer who claimed the boxer attacked him, his wife and his dog. Twelve-year-old Dalton Fitzhenry says Gunner was just curious and sniffing the other dog when officer Mark Condon fired at point-blank range.


With the number of frequent shootings by police against non-aggressive family dogs, it’s about time we see something being done within the police community. Online magazine Law Enforcement Today has recently published an article warning officers not to shoot loved family dogs.

James P. Gaffney, author of the article, is an LET risk management/police administration contributor to the publication, and served with a metro-New York police department for more than 25 years as a patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant and executive officer. He brings to light the popular opinion that dogs are not just pets, but “valued family members,” and that the preferred term is now “canine companion.”

Police are supposed to use objective reasonableness, i.e. common sense, when they are on the job. Approaching an unknown dog, or entering a dog’s territory, can incite an attack. Then police officers shoot, and cry self-defense. Well, if they thought a situation through using common sense and compassion, their deadly actions might not have been necessary. A siren or a loudspeaker could be used to alert an owner to their presence and to suggest their dog be safely secured instead of just barging onto a property and killing a dog for defending its territory and family from an intruder.

Dogs are excellent at sensing danger, and if they come across people they perceive as a threat, they might immediately become defensive and attack. As trained on the job, police can come across as menacing, something a nervous dog can certainly sense, and may act on.

Officers are trained to take whatever measures are necessary to protect themselves. Of course, officers have the expectation of self-protection from dogs that are attacking. But officers should not be employing a “shoot first, think later” mentality in cases where they enter a property clearly marked “Beware of Dog(s),” when they come across friendly runaways or when dogs are merely running toward them but not attacking.  And how many times now have we heard stories of police shooting dogs on the wrong property?  Don’t they have GPS?  

7.10.13 - Law Enforcement Today1
Star was critically injured by officers when trying to protect her owner, a homeless man, who was having a seizure. After down on the ground having just been shot, another officer continued shooting the clearly injured dog.


It is natural for a dog to run up to a person they do not know, but it is not fair to assume they are running to attack. There is other clear body language that officers should be able to recognize, just as they are trained to recognize body language in humans. Should it become necessary to use protective measures against a dog, pepper spray could disable, and a baton could stun. But many officers just whip out their guns and shoot, not giving a moment’s thought to the fact that they are robbing a family of a beloved member just because they got scared and couldn’t hold themselves together.  And yeah, so their training requires them to fire multiple shots when shooting.  Are they so brainwashed that they are only running on instinct and autopilot (isn’t that reassuring?), and can’t use their brains to think to fire a single shot towards a leg, aiming only to injure but not kill?  Or what about firing a shot into the sky, which might be loud enough to frighten the dog off?  Why do they not retreat, letting a dog know they are not in danger?  (This seems simple enough, but clearly is challenging concept.)  And why is there such blatant disregard for anything else that might be injured?  Many bullets are through-and-through, or ricochet, leaving the possibility that others can be killed in their reckless gun shows of cowardice.

If “regular” citizens can receive up to a 20-year prison sentence for killing a police dog (many of which have viciously attacked people, unable to distinguish between ordinary citizens and “perps”), then why is there such a double standard for police officers? Why are they above the law and the people they are meant to protect and serve? It seems that more and more these days, we need protection from them.

Well, police now can be held accountable in the case of wrongful death of a dog. It is illegal for officers to seize a dog by deadly physical force unless the actions taken are deemed objectively reasonable pursuant to the Fourth Amendment. Law enforcement officers know about objective reasonableness when using force against humans (though not all of them apply it), it is new for courts to recognize that this can apply to dogs killed in the line of duty.

When courts sets precedents in their rulings, it can take a long time for police law to catch up. At a conference attended by Gaffney last month, he learned from Chicago attorney Laura Scarry that shooting a family dog could be considered a violation of the Fourth Amendment. This amendment grants US citizens the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, protected from unreasonable arrests and seizures. Federal courts are now recognizing a dog as an “effect.”

