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A Disturbing Trend

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Believe it or not, one cop choose answer C. And he's not the only one, there has been an alarming increase in the number of dogs killed by police in the USA, the large majority of them where not a real threat to anyone, simply dogs doing what dogs do. This is something I've been following for a while, and it's definitely getting worse, happening more and more often. This should be a serious concern to all dog owners, no matter how law abiding you are or how well trained your dogs may be. Dogs are being shot by police in their own homes and backyards, in public parks/dog parks, and out on the streets. 99% of these shootings are completely unnecessary. Another very recent case in southern California involving a rottweiler has caught a lot of attention thanks to a video of the incident that went viral.

Warning: This video is graphic and upsetting. I am posting it because I think it's important. It's so easy to just assume law enforcement must have been in the right, and that there must have been no option but to kill the dog for everyone's safety. But unfortunately, this is far from the truth in most of these cases. What happens in this video is a typical example of how a lot of cops around the country are throwing reasonable, common sense methods of dealing with dogs out the window, opting instead to just use lethal force.


Now, was the dog's owner being a bit of an idiot? Yes. Should he have been wandering around with his dog near a crime scene, waving a cell phone camera around and asking loud, taunting questions? No. In general it just isn't a good idea to do anything that might antagonize police officers when they are on duty, particularly when they are responding to a dangerous and stressful situation. In my opinion, the man in this video should have just kept on his way and minded his own business instead of stopping, getting out of his car, and walking his dog around an area where a crime is in progress. That being said, there is no excuse for what happened to this dog. The officer who shot him did everything wrong. People need to understand: dogs are not humans! They don't think exactly the way we do, they aren't able to reason everything the way we do, and their methods of communication are different from ours. As someone who has spent pretty much my entire life around dogs, and having dealt with dogs of all temperaments, including fearful, aggressive, and sometimes "vicious" dogs, I have a fair amount of experience with them. Strangers in uniform, especially men, can be frightening to most dogs. Police officers tend to carry with them an aura of authority, expressed in body language, voice tone, and manner that can be threatening to an animal (or a person for that matter). People often send the wrong signals to dogs, often unintentionally, but it's usually at the root of conflicts between people and dogs. Dogs have a "personal space" too, and what we are feeling when near a dog matters, as does our body language. Dogs can sense when we are afraid, nervous, angry, etc. as well as when we have the intention of hurting them.

People who have been bitten by a dog will often claim there was no warning, that the dog was "wagging it's tail", or that the dog bit them out of nowhere and for no reason. Not true. To a dog who has bitten someone, there was a good reason, whether or not we understand that reason or agree with it. Dogs always give signs before attacking, but not everyone knows what they are because so many people don't know how to read a dog's body language. Sometimes those warning signs are very small and not totally obvious. For instance, dogs often yawn when anxious or nervous. When a dog holds himself still and stiff, be very cautious. A moving tail is not always a "wag", holding the tail stiffly and flicking it slightly from side to side is a warning. Growling is not always done out of aggression, and a barking dog is not necessarily going to bite, no matter how vicious it sounds. Dogs usually bark up a storm when they hear or see someone near their property. It's totally natural for dogs to want to protect their territory and their family, it's what dogs are known for, right? A dog's ears, tail, and mouth corners can tell you what you need to know about how that dog is feeling at the moment.

In the case of max the rottweiler, the dog sees his owner being surrounded and handled by some strange and probably scarey-looking men. What's happening? Are they hurting him? He wants to go over there and investigate, and at least be near his owner. A big dog bounding toward you may be frightening to people who aren't used to dogs, but police officers should have more sense. A lot of people say the owner should have rolled the windows up after putting the dog in the car, but this is June in southern California. Rolling the windows up too high would have caused that car to become dangerously hot in minutes. The dog jumps from the car and runs over to the men, but is clearly not running over there to attack. His owner clearly tells him "No!", commands him to stop, which the dog does, backing off and stopping to sniff the ground. The dog's not dangerous, not threatening anybody, just curious. But now, a third officer comes rushing in, plunging in head first and lunging toward the dog, apparently in an attempt to grab the leash. The dog jumps up, probably startled, but still not actually a threat. My dog often does the same thing when someone bends down toward him, he tries to lick you in the face. Common sense would dictate that the officer should not have come rushing at a strange dog. Nobody was in any danger here. They should have 1: Let the owner secure his dog. Or 2: Talk to the dog in low, calm voices to reassure it, either try to get the dog to come to them with a friendly pat on the leg, or turn sideways a bit and approach him slowly. Once close enough to the dog, and if the dog wasn't showing signs of fear or aggression, slowly bend down and take hold of the leash. Or 3: They also had the option of simply leaving the dog alone, remain nearby and keep an eye on it, call animal control, or anyone with a catch-pole out to get him. But they didn't. No, after the dog jumped a bit when third officer went charging in and tried the grab the leash, that officer pulled his gun and fired at the dog, hitting it. The badly injured dog now attempts to flee, scrambling away from the officer, but the officer opens fire at least an additional 3 times, and the dog collapses on the street and convulses until he finally lays still and dies.

