Yesterday the news had a story of yet another lethal interaction between a dog and police. It joins the list of other troubling incidents that have happened in the past year. Including:
- Arfie, a black lab waiting in a van for his person to return. He was shot in the head, through a window, by an officer who claimed he was a lunging, dangerous pit bull terrier.
- A pet Shar-Pei who got loose and nipped a would-be rescuer. The dog was captured by law enforcement and was being restrained with two catch-poles. The dog was collared, licensed and wearing an id tag. Instead of impounding the dog and contacting the owner, one of the officers heartlessly slit the dog’s throat with a carpet knife.
- A two year old Weimaraner who was shot in his own fenced in yard by an officer who entered the yard looking for a child who had been reported missing.
- The pit bull who was shot an officer entered his fenced yard with a police dog. The dog challenged the canine officer and was shot by the handler.
Many dogs who are killed are exhibiting normal canine behavior. It is instinctively for dogs to protect their home, yard and vehicle. That is a job they have been bred to do for centuries. And being a normal dog shouldn’t be a death sentence.
I am adamantly in support of law enforcement. These men and women put their lives on the line each and every day. That just makes it even more horrifying every time I see a story about a companion dog shot by police officers. Animal activists estimate that a dog is killed by law enforcement every 98 minutes. That comes to more than 14 every single day. This is not a trend we can afford to ignore.
There are circumstances that make it more likely that your dog could be killed by an officer in the line of duty:
- If the officer perceives the dog to be a threat to himself, another officer, or any other human.
- If the dog is an actual threat and is behaving in an aggressive manner: snarling, snapping, lunging
- If the dog is running unleashed, and approaches police or runs up to a canine officer
- If your dog is overly protective of you or other family members
- If your dog is considered a dangerous breed, such as Doberman, Shepherd, Rottie or Pit Bull Terrier type dog.
Animal welfare organizations continue to press for increased animal behavior training for all law enforcement officers, but as far as I know, very few states actually mandate it by law (Tennessee and Colorado are two examples). Specialized training to learn how to work with dogs safely, and alternative equipment such as rabies poles and pepper spray, are the two things that can easily reduced the number of dogs killed out of hand.
As owners, we have responsibility to help keep our dogs safe. There are things we can do to decrease the chance that our dogs are killed in the heat of the moment.
- If there is an emergency at your home, crate or otherwise contain your dog before or immediately after calling 911
- Train your dog so that he or she will respond to you in a situation where law enforcement or emergency personnel are present.
- Never allow your dog off leash or to run at large
- Keep fences, gates and latches in your yard in good repair. Frequently walk your yard to make sure your dog isn’t working on tunneling out.
- Don’t leave your dog outside unattended.
- Make sure your house is clearly numbered. This will decrease the chance that the police enter the wrong house when serving a warrant.
- If your dog is one that can be considered a “dangerous breed” take your protection steps up an additional notch. These are the dogs who are most likely to be killed for perceived threatening behavior.
- If you see a dog running at large, call Animal Control, not the police.
No one can fault a police officer who is forced to shoot a dog who is a danger to people. Humans need to take precedence over an aggressive dog who is attacking. But it is time that we do something about an issue that is causing a divide between authorities and animal lovers. Let’s all do our part to keep unfortunate accidents from happening. Train and contain your dog. Teach him to respond to commands instantly. And respectfully work with your city and state government to get appropriate training in place for all first responders.