Helping the police, and helping dogs in the process

By on May 23, 2017 with 14 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Last July, Vickie Malone hosted kids at her home in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, to celebrate her five-year old son’s birthday. Eli and the other kids were about to get ice cream and cake when they heard a shot ring out.

Opie, the boy’s pit bull mix, was gasping for air after a local police officer in the small Oklahoma town shot the dog, presumably because of aggressive behavior. Parents and kids raced outside, and the officer fired two more shots into Opie. A celebratory event turned into a tragic one.

The police offer had been there to serve a warrant, but the subject of the warrant hadn’t lived at the address in years. Eli’s family had done nothing wrong, and the policeman’s visit happened only because of an out-of-date database.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that police officers, often acting as first responders in crisis situations, shoot and kill as many as 10,000 dogs a year — that is one dog every hour of every day. It’s a staggering and surprising and distressing number. Though some of these deadly encounters cannot be avoided, training for police officers on how to assess a dog’s body language, possible intentions, and the use of passive, non-lethal methods is not a standard in police academy or in service training.

At The HSUS, we are advocates of dogs, and we are allies of the police, who enforce our animal protection laws and other statutes that keep order in society. We want to solve this problem, and that’s why we are working to prevent these deadly encounters through our Humane State Program and the HSUS Law Enforcement Training Center, which, among so many other purposes, train law enforcement officials on how to safely and effectively deal with canine encounters.

This week, we were in Oklahoma where 550 law enforcement officers received training and resources from HSUS experts on encounters between police and dogs, understanding the process of bonding and forfeiture in cruelty cases, and veterinary forensics. The officers also received resources like control poles and leashes to help them when they encounter dogs on the field.

Last week, we were in Oklahoma where 550 law enforcement officers received training and resources from HSUS experts on encounters between police and dogs, understanding the process of bonding and forfeiture in cruelty cases, and veterinary forensics. Photo by The HSUS

Only a handful of states require police officers to receive training on encounters with dogs, most of which were implemented after large civil, and in some instances, criminal charges were filed against officers and their departments in the deaths of dogs. Dog owners are fighting back and winning these large lawsuits. Under the Fourth Amendment, shooting someone’s dog has been considered by multiple district courts as a “seizure” of property. Recently, in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, a court awarded a man $1.26 million dollars for the death of his beloved Chesapeake Bay retriever who was shot and killed by the police. Training to handle these encounters in non-violent ways is good business for the police and it’s good public relations.

Police officers are put in harrowing situations every day and must make life-and-death decisions in a split second. When dogs are added to these situations, the consequences can often turn deadly due to lack of training and tactical options Providing knowledge, experience, and tactical options to every possible officer is one goal of our multi-faceted Humane State Program.

The National Sheriffs’ Association is working on the issue with The HSUS, and has a training video and other resources on its website to allow officers to handle these circumstances.

Law enforcement officers and the agencies that employ them have an enormous array of responsibilities, and they encounter a dizzying array of circumstances. We know that good training will help them, it will spare animal lives, and it will allow for better enforcement of our animal protection laws. That’s why we’re working so hard on this program, and it’s a win for all parties, including the dogs.

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  1. Sara says:

    So when they come upon a Pit mauling another pet or human, charging the officers….. maybe they should throw it a tea party? Have some doggie party hats in the squad car on hand?


    Yes, I agree that the police do good work. But shooting my dog or your dog is NOT that great !! They certainly need to have classes on how to treat a dog that is a part of our families. They need classes & they need to hear from those of us that have these marvelous blessings living with us. Give them a fair chance , being out In service is not a game . It impacts our lives greatly when you just shoot our family members , it is like you just shot my child . I will grieve just the same , I will hurt just as hard , maybe harder because I should have been able to stop you & protect my best friend. He/ she will always be there for me & will always protect me.
    The officers that work with a dog at their side know this only too well. Ask them both the police dog & the officer would give their all for the other. AND so will any dog person, Please look into what I have said & get a dog IF you don’t have one & learn the blessings of our relationship with this canine blessing & DON’T shoot our dogs !!

    • Debbie Bell says:

      If we would stop breeding dogs that are intentionally created to “kill or die trying”, dogs that would retreat when pepper sprayed, police wouldn’t feel they HAD to shoot dogs.

      Before pit pollution, when most dogs were for alerting but not dismembering, police rarely shot dogs.

      Most pits now are primarily NOT beloved protected family members, instead they are weapons, for breeding income, for fighting,, owned for the vicarious power, virility, violence, sadism, and aggression they provide their owners.

      Even you mentioned “always protect me”. I would never ask my dog to protect me, just as I would never ask my 12 year old daughter to protect me.

      • Michelle says:

        Your ignorance and misinformation is largely what is wrong with this problem. Educate yourself, please

  3. Annoula Wylderich says:

    This is a fabulous resource, just like the animal fighting crimes training that is provided to law enforcement. We have taken advantage of the latter in Las Vegas several times and cannot thank HSUS enough.

  4. Glenda Burns says:

    Haven’t shot this gun all week. There I feel better now!

  5. Fran Leard says:

    The killings of family dogs are happening too many times with police officers too anxious to kill an animal just because it’s barking when someone approaches their premises. That’s what dogs are suppose to do so I hope they can stop being so trigger happy and learn from from this training exercise.

  6. S. H. says:

    Pit Bulls and other breeds face bias all the time. They are not treated fairly! No one’s pet should be shot.

    Dogs are beloved family members. People are the culprits in mistreating them.

    There are many instances of dog bites and attacks, but bully breeds are most often named, not other dog breeds. No one gets to the bottom of the issue, which is that a human is involved somewhere somehow and the dog pays the price.

    More education regarding proper pet care and training is needed. Our police force also needs educated on handling a potentially an aggressive dog in other ways than shooting the dog.

  7. Margaret Gordon says:

    There is frustration and anger driving our country.

    As seventy-nine year-old person, I have seen the change from a loving, caring population to the paranoid people we are today.

    The remedy comes from within…

    Do the humane, “responsible” thing, and you will help yourself and every creature on earth.


  8. LRH says:

    For centuries, millenia, we have bred dogs for protection, and we have never bred that out of them as a species. A snapping dog can be a scary thing, regardless of breed. But humans – including cops – are the ones with bigger brains, and I expect them to use their gray matter, size up the situation, and opt for behavior that will de-escalate the situation, even if that means -not- shooting the dog.

  9. Deborah Tyler says:

    I have a pit bull. If an officer suddenly walked in my yard ,by mistake or looking for someone they are chasing my dog would run at him barking because he would be excited to see them and wants to say Hi and play. Chances are he would be shot. It would be me the officer should be afraid because seeing my dog that way I would lose it, completely flip out. He is just a big lover boy, loves everyone and other animals.

  10. Deni says:

    How do u get my county police officers to take training ?? How do I make this training happen in my town???

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