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.