Is a Pet Dog Really Killed by a Police Officer Every 98 Minutes?

A new documentary promises to shed light on the size and scope of America's under-covered "puppycide" epidemic.

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In November 2012, police officers in Commerce City, Colorado, received a call about a large dog roaming free in a subdivision. Unbeknownst to the police or the caller, Chloe, a large, three-year-old mixed breed, was not an intruder. A woman in the neighborhood was dog-sitting for a friend, and Chloe had flown the coup.

Eventually, police and an animal control officer cornered the anxious dog in an open garage. A cell phone video shows them debating what to do as Chloe sat and watched. Eventually, one of the officers tasered Chloe. She fell over, then began to run away. As Chloe attempted to flee, an animal control employee snagged her with a catch pole. That should have been the end of the story, except Commerce City Police Officer Robert Price proceeded to shoot Chloe four times with his service weapon, alarming the animal control worker and killing the dog. 

Cops shooting dogs when they arguably don't need to is called "puppycide" by opponents (naturally). Animal rights activists and civil libertarians say these shootings are widespread, a result of officers having little-to-no training on how to deal with dogs.

It's certainly true that some of these shootings have become national news, from Berwyn Heights, Maryland, Mayor Cheye Calvo's black labs, to Leon Rosby's Rottweiler, to Jonathan Whitworth's corgi.

But it's not clear how often this kind of thing really happens. There are no state databases, and it's not a category in municipal crime reports. Neither the FBI nor the Bureau of Justice Statistics collect data on dog shootings. The U.S. Postal Service knows exactly how many mail carriers were bitten by dogs in 2012, but no one seems to know how many pet dogs were killed by law enforcement. 

Filmmakers Patrick Reasonover and Michael "Oz" Ozias hope to nail down a rough estimate as part of their research for a documentary called Puppycide

"We’re planning on doing a lot of Freedom of Information Act requests," Reasonover says. "We think it’s happening way more than the statistic we have." That statistic, which sits at the top of Puppycide's kickstarter page: "Every 98 minutes, a dog is shot by law enforcement." Activists came up with that number after tallying accounts of dog-shootings from news stories across the country.

Reasonover realizes his approach will be time-consuming. "We think we can get the data by looking at firearm discharge reports. There might not be a box on reports that says, 'Check here if you shot a dog,' but they will probably include information like, 'I discharged my firearm at a dog.' We’d like to show the scale."

Petsadvisor.com, a major critic of law enforcement violence toward dogs, has released an infographic showing the opposite statistic: How many cops have been killed by dogs. 

Reasonover and Ozias are approaching the issue with a wide lens, looking at both policing practices and the ever-evolving role of pets in the American home. "For sure there are cops out there who think this is part of the business and this is how it should be," Oz tells me. "But there are others who think things can be different and should be different. A lot of them aren’t presently backed with training or support on how to solve the problem."

The duo are funding their efforts with a Kickstarter campaign, and have released a pretty devastating demo featuring interviews with pet owners whose dogs have been killed by police, as well as former police officers and animal rights activists. 

"People who see their dogs that way see cops as evil villains wantonly murdering their dogs," Reasonover says. "These police officers, though, can’t say they’re sorry, even if they regret it, because that creates liability. So what activists are saying is look, you guys need training. That’s another big area that we’re looking at. Show both sides of the story."

Top image: In 2012 an Austin police officer shot and killed Cisco, an Australian cattle dog, while responding to a service call at the wrong address.

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