This precedent is the result of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case of Fuller v Vines, 36 F.3d 65,68 (9th Cir. 1994), where it was ruled in favor of the defendant and enabled protection of dogs against wrongful death. The Bill of Rights has flexibility that allows for changes to be made as societal expectations change, and many in society want their dogs to be protected not only by the law, but from it.

Police dogs are considered valued members of the force, and “ordinary” dogs are considered valued members of families. It is time they are recognized as such and treated accordingly; with caution and respect, as police would expect anyone who approaches their dogs.



78 thoughts on “Law Enforcement Today Article Advises Police not to Kill Family Dogs”

  1. I know the police have a difficult job to do, but why dident he phone animal control I think it was shoot 1st then think r i p poor dog

  2. From another site: “It’s actually an intimidation tactic, and the shooting of dogs … is not by accident, nor on impulse or instinctive reaction.”

    However, MY reaction would be impulsive and instinctive, and aimed at stopping the arrogant cop who is only concerned with maintaining the intimidation. There is NEVER a time when a split-second decision about shooting a dog is called for.

    • “There’s never a time when shooting a dog is called for” huh? How about when they are tearing s little kid or and old person to pieces which they have done EIGHTEEN times so far this year. I can guarantee you that I will shoot the POS without a second thought.

      • Do you not realize how little the number 18 is in the time of a year? More deaths from shark attacks and lightning strikes happen in a year and even that is very uncommon.. Those 18 dogs probably attacked because they were also threatened. Way more innocent dogs, and animals in general, have been killed by humans than vise versa. I dont see why humans should think they are more important than dogs, we are all living beings and deserve equal rights. I especially dont understand why you would think that YOU are more important, considering how you obviously dont think as much as someone should. There is ALWAYS reason to think before ending a life.

  3. It’s an outrage. These cops are just power hungry and I’m guessing do not own dogs!!! They should lose gun privileges when something this disgusting happens. SCUMBAGS!!!

  4. Whiners 2, Doers 0. Gripe & complain but don’t do anything to solve the problem.
    I’m signing out, so judge others & forget about the plank in your own eye.

  5. Amen to all of this!! I too see that it’s becoming increasingly apparent that we need to fear the people that are sworn to protect us!!! Police officers more and more are acting more like unthinking robots that, as the article says, are operating on auto pilot rather than living , breathing, feeling HUMANS!!!

  6. I have four dogs, they all have their shots and are licensed plus they are fixed. I have a big yard that is fenced all the way around with a privacy fence. I also have beware of dog signs on every door and on the fence. My dogs stay in unless they need to use the bathroom. I was sitting there watching TV with my dogs by my side, they where asleep, when I got a loud bang on the door, I went to the door and it was the police with an arrest warrant for someone that I had never heard of before. I explained that to the cops, but they did not believe me and wanted to search my home. I said that is fine I have nothing to hide, just let me put my dogs up, one of the cops said that if I went back into the house I would be arrested, I was crying at this point trying to get them to understand I did not know this person. I was finally given permission to put them outside, after a very intense time. They checked the house and the person they where looking for was not there, they demended to know where they were, again I told them I did not know this person, I even showed my ID. They noticed I had a garage and the same cop who said I could not put my dogs outside because he did not want me back in the house, said oh that’s why you put your dogs outside that is where he is hiding. He pulled his gun out and said I will just shoot them to get to the garage. Finally before all that happened one of them that was outside noticed the address and came in saying what is the address on the warrant, it was the WRONG address. I never got an apology are anything. So in this what exactly did I do wrong. My dogs where in my home minding their own business I had signs up saying beware of dogs, and of course they got all worked up over the everything going on when they sensed I was upset. I know police have hard jobs, I understand this, but I little compassion would be great.

    • Wow…way to have your constitutional rights trampled on. Please educate yourself regarding such incidents. I have nothing to hide either but I am damned if I would have let any of these guys enter my home without proper documentation, i.e. search warrant signed by a judge.


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