No police officer has been killed by a dog in 50 years, yet the killing of dogs by police officers has become epidemic. A national organization has been formed to address the problem. "Freeze Don't Shoot" is planning marches on October 25th at noon in every state capital to protest the killing of family pets.
This writer spoke recently with Laurie Gaston-Marshall. She is the organizer for the Texas chapter and runs the Texas "Freeze Don't Shoot" FaceBook group. She has spoken to many people whose dogs were killed by police. She said estimates are that a dog is killed by an officer every 98 minutes.
Gaston-Marshall was told by a veteran police officer that many of the shootings are by rookie cops shooting out of surprise and a lack of training. More experienced officers know a gun is not needed to handle a confrontation with a protective dog. Part of the "Freeze Don't Shoot" effort is to mandate training for officers on handling dogs. After all, animal control officers handle dangerous dogs and they don't carry guns. This training would cost approximately $7.00 per officer and would teach them how to react to the family pet with non-lethal force and how to distinguish a friendly dog from a dangerous dog. Gaston-Marshall wants to emphasize that these shootings are by a minority of officers and are upsetting to their fellow officers who often own dogs and are dog lovers. In fact the organization highlights those instances where police do respond appropriately to friendly dogs.
Another part of the "Freeze Don't Shoot" campaign is to educate the public and make them aware that the killing of friendly dogs has become routine and there are rarely consequences for the shooter. In the few cases where an officer resigned or was fired, there was media coverage and negative public reaction to the shooting. "Freeze Don't Shoot" is organizing FaceBook groups for every state and marches in every state capital on October 25th. The planning is well underway and without objection in most states, Missouri being a notable exception. State officials in Missouri are reluctant to allow a march in Jefferson City protesting police officers' misuse of weapons.
The march in Austin is likely to be well attended. One of the most high profile cases in the nation is Cisco, a dog who was playing Frisbee with his Austin owner, Michael Paxton, when an officer arrived and drew his gun on Paxton. The officer was at the wrong address and shot Cisco dead for barking as his owner pleaded with him not to shoot his dog. Most dogs would bark at a threatening stranger and this lack of understanding of canine behavior is what is getting dogs killed. Cisco's FaceBook page," Justice for Cisco," has over 100,000 followers.
There are over 150 FaceBook pages demanding justice for dogs killed by police (and one for a cat.) The numbers keep growing in spite of department pledges to make changes. (Previous versions of this article stated eighteen dogs had been killed in Austin this summer. That was an error and this writer aplogizes.) Austin has changed its policy on using lethal force on dogs after the public outcry over Cisco's shooting. New officers are now being trained in options to lethal force when dealing with friendly dogs. However, proponents of training would like to see all Austin officers trained.
Cisco's is typical of the dog deaths provoking outrage. When you look at these pages, it seems no breed of dog is immune, even Dachshunds have been shot and killed. The dogs who are dying are not attack dogs shot while lunging at an officer, but rather family pets shot in their own yards for barking or for showing curiosity when police approached them. Often the officers were at the wrong address and the dog owners didn't understand what was happening. Some dogs were gunned down in front of children, a dangerous practice as well as a horrifying experience for the children, and some dogs were just left lying dead for the owner to find on returning home.
Owners have very little recourse as police investigations usually clear the officer, making any lawsuit difficult. Nevertheless, some owners are resorting to lawsuits claiming their 4th Amendment rights were violated because killing a dog is an unlawful seizure of property. One lawsuit awarded the owner over a quarter of a million dollars. This is in contrast to successful lawsuits to recover the value of a dog, which is fixed by state law in most states as a very small amount.
It appears that dog owners and the police are at an impasse. The police feel they are protecting themselves. Dog owners feel their dogs are being used for target practice. Here are just a few of the dogs killed in Texas:
- Lily, killed by an officer at the wrong address while running to her owner who was calling her.
- Vinny, wounded by an officer at the wrong address, who entered the backyard unannounced and shot him in front of a child who was in the line of fire.
- Buddy, killed by an officer for barking at him from his owner's work trailer.
- Bullet, shot and killed in his home by police responding to a burglar alarm.
- Candy, killed for barking by police investigating a burglary at the home.
- Blue, killed while wagging his tail.
- Shiner Bock, shot repeatedly as she ran away and cried for her life in vain. Police officer was investigating a 911 call about noise, which turned out to be a flapping piece of metal.
- Bucky, a therapy dog for an autistic child, shot dead in front of children for running out the front door and then returning to dance around the officer. The officer laughed while standing over Bucky's dead body.
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