So what is up with the rash of dog shootings by law enforcement lately? First there was Bear-Bear, shot by an off-duty officer in a Maryland dog park. Then there was Parrot, shot by DC officers in Adams Morgan. Now there’s Mercedes, a Rottie lab mix, shot by PG County officers. And who could forget the Berwyn Heights mayor’s labs killed by officers during a supposed “drug raid”? Apparently, the DC metro area is not the only place where law enforcement has been killing pets. An officer in Elk Grove, California recently shot a pit bull terrier, another officer shot a pit bull running at large in Madison County, Illinois, and a Shar-Pei at large in Milton, Wisconsin had to be euthanized after an officer pursued and hit the dog with his truck.
Apparently, dog shootings have also been happening at the hands of people who are not law enforcement. Mack Donald Hudson decided that he’d run back home to grab his gun so he could chase around and shoot Grace, a neighboring Australian Shepherd he claimed was trespassing on his property. Fortunately, Grace did not die, but she underwent considerable medical treatment. The Henrico County judge gave Hudson twelve months in jail with eleven months suspended, and ordered him to pay a fine and thousands of dollars for Grace’s vet bills. Michael McLeod shot and killed his neighbor’s black lab, Rex, supposedly because he was sick of Rex’s barking. The Norfolk judge hammered McLeod with five years in prison, in part because he was on the lam for seven years after his initial guilty plea. Virginia isn’t the only place this is happening. In Illinois, Elvin Dooley got twenty months in prison for shooting and killing a dog who wandered into his backyard.
Whatever the reason for these shootings, the solution has got to involve a greater understanding of dog behavior, prevention and problem solving – not only on the part of law enforcement, but also on the part of owners. Each of us is responsible for our pets. Owners should not leave their dogs unattended outside, and must be respectful of their neighbors if their dogs start barking. Before an owner or handler takes a dog to a crowded public event, that person must be fully aware of the dog’s temperament and whether the dog really can handle the situation. Whether to take your dog to a public event has been discussed in detail in the Washington Post article, At Crowded Public Events, A Doggy Divide and Dog’s Welcome or Dogs Unwanted on Steve Dale’s Pet World. [These points bring up interesting issues of liability, especially in light of fosters and rescues, to explore in later posts.] Respecting and enforcing rules such as noise ordinances and dog park laws might have avoided some of these situations.
But, when things go wrong, animals can lose their lives. Even if the dog survives, other laws such as dangerous dog statutes, rear their ugly heads and impose what some would say are overly harsh consequences. On that note, Great Britain, which has had a dangerous dog statute for much longer than Virginia, is discovering that its dangerous dog statute has been ineffective in reducing dog bites and incidents. They have found that the laws should focus instead on – you guessed it – proactive owner responsibility, such as spay and neuter requirements and leash laws. [Another very ripe area for later posts!]
That said, even if a dog is being unruly, there are better ways to handle the situation than whipping out a gun and shooting. Hudson and McLeod should have tried talking with their neighbors, and calling animal control if that failed. The officers could have used much less extreme methods with Parrot and Bear-Bear to get the situation under control. There are laws against discharging weapons in public for a reason. If this keeps up, it won’t be long before we are reading a story about a civilian or an officer who shot at a dog and hit an innocent canine or human bystander.
For a deeper look into possible reasons for an escalation in the number of dog shootings by police, along with a link to a petition urging disciplinary action against the officers who shot Parrot, see Pat Miller’s recent post, Cops Shooting Dogs, on her Peaceable Paws blog. Also don’t miss Casey Matthews-Lomonaco’s post on dogster, Why are Police Killing Pets?