Imagine, the police enter your home—it doesn’t matter why—and you have a dog who barks at them. According to a new ruling by the Michigan Federal Court, the officer has the legal right to shoot your dog. In fact, police can shoot the dog for moving. That’s right, just moving.
This decision is backward for many reasons. Dogs are members of the family and should be valued. It’s one thing if a dog is about to attack a police officer, but barking means little about the dog’s intent, and it’s actually most often a friendly signal. To shoot a dog for barking alone is over the top. Even more shocking, the Michigan Supreme Court noted that a dog can be shot for moving.
Moving? How about breathing?
The ruling comes after police in Battle Creek, MI, shot two pit bulls while searching a home for evidence of drugs in 2013.
The dogs’ owners, Mark and Cheryl Brown, filed a lawsuit against the Battle Creek Police Department and the city, claiming that killing the dogs amounted to the unlawful seizure of property in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The district court sided with the police officers and the Browns filed an appeal with United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
The lawsuit states that when officers arrived to conduct the search, Mark Brown told an officer he had a key to the front door and that his two dogs were in the residence. However, another officer testified that he didn’t hear those comments before police broke down the door.
According to the lawsuit, Officer Christof Klein testified that when he entered the house, a large pit bull jumped off the couch, aggressively barked at the officers, and lunged at him.
Officer Klein stated that the first pit bull “had only moved a few inches” between the time when he entered the residence and when he shot her, but he considered the movement to be a “lunge.”
The wounded pit bull ran behind the furnace in the back corner of the basement. A third officer noted that “[there] was blood coming out of numerous holes in the dog, and . . . [he] didn’t want to see it suffer” so he shot her again, to “put her out of her misery.” Veterinary care not even considered.
On Dec. 19, the Michigan appeals court issued a ruling stating that the officers acted reasonably in the case and that the Browns’ constitutional rights were not violated.
Judge Eric Clay stated “a police officer’s use of deadly force against a dog while executing a search warrant to search a home for illegal drug activity is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment when… the dog poses an imminent threat to the officer’s safety.”
I agree when there is an imminent threat law enforcement most definitely should have the right to defend themselves. However, barking is not necessarily a threat. And moving? What if the dog is moving away? Fact is, most dogs that do act aggressively actually do so out of fear. The answer, according to the judge, “shoot.” Also, I can’t help but wonder if police are more likely to fire at a dog described as a pit bull compared to a golden retriever, only because it’s a pit bull and more a perceived threat, according to its mistaken profile.
Data is hard to come by, but the number of innocent dogs shot by police is an unspoken epidemic.
According to a 2005 study published in the LA Times, one out of every four times Los Angeles police officers intentionally fired their guns during the last 20 years, the target was not a man, it was man’s best friend. Since 1985, police have shot at more than 465 dogs, killing at least 200 and wounding at least 140, according to incident reports.
The standard an officer must follow when shooting a dog is supposed to be the same as for shooting a person: as a last resort to avoid death or serious injury. However, in reality that doesn’t seem to be the case. When dogs are involved, officers often believe they are going to be bitten, which is why many of the animals shot by police were pit bull terriers, rottweilers, and other breeds that have reputations for being vicious.
There are now web pages dedicated to compiling accounts of the killings, along with the dogs’ pictures and names. Informal tracking sites run by activists and researchers, such as the Puppycide Database Project, collect news articles, court documents, and police reports in an attempt to produce sound data. On an interactive “puppycide” map, users can plot incidents from around the country. Research by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests that half of all police firearm discharges involve the shooting of a dog.
In Buffalo, NY, local news channel WGRZ conducted an in-depth investigation of the city’s practices, concluding that police shot 92 dogs in a three-year period, with a single officer responsible for 26 shootings. A similar investigation in Atlanta, GA found 100 deaths in two years. But often, the only data available is in the form of scattered news reports.
Dog killings are frequent enough that a Justice Department official has called them “an epidemic.”
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has put out guidelines on how to keep your dog from being killed by police officers. “Do not leave your dog outside unattended,” it warns, as if any unwatched moment could mean a dog’s death at the hands of police. The Michigan Court is out of sync with what guidelines they should be providing, instead of apparently encouraging police to point and shoot.
I’m in support of the notion of police safety being of paramount importance. But, IN FACT, police are far safer approaching dogs than people. The quick trigger response is unnecessary with a basic understanding of canine signaling, which is now being taught to police departments across America. Education is an answer, and hot dogs may be part of the solution, but not bullets.