What can we learn when a police officer kills a dog?
Police Report to Wrong Address, Shoot Friendly Dog(Life With Dogs, April 17, 2012)
The first is a news article that appeared in my local paper on Sunday. It explored both the difficult position police officers find themselves in when there is a dog involved and a split-second decision is required. It also explored the danger that can arise for others when a police officer shoots a dog. It made for interesting reading to be sure. In fact, I had already planned on writing about it when the next story popped up on my Facebook page on Tuesday.
This story was a sad one and gave a brief synopsis of how an innocent dog was shot and killed by a police officer in Austin, Texas. The officer had been responding to domestic disturbance call, but unfortunately, had been given the wrong address. The dog and owner had been playing frisbee in the yard when the owner walked away to get something out of his truck and the officer intervened. He told the owner to put up his hands and as he did so the dog started to approach, barking at the officer. When the dog continued to approach and bark at the officer, he shot him.
I know for me, the second story struck an emotional chord. I couldn’t help but place myself in the owner’s shoes and not feel sad by what happened. Like many people, my dogs are my family. I can’t help but be upset. But, even feeling sad and angry about what happened in Austin, I couldn’t help but also wonder about the police officer.
I know that police officers are often put into highly charged, highly stressful situations, where a split second decision can be the difference between life and death, and in these type of situations, officers are often forced to take a more offensive (vs. defensive) position to prevent bodily harm. Is that what happened here? It sounds like it may have been the case. It doesn’t make the situation any less sad or make anyone any less angry, but it does make one wonder what I would do in the same circumstance.
As a dog owner, I was left wondering how I (and other dog owners) can prevent these types of situations from happening. How do we avoid situations in which officers feel the need to make that split second decision and shoot our dogs? How do we keep our dogs out of harms’ way?
While reading many of the stories in which a dog was shot by an officer, one main theme emerged. Can you guess what it was?
Most of the dogs that were shot were approaching the officer – whether they were approaching in a friendly, non-threatening manner or a threatening one, almost all were approaching. So what if we removed this behavior from the equation? What if the dog was retreating from the officer? And, what if the officer felt less threatened so they didn’t have to make a difficult decision like this? Would that make a difference?
Based on the first article, maybe not, but I’m not one to throw up my hands and say “I give up!” or think that the situation is hopeless either. I think there is something that we dog owners CAN do to at least give our dogs a fighting chance if we were to ever be faced with a situation like this – teach our dogs a perfect “down-stay” and a perfect recall. I know. It sounds too simplistic, too naive. Maybe so, but is there anything wrong with a dog learning a perfect down-stay and recall anyways? Maybe none of us will ever be faced with a situation like this. Ever. But if we were, wouldn’t we at least want to be able to control the situation in such a way as to avoid the outcome from the story above?
In a down-stay a dog is seen as less threatening. In a down-stay an officer is less likely to feel threatened. In a down-stay, the owner can address the officer’s concerns without heightening the stress levels of the dog and making them feel the need to protect us.
A dog who can respond to a recall (every time) is also less likely to be seen as a threat by an officer. A dog responding to a recall is walking away from the officer, not towards. A dog who responds to a recall can be placed in the house or secured before anything can escalate.
I’m not saying that officers don’t have their own responsibility to be careful too. I think it would be great if all police officers were taught about dog body language – maybe then they would know if a dog was really a threat or not. I think it would also be great if officers resorted to using pepper spray or tasers rather than using a gun with real bullets.
But, I am also realistic and in the end, my dog is my responsibility. I cannot control the actions of those around me. However, I can control my dog’s behavior. I can teach them to come when called and to go into a down-stay when given the command. It just requires time and dedication on my part. I am more than willing to do that. How about you?