Police Need Better Protocol for Dealing With Pets
As I noted in my discussions of the Columbia SWAT raid, police often shoot domestic animals in the course of serving warrants or even day-to-day police work. I blame this on the lack of clear police protocol for dealing with domestic animals, and a recent incident in La Grange provides us with another piece of evidence that we need more exact rules for these situations. A video of the incident is available online, but I must warn you that it shows a police officer shoot a restrained dog at the distance of about five feet. If you lack the stomach for that, here is a description from WGEM:
The video shows a LaGrange police officer shooting and killing a mixed-breed pit bull. According to police reports, the dog acted aggressive toward officers and a young child. But the owner is telling a different story.
“She was a big dog, she was playful, she liked to jump around. But she’s never acted aggressively toward anybody,” says the dog’s owner Marcus Mays.
Mary Coleman says the dog attacked her six-year-old daughter.
“I hear a big dog growling and I turn around and it was running towards us. I shut my daughter behind me and I started to yell and kick at it,” Coleman said.
It was late March when Coleman and her daughter were waiting for the bus. A dog wrestled out of its leash and came running at Coleman’s daughter. Coleman was able to fight off the dog and go back to her trailer to call police.
“It followed me down here and it started acting real calm again. I got the chain around it and fed it some dog food. That might have been the trick, feeding it dog food,” Coleman said.
According to the video, the dog looks calm as officers put a collar around its neck and only gets agitated when police use an animal restraint pole.
The video certainly does not give any indication that this is a vicious dog. At the beginning, it is leashed to a truck and when the officers try to collar it, the dog retreats instead of attacking. It’s at least possible that the dog was a danger to public safety, but given that the dog was restrained at the time, this seems like something that could be determined after a judicial hearing of some kind. Furthermore, the video does show that the police were having some difficulty taking the dog into custody, but they could have presumably tranquilized the dog instead of killing it.
This case once again highlights the importance of recording devices in holding government accountable. The proliferation of cell phone cameras and audio recorders cannot help but shine a light on unpleasant occurrences that previously would have been swept under the rug. However, unless we change the way that police deal with domestic animals, nothing will change in the long run. If we want to prevent the unnecessary shootings of family pets, localities need to start defining more precisely which conditions are necessary and sufficient for police to use lethal force against pets.