Did you know that in the entire history of the U.S. Postal Service, not a single employee has ever been killed by a dog, or killed a dog in self-defense?
So while the notion that letter-carriers and dogs are antagonistic is well-known, it would be well worth it for postal employees to give lessons on canine avoidance – and avoiding canicide – to their law-enforcement colleagues.
That’s because the number of family pets shot by police officers has reached depressing highs.
And while canicide (both as a word and as a phenomenon) is real, the systematic carnage is becoming so widespread that it merits a cuddly and shocking new name of its own: Puppycide
A dead dog in Milwaukee every seven-and-a-half days
A lawsuit in Milwaukee alleges that the city’s police department shot more than 400 dogs over a several-year period. That’s one every seven and a half days.
In Detroit, another lawsuit revealed that a single officer had shot 39 dogs so far in his career. YouTube is filled with stomach-churning snuff videos of the slaying of family pets.
So why are America’s police shooting so many dogs?
A big part of the problem is the proliferation of no-knock raids by heavily armed SWAT teams. Originally intended for hostage and active-shooter situations where lives were at risk, SWAT teams have proliferated and morphed into using hyper-militarized tactics for routine search warrants.
Flouting centuries of common law protections, judges routinely rubber-stamp requests to conduct a “no-knock.”
When intruders bang down the door in the middle of the night and aggressively invade a home, even the most docile family pet will usually rush to defend its owners. And trigger-happy adrenalin-fueled cops will cite little more than barking and bared teeth as an allegedly justifiable reason. Nor are all these gunned-down pets rabid fighting dogs, either. Everything from schnauzers to golden retrievers have been on the receiving end.
It’s already notoriously difficult to discipline officers for homicide. When it comes to puppycide, police departments don’t even bother to attempt a justification. Training that emphasizes shoot-first tactics instead of de-escalation tools creates a recipe for disaster.
Puppycide is a human problem, too
In his time covering criminal justice, Washington Post reporter Radley Balko has chronicled hundreds of such reports of puppycide, a term that he coined. It’s only very rarely that he’s found even the faintest pretense of legitimate self-defense.
There’s another factor in this brazen death spree that’s worse than trigger-happy rookies or the usual refrain of “a few bad apples.”
Police have used animal cruelty as an intimidation tactic. A Detroit lawsuit said that during a raid over marijuana plants, an officer threatened to shoot the family’s three dogs. He then did exactly that.
And the problem is not just danger to animals. Humans are injured in the crossfire when cops shoot dogs. A Milwaukee officer was injured by his partner’s bullets when the partner shot at a dog. In Palmdale, California, a 17-year-old boy was killed by a bullet ricocheting from an officer’s attempt to shoot the boy’s dog. The dog survived.
Ratcheting down the rate of puppycide
What can be done?
The first and most important shift is toward accountability and discipline. While a legitimate need for self-defense is conceivable, the pace of dog shootings by police far outpaces any reasonable justification.
Officers should be trained by animal behavioral experts on how to handle aggressive or threatening dogs, including the use of non-lethal alternatives. A handgun is such a poor means to handle an aggressive dog that animal control officers rarely carry them.
Fundamentally, the criminal justice system needs to return to the path it was on before President Trump appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and keep rolling back the hyper-miltiarized war on drugs that is enforced with brutal and dangerous no-knock raids.
More immediately, body-camera footage helps catch bad cops, and also exonerates good cops.
And police departments should do a better job with psychological screening and background checks of prospective officers. A person with a sadistic streak towards man’s best friend – such as the Detroit officer who has killed 39 dogs – is likely to display the same tendencies toward the men, women and children that he is supposed to protect and serve.