Attack of the Puppies

Not being a big fan of pets regardless of species, I can’t lay claim to any particular soft spot when it comes to puppies, kittens or other critters.  On the other hand, it strikes me as inconceivable that any person with a healthy mind would harm animals except when absolutely necessary.  But what do I know?

Balko, pushed by yet another instance of puppycide, has put together a compendium of doggy murders :


Three weeks ago, police in Waldorf, Maryland shot a family dog in front of two small children while attempting to serve papers on a man who no longer lived at the address.  They claim the dog charged them.  Last month, police in Indianapolis put nine bullets in a German Shepherd.  They ignored warning signs about the dog posted on the property before walking in to serve a warrant on a man who hadn’t lived at the address in years.  Just last week week, police in Gwinnett County, Georgia shot and killed a Dalmatian after entering the wrong garage to serve a warrant in a gang-related case.

Milwaukee resident Virginia Villo is suing that city for the 2004 police shooting of her lab-springer spaniel mix, Bubba.  As part of her lawsuit, she requested police reports of every dog killed by Milwaukee police over a nine-year period.  The request turned up 434 dead puppy reports, or about one every seven-and-a-half days.

See more puppycide stories from recent months here, here, and here.  Or browse stories from the last couple of years here.

Many have asked why the killing of a dog strikes us differently than the killing of a human being.  It may be that we can more readily attribute malevolence toward people, whereas dogs are “man’s best friend.”  Absent some hard reason to believe that they are about to do actual harm, they possess no malice and cannot be blameworthy.  In other words, they are just being dogs.

The fact that so many police officers, faced with nothing more than a pet behaving like a a very ordinary pet, engage in an immediate reaction of shooting the dog.  Take no chances; take no prisoners.  See a dog, kill it.  Even if the officer has come onto the property of a law-abiding citizen, without cause or belief that any wrong-doing has occurred, the immediate reaction to a dog is murder.

Are police trained to do this?  Is the philosophical underpinning that a police officer’s safety is so special, so at risk, so worthy, that the murder of a pet is so utterly inconsequential in comparison?  Is this a reflection of a pervasive mental health defect that has long gone unrecognized?

It’s fair to wonder why this troubles me, given my lack of sensitivity toward pets in general.  The reason is that this belies an attitude of police officers that dismisses the importance of the life and safety of living things aside from themselves.  It’s not that they won’t save your life (and get a medal) under certain circumstances.  Indeed, when they find themselves in a “hero” situation, nothing brings them greater honor than to do the heroic thing.  Yet when they see a dog running toward them, they pull their weapon without a moment’s hesitation and shoot Fido in the head.  How do you reconcile these actions?

Radley suggests that the solution lies in better training:


Police departments should be training officers how to deal with dogs in ways other than filling them full of bullets.  Cops should be taught, for example, how to tell a charging dog from a bounding one; an angry dog from a barking but playful one; and that a curious or territorial bark is much less threatening than a snarl.  Mailmen, firemen, paramedics, and the rest of us non-badge-wearing citizens manage to visit private homes and deal with the dogs that may reside in them without resorting gunfire.  It’s odd that not insignificant number of police officers can’t.

I don’t think that lack of training is the problem.  Police officers don’t generally shoot to kill all dogs they encounter while off-duty.  They can tell a threatening dog from a playful one.  But put on the uniform and something snaps in their heads, allowing them to become disinhibited and resort to murder as the initial course of action.

So many of the issues discussed here call into question the psychological profile of the men and women to whom we give guns and shields, together with the power to use them.  While arguments can, and usually are, made to justify the shooting of person after person, it becomes far harder to explain how police suffer the constant need to kill pets.  Maybe this is the wedge to raise the issue of some cultural-psycho issue that might allow us to address the broader array of issues in the “police versus everyone else” mentality.

No mentally healthy person’s first reaction to a pet is to kill it.  It’s just sick.

