Why do we hear so many reports of police officers who shoot dogs? The reasoning on their part is simple, nor does it admit of any kind of counter-argument. Dogs are dangerous animals. Therefore if you encounter one, shoot it. The officers in this case raided a house to find pot. Instead they acted, in the plaintiff’s words, like a ‘dog death squad.’

Do you see how easily this reasoning extends to other situations? A black man, or any man with a gun is a dangerous person. Therefore if you encounter one, shoot him. A black man, or any man who tries to run away threatens your image as a tough, competent cop if he escapes. Therefore if a man runs, shoot him in the back. If a large black man, or any man does anything unpredictable, don’t take chances. Shoot him. Then, if you’re in St. Louis, leave him dead in the street for four hours, like road kill.

We may not need any more examples here. If a dog wags his tail as he trots up to say hello, shoot him. If a dog is tied up, shoot it. If a dog is penned in the bathroom, shoot it. If a Minneapolis woman walks up to a police car in her pajamas after calling 911, shoot her. You don’t even need a reason. Just pull the trigger.

I’ll tell you something: ‘better safe than sorry’ does not apply to police officers with guns. If officers go out on calls ready to apply that principle – no matter what situation they encounter – their observable behavior contradicts everything they say about serve and protect. Their fears, intentions, or justifications have no standing against what they have actually done.

The idea that you can shoot a dog or a person because you suddenly feel yourself in danger appears insane to the rest of the world, but in police culture, it has become normal behavior. Your supervisor will never question the shooting if it’s a dog. If it’s a person, your supervisor will find a good attorney for you. The whole force will do what it must to protect you.

Shooting dogs has become so common, you have to wonder if police don’t regard it as target practice, or just a routine part of the job, sort of like mowing the lawn or taking out the garbage. Or perhaps the shooters are just cruel. Certainly police forces must include dog lovers who plead for their colleagues to act kindly toward pets. Where are their voices?


I hesitate to write on a subject like cruelty when I don’t have first-hand information, but the patterns associated with shooting people’s pets are too prominent to ignore.

First, how many shootings involve actual attacks by the dog, or even a growl? A dog will bark when a squad of strangers breaks into the house. That is not an act of aggression toward the policemen. That is an alarm to the homeowners: “Something unusual is happening here and I want you to know about it!” Yet how many dogs lie dead because they barked over what appeared to be breaking and entering?

Second, how many times have police called for medical attention after they shoot a dog? It usually takes a while for a bullet wound to cause death, yet the officers leave the animal to lie unattended. Or they walk up to finish the animal off with a bullet to the head. Either action fits the death squad model.

Third, police routinely use dogs to find drugs, especially drugs like marijuana. Why would they not use the same dogs to protect themselves from household pets? That is, a big German shepherd has no trouble dealing with a smaller dog alarmed about strangers. The shepherd just has to stand there.

Fourth, we do not hear an honest account from anyone about officers’ true motives for their behavior. Everything is secret. One minute your family goes about its household routine. The next minute, a canine member of your family lies dying on the floor. Then the police leave. Bitterness and grief about an experience like that set in. How many families live with memories of an attack like that for years and years? Do you think it makes people support their local police? No, it does not.

No truth means no reconciliation or healing. Police do not seem interested in reconciliation, or in reform. Nor do they appear to recognize the harm they do to their profession, when they act so egregiously.

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