It was bad enough that the dog was shot at all, but after being hit once, why was it necessary to continue firing? It's hard to tell if that first shot would have killed the dog by itself, but it's possible the dog may have survived if they had rushed him in for veterinary treatment instead of pumping more bullets into him and watching him die in the street. The amount of innocent bystanders in the area should have been reason enough not to start shooting. Why weren't non-lethal methods of subduing the dog used if the officers really thought the dog was a threat? A stun gun would have been safer and more effective if it was necessary, and wouldn't have killed the dog. Max did not have to die.

So why was he, or the multitude of other dogs, shot by police? For one thing, police officers are not being trained on things like how to read a dog's body language, how to determine a dangerous dog from one who is just acting naturally, how to behave when around strange dogs, and how to properly handle them. Also, while there are a lot good cops out there, there is also an alarmingly high number of bad ones. Cops who are corrupt, power hungry, abusive, and/or just plain incompetent. These people have no business being in a position of authority, nor should they be given weapons and let loose among the populace. Some people may think "who cares? It's just a stupid animal." It matters because these aren't just stupid animals devoid of emotion and unable to feel pain. These are our family members. These are sentient creatures, capable of feeling the emotions we do, love, guilt, anger, sadness, fear, etc. They suffer physical and mental pain. It matters because the line between shooting a dog and shooting a human is not as thick as many would think. Trigger-happy police do regularly kill innocent civilians. In fact, in many of these cases of dogs being shot by police, there are children nearby, sometimes the dog is shot in front of them. It matters because the police are supposed to protect and serve. We should be able to trust them. Trust that someone with a badge and gun is someone who is psychologically sound, has common sense, and is able to exercise restraint, not just a bully in a uniform. As the owner of a pitbull mix, I shouldn't have to fear for him whenever there is a police officer nearby, fear that if the cops show up at my house looking for a wrong address (happens often to us, and was the case in many police shootings of people and dogs) it may end in tragedy. It matters because it makes all police departments and law enforcement officers in this country look bad, even the decent ones. Why is this happening here in the United States of America, but not in other countries such as the UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Spain, etc.? What about those other professions where people frequently come into contact with dogs as part of their jobs, such as mail carriers, delivery people, meter readers, door to door solicitors/salespeople, etc. How often are any of them attacked by dogs? The answer is very rarely. Many of these companies train their employees on how to handle situations with dogs. Police departments country-wide should be taking notice and taking steps to prevent any more tragedies. Implementing training programs for all officers, weeding out the bad apples, as well as just being a lot more careful before barging onto someone's property. Police officers who are involved in dog shootings need to be investigated thoroughly, and by someone who is not biased. If they are found to have used unnecessary force, there should be serious consequences.

There are common factors in these dog shooting cases. Many times, the reports of the officers involved often conflict with those of all the other witnesses. In other words, the officer is either lying, or is unable to see clearly past their own overreaction. The dog's owners rarely ever receive so much as an apology, nor is there any compensation for veterinary bills or the cost of euthanasia and burial/cremation. The officer is rarely actually investigated, and when he is, he's almost always cleared of any wrong-doing. People are always told that the officers "felt threatened" and "acted properly according to protocol". A good article about the usual "threefold pattern" can be found here. The size and breed of the dogs involved vary. Many are labeled "pitbulls", because everyone knows pitbulls are dangerous, vicious dogs who will maul you as soon as look at you, so it must have been necessary to kill them, right? Another monster destroyed, making us and our children safer, thank god for the cops! Other large breed dogs are often shot, such as rottweilers, Labradors, retrievers, and German shepherds. The victims also include puppies, elderly dogs, and small breed dogs (at least one case involved a chihuahua). Another recent case in Texas happened when police went to a house to serve a warrant for a very dangerous individual indeed. What was the warrant for? Expired vehicle registration tags. No, really! Of course, the evil person they where attempting to apprehend did not live at the address, nor had the occupants ever heard of him. When the family's two German shepherds came running from around the side of the house to investigate, the officer pulled out his gun and fired, hitting one dog in the back of the neck (which makes me wonder if the dog was, in fact, running away at this point). Luckily, this dog survived, so it could have been worse. But it begs many questions. Why was this officer unable to differentiate dogs who are coming to investigate from dogs who are coming to attack? What would have happened had he simply remained calm and stood still so the dogs could investigate him, maintained a friendly demeanor and reassured the dogs he meant no harm? Could he not simply have backed away slowly and left the property if he was frightened of the dogs? Why couldn't the officer have just used some pepper spray/foam if necessary? Why was the gun his first resort? And what about the 6 year old child who happened to be playing in the backyard at the time?

These are not isolated incidents. Heart-wrenching, maddening, and sickening, stories of dogs injured or killed by law enforcement officers abound. There are even sites dedicated to them such as here and here. A recent, well-written open letter to police departments can be read here. These tragedies should and could have been avoided. Consider for a moment just how many dogs are in this country, and how many of them have seriously injured or killed people. In comparison, how many people have been injured or killed by other people in this country? Who's more dangerous, dogs or humans? The bottom line is this: something needs to change. If law enforcement officials want to gain and maintain the respect, confidence, and cooperation of the public, they need to address this serious issue and make changes. In the meantime, dogs and their owners should beware.