Addendum:  Rick Horowitz has picked up the ball on this as well, arguing that today puppies, tomorrow your mother-in-law, in his post  They Shoot Puppies, Don’t They?  Rick tends more toward the governmental conspiracy view, arguing:


Although “government of the people, by the people, for the people” has been much touted since Abraham Lincoln, the truth is that our government is increasingly oligarchic and in opposition to the rest of us.  “Our” government pushes us into war without considering what’s best for the people.  “Our” government deregulates businesses which take advantage of us via the “free market.”  Thereafter, we discover that the market was free for them; extremely costly to the rest of us thanks to the oligarchy which actually reigns as an extension of corporate America.  (It will be interesting to see if this changes following the inauguration of our new Messiah.)

Accompanying the increasing separation between us and “our” government, there has been an increasing militarization of local police agencies.  And officers who refuse to go along get a beat-down themselves.

Who knows, maybe the police are the tool of the oligarchy.  It’s not like they tell me what they have up their sleeve.

18 comments on “Attack of the Puppies

  1. CharonQC

    Extraordinary! – If Police shot a dog in the UK there would be a public inquiry

    It was bad enough when Welsh Police tasered a sheep to get it off a road!

  2. J-dog

    I can more easily wrap my mind around the dogshooting when it comes to the doorkickers serving warrants, for a few reasons — some of them not particularly dishonorable. (“Unfortunate,” “avoidable,” “stupid” and “dishonorable” are, after all, different words.)

    The best I can come up with to distinguish between the very real phenomena of many cops pretty casually shooting dogs when on duty and few doing so offduty are issues around territoriality and accountability. The puppycide epidemic doesn’t just take place when warrants are being served, even on correct addresses.

    Both of which suggest some solutions. I won’t hold my breath while waiting to see the solutions implemented, alas.

  3. J-dog

    Well, yeah; I guess that they couldn’t get away with “the dog was shot while assisting the police in their inquiries” terribly easily.

    As to the sheep, I dunno. You and I weren’t there; how do we know that the sheep wasn’t refusing to obey a lawful order?

  4. SHG

    But even if you could get away with shooting dogs, would you?  Would you under any circumstances, except when you believed there was a very real and imminent threat?  And even then, I bet you would run like hell first rather than pull out the snubby.

    See my point?  Mentally healthy people don’t kill pets unless threatened, and then only as a last resort.

  5. J-dog

    I see your point — and I’m pretty particular about what I shoot, honest, and not solely because I’d like to stay out of prison — but I’m not sure I agree; the Milgram experiments suggest that what I’d think of as decent, mentally healthy people can do worse things.

  6. SHG

    Good point about Milgram, though it was more an experiment about authority/permission trumping morality than simply about human beings being malevolent toward others.  Since we don’t behave similarly under ordinary circumstances, I don’t give puppy killers a pass.

  7. jdog

    By and large, it would generally be more accurate to think of K9 cops as cops who happen to have a dog as a junior partner rather than dog people who went into carrying a badge and gun for a living.

  8. SHG

    I would think that they care deeply about dogs, but in the same way that police officers care deeply about people.

  9. Kathleen Casey

    I understand the usual arrangement to be that the partner trains and cares for the junior partner, and that some K9 officers keep the dog at home.

    If true, the bond of devotion should be just as strong if not more as that civilians and their dogs, because they not only live together, but also work together, the dog demonstrating its intelligence and responsiveness on a daily basis to the admiring officer. Why the wall of silence?

  10. SHG

    I suspect that the difference is their dog, a police dog, versus your dog, not a police dog.  Isn’t an officer’s life more valuable than anyone else?  Why not an officer’s dog? 

  11. Jdog

    The generous analogy is that there’s lots of folks who don’t beat their own spouses or kids, but don’t get terribly bent out of shape — or, more to the point, do much of anything — about other people beating their own spouses and kids.

  12. SHG

    Today is a day to be generous, though I’m not sure that your explanation will be greated with screams of police joy.

  13. Probable Cause

    They Shoot Puppies, Don’t They?

    New York criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield’s blog, Simple Justice, today discussed a troubling statistic and pondered its even more troubling implications.
    It seems that a discovery request in a Milwaukee lawsuit over the shooting death …

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