It’s a quiet evening. You’ve let the dog out for the last time and are getting ready for bed. Suddenly a police officer arrives on your property unannounced, possibly to chase a fleeing suspect or search for a missing child. Your dog barks at this “intruder” and then, before you can do anything about it, the agitated cop shoots your dog dead.
It’s tempting to think that incidents like this are rare. But the truth is, nobody knows.
There are no official statistics on how often police officers shoot dogs (or, for that matter, how often they shoot people).
If the lack of record-keeping is an attempt to keep things hush-hush, it’s not working. Thanks to camera phones and social media, there’s growing awareness of excessive police force in all its forms – including so-called “puppycide.”
The above scenario might seem sensationalized, but it’s actually mild compared to some of the dog shooting incidents that have gained attention in the past few years.
5 Cases of Puppycide That Will Make Your Blood Boil
When you imagine scenarios where a police officer shoots a dog, you might envision a pit bull, rottweiler, or some other powerful breed. You might imagine the police officer operating in a dangerous environment, where quick reflexes are necessary and mistakes can easily happen. Finally, you might think of the dog’s owner as being an unsavory type, if not an actual crime suspect.
As the examples below prove, the actual cases where police shoot dogs don’t always fit the stereotype.
A K-9 officer in the community of Woodville, Ohio recently caused a stir when he shot a loose dog that approached him during a routine traffic stop. The officer claims that the chocolate lab was running at him, but several witnesses say the dog was not acting aggressively. Luckily, the dog was only wounded in the leg, and the community stepped up to help pay for his medical bills. The officer was quickly cleared of any wrongdoing.
In a notorious 2010 case, a police officer in LaGrange, Missouri shot and killed a bulldog named Cammie who had escaped from her owner’s yard. Video shows that the frightened dog was simply struggling with her restraints when she was shot. A federal lawsuit against the police department was settled in 2013, with the dog’s owner receiving $50,000.
Warning: Disturbing video.
In Racine, Wisconsin, a dispute among neighbors led to a standoff in which a SWAT team shot and killed an Australian cattle dog. Police say the dog was being used as a weapon against them by a man who was barricaded in his home. But regardless of the owner’s intent – or questionable state of mind – the dog appeared to pose no threat whatsoever.
A police officer in Cleburne, Texas shot a pit bull that he claimed was acting aggressively. However, the body camera the cop was wearing appears to tell a different story. It shows the officer whistling for the dog, who approaches with tail wagging before being shot.
Perhaps the most egregious example of all happened in 2011 in Bollinger County, Missouri. In this incident, a sheriff’s deputy entered a home to investigate a report of domestic violence, and ended up shooting the family pet three times – with the final shot coming after the dog had retreated to his kennel. The worst part? The dog was a chihuahua. The deputy promptly resigned.
In one respect, these may not be a representative sample of dog shootings around the country. Why? Because in two of these examples, the police departments and/or officers involved were held accountable for their actions.
In the vast majority of cases – even some of the worst, most highly publicized ones – there are no consequences for police who kill dogs.
Recipe For a Dog Shooting
While the examples above are infuriating, it’s important to note that many (perhaps most) cases of police officers shooting dogs are justifiable. It’s common for police officers to encounter dogs in the course of their duties, and they have a right to protect themselves if the animal is truly dangerous.
But what about these cases where police gun down a harmless family pet? While the circumstances vary, there are three common ingredients that can lead to tragedy:
A loose dog. In a lot of cases like these, the dogs either escaped a backyard or were not shut up before the officer entered the house. This certainly doesn’t justify the actions of trigger-happy police officers, but dog owners should understand how important it is to head off potential problems like this. When dogs come into contact with strangers – whether it’s a police officer or a civilian – there’s always a chance that the person or the dog will react poorly.
An angry, psychopathic, or fearful cop. The natural reaction when reviewing these incidents is to conclude that the cops involved were simply assholes. That’s probably an accurate enough assessment in many cases, but at least some of the police officers involved may be acting out of fear. According to a 2001 survey, about 10% of Americans have a fear of dogs. Indeed, the K-9 officer in the first example was once quoted as saying: “I have been afraid of dogs my whole life that I don’t know. I’m comfortable with dogs I do know.”
Lack of training. And no, we’re not talking about the dogs (though that could help too). Despite how often they come into contact with dogs, many police officers receive no training on how to deal with them on the job. Officers who don’t have experience with dogs can easily misinterpret playful or friendly behavior as aggression. And without standard guidelines on how to deal with a dog, they’re more likely to resort to force.
Justice For Geist
On June 18, 2014, a Salt Lake City police officer entered a gated backyard in search of a missing child. There he encountered a 110-pound weimaraner named Geist, who (according to the officer) charged him. The police officer shot and killed the dog.
The “missing” child was later discovered to be sleeping in his home. Two months later, the cop was cleared of any wrongdoing in the shooting of Geist.
End of story? Not even close.
This incident has led to demonstrations, petitions, and a Facebook page called Justice for Geist. While the protests were initially about getting Geist’s killer fired, they have also served to raise awareness about the need for better police training. In addition to apologizing and offering to pay for the dog’s burial expenses, the Salt Lake City Police Department has promised to review its training program.
Police officers shooting dogs isn’t a new phenomenon, and unfortunately, there are bound to be more blood-boiling examples in the future. The best way to prevent these tragic incidents from happening is to make sure the police have effective and humane guidelines for dealing with dogs – and then, just as importantly, hold them accountable when they fail to act appropriately.