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Police and Pet Shootings

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Police and Pet Shootings

From The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
September 2012

The frequency of these reports highlights the need for clear policy on what constitutes a dangerous dog. Further, officers need strong training on non-lethal methods that officers can use to handle dangerous dogs if absolutely necessary. In Texas, the Austin Police Department recently did just that by creating clearer police policy on handling dogs and providing training sessions on how to deal with dogs they may encounter.

The recent shooting of Star the pit bull by New York City Police has been in the headlines. According to news articles as well as video footage from the scene, Star was shot by officers after acting protective of her owner who was suffering a seizure. Thankfully, Star survived the ordeal, although she has lost an eye as a result of the shooting.

Unfortunately, lethal conflicts between police officers and companion animals are all too common. In Henrico County, Virginia, officers reportedly shot and killed a family pit bull who was off leash as they were notifying the family of the homicide of their son. In Riverside County, California, a pit bull was shot in a fenced yard by officers closing off a neighborhood for a suspect in a different house. These examples only scratch the surface of recent reports of dogs being shot by officers on duty, and even a quick web search on the topic brings a discouraging number of recent reports. In such incidences, the only legal action families can take for these killed or injured companions is to seek monetary compensation for loss of property, as that is the only legal status animals have.

The frequency of these reports highlights the need for clear policy on what constitutes a dangerous dog. Further, officers need strong training on non-lethal methods that officers can use to handle dangerous dogs if absolutely necessary. In Texas, the Austin Police Department recently did just that by creating clearer police policy on handling dogs and providing training sessions on how to deal with dogs they may encounter.

Issues like this are a symptom of considering animals as property. Police encountering dangerous humans are required to maintain restraint and use non-lethal means of subduing that person. We would like police to use that same caution and restraint when it comes to a family dog. Unfortunately, our laws do not allow for this: in most states shooting a dog is legally the same as breaking a car window or kicking in a door.

We need our local police departments to provide clear guidelines and training on how officers can accurately assess the threat of a dog and, if dangerous, deal with it through non-lethal means like yelling, using a taser, or using pepper spray. These are steps we can promote now to decrease fatal outcomes for dogs encountering police. On a broader level, these reports point to a greater consequence of thinking of animals as things. We must act on what can be done now for training police how to handle confrontational dogs, while continuing to talk and educate on broader issues like the property status of animals.