So recently a federal court ruling made it legal for officers to shoot dogs in homes for moving or barking. Yes, you read that right. If an officer is called to a home or enters with a warrant they are allowed to kill your dog for basically acting like a dog.
The case came after a family filed charges against the Battle Creek, Michigan police department for killing their two dogs in 2013, one almost immediately after entering the home and the other minutes later after it had retreated to the basement. Police were called to the home looking for a suspected gang member and drug activity.
Here’s a quick recap of the events of the evening:
According to the lawsuit, Officer Christof Klein testified that when he entered the house, a large, brown 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.” Another officer stated that “the amount of time between the door coming open and the shot was extremely small… maybe a second or less.”
Klein stated that after he fire the shot, the dog “moved away from the officers and towards the kitchen, then down the stairs and into the basement.” A smaller, white pit bull had also gone down into the basement. As the officers were descending the stairs to clear the basement, they noted that the first pit bull was at the bottom of the stairs. Klein testified that the first pit bull obstructed the path to the basement, and that he did not feel the officers could safely clear the basement with those dogs down there.
When the officers were halfway down the stairs, the first dog, who was at the bottom of the staircase, turned towards them and started barking again. From the staircase, Officer Klein fired two fatal rounds at the first pit bull.
Klein testified that after he shot and killed the first dog, he noticed the second dog standing about halfway across the basement. The second dog was not moving towards the officers when they discovered her in the basement, but rather she was “just standing there… barking…”.
Klein fired two rounds at the second dog. After being shot by Officer Klein, the second dog ran to the back corner of the basement. Then a second officer shot her because she was “moving” out of the corner and in his direction, the lawsuit states. 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.”
It's a brutal story to have to read, much less having participated in. Now, the take-away from this is not that every officer who comes into your home will automatically shoot your dog, but now there is a legal precedent for it if they do. One can only hope that each individual officer would be able to make a less reactive decision in the moment but they do need to be able to protect themselves and typically have a very small amount of time to do so.
This is also a divisive issue when thinking about how the citizenry is treated when they confront animals of the police force. As most people know, when the police use dogs in their day-to-day activities, primarily in the case of a manhunt, if a person is seen punching or kicking a dog to defend themselves from an actual attack they will be charged with assaulting a police officer. This is a huge double-standard. On the one side we have a civilian literally being attacked by an animal, which only knows to keep going until the owner gets there, and on the other hand we have officers allowed to shoot a civilian animal for barking from across the room.
I think what bothers most people about this particular story, however, are the events that transpired in the basement after the initial shooting. Would it have been possible to allow a member of the family to restrain the dogs before going down? Does that go against police protocol for their own safety? Should police protocol maybe be tweaked in the opposite direction from what this federal court ultimately decided on? I lean towards all three but at the end of the day, the effective current legal standing is that an officer in your home can essentially be a death sentence for your dog if they aren’t restrained and well hidden somewhere else in the home beforehand.