The Indianapolis Star reported that between 2000 and 2002, police in that city shot 44 dogs. A recent lawsuit filed by the Milwaukee owner of a dog killed by police found police in that city killed 434
dogs over a nine-year period, or about one every seven-and-a-half days. It's impossible to say how many of those were pets (versus strays), or in how many of those shootings the dog may have actually presented a serious threat to the officer or someone else. But in too many reported accounts of dog shootings, it seems doubtful that lethal force was necessary.
It is easy to imagine that some breeds of dog might legitimately pose a threat to police officers in volatile situations. But that Calvo’s two black labs posed any serious risk to an armored, heavily armed SWAT team stretches the bounds of credulity. The same can be said of a host of recent dog shootings in which a police officer said he felt “threatened” and had no choice but to use lethal force, including the killing of a Dalmatian
(more than once), a yellow Lab
, a springer spaniel
, a chocolate Lab
, a boxer
, an Australian cattle dog
, a Wheaten terrier
, an Akita
, and even a Jack Russell terrier
. Not small enough for you? How about a 12-pound miniature dachshund
? Or a five-pound chihuahua
"We're definitely hearing about these stories more often," says Adam Goldfarb, who directs the Pets at Risk program for the Humane Society of the United States. "It's hard to say if that's because it's happening more often, or because it's just getting more coverage when it does."
Last year, for example, a local news station
in Oklahoma aired security-camera footage of a police officer pulling into driveway of dog owner Tammy Christopher—just to ask for directions. In the video, Christopher's Wheaten terrier runs out from the house, and it's difficult to tell whether the dog is charging the officer or bounding out to greet him. But the officer was on the dog's property. And instead of merely getting back into his car, he pulled out his gun and shot the dog dead. The officer was cleared of any wrongdoing.
Police have recently killed pets while merely questioning
neighbors about a crime in the area, cutting across private property while in pursuit
of a suspect, and after responding to a false burglar alarm
. It doesn't matter if your dog is loose
, or if you've posted
"Beware of Dog Warnings." Last August in Colorado Springs
, police entered a woman's house after her children let them in to look for a fugitive. The children locked the family dog in the bathroom with their mother, who was showering, and warned the police that the dog was defensive. The police opened the bathroom door anyway, the dog bit one of them, and they shot and killed it, inches from where the woman was showering. The fugitive wasn't in the home, and the owner said she's never heard of him.
Even during highly charged police raids on houses guarded by aggressive dogs, it's hard to see how shooting them is the best option. A grazing shot will only make the dog angrier. A miss imperils other officers and innocent bystanders. During a terribly tragic drug raid
in Lima, Ohio, last year, an officer shot and killed the suspect's two pit bulls shortly after the drug team entered the house. Another officer mistook the shots for hostile fire, and sprayed bullets into a bedroom, where a 26-year-old unarmed woman named Tarika Wilson had dropped to her knees, as ordered, while holding her 1-year-old son. Wilson died, the infant lost a hand.
"Putting aside the humanitarian concerns, shooting the dog just doesn't seem tactically expeditious," says Pentangelo. "Something like a tranquilizer dart would get the dog out of the way quickly without risking any collateral damage. I guess part of the problem is that pets just aren't viewed as real important."
There's no question that in some circumstances, a police officer may have no choice but to shoot an aggressive animal. The problem is that in too many of these cases, the use of lethal force isn't the last option taken, but the first.