Christine Hibbard, CTC, CPDT
Maybe it’s social networking, all the yahoo group memberships, Facebook and Twitter but about once a week someone sends me a story about police officers shooting a dog. I even saw that Pat Miller wrote an article about this in the most recent edition of Whole Dog Journal. Then I got an email from one of my clients and my heart sank. On Sunday, November 7th 2010, Rosie, a two year old Newfoundland got loose in her neighborhood in Des Moines, WA. Police officers were dispatched. According to the police report (of which I have a copy), the officers yelled at the dog to go home, attempted to use a catch pole, used their Taser on the dog twice and finally shot the dog four times with a Colt M-4. For interested readers, the local KOMO News station has broadcasted/published several items on Rosie’s story.
The Newfoundland Club of Seattle organized a memorial for Rosie a week after her shooting (thank you to all of the attendees and photographers for allowing me to use your photographs in this post). The club also started a petition drive which was signed by 4,000 people requesting an investigation into this shooting. On Thursday, November 18th 2010 the Mayor of Des Moines stated in a public council meeting that the police report in this shooting will be reviewed by two outside agencies and that the King County prosecutor will also be reviewing the report for criminal culpability. President of the Newfoundland Club of Seattle, Richard Jack, read a statement at the city council meeting asking for accountability but also asking for police officer training: “The City needs to establish a clear animal behavior training program for all its officers. The City needs to provide its officers with the tools and information to fulfill the responsibilities placed on them.”
When I decided I wanted to write about this issue, I realized I knew nothing about what training police officers receive in handling animals, wild or domestic so I called my respected colleague Steve White to see if he could help educate me on this issue. Steve is an experienced police officer and internationally renowned dog trainer. Steve was a wealth of information about which the public might not be aware. He explained to me that officers are called into three general situations in which they encounter dogs:
- High Risk Warrant Service: This is a situation where the police are going to execute a warrant against people for which an arrest warrant has been issued. These operations are often dangerous but they’re highly planned. If officers think they might encounter dogs, they plan accordingly and can involve Animal Care and Control if available.
- Standard Police Call: This is a situation where someone calls the police for one reason or another like domestic violence, robbery, etc. In these cases, officers often don’t know until they show up whether there will be dogs on the premises.
- Loose Dog or other Animal Nuisance Call: This is the situation in which Rosie found herself. Somehow she’d gotten off her property and was running loose in the neighborhood.
What you might notice about these three scenarios is that only the dogs owned by suspected criminals benefit from pre-planning. Rosie’s shooting happened on a Sunday afternoon and Animal Care and Control is a Monday through Friday, nine to five operation in most cities/counties. In Rosie’s case, police sent photographs of Rosie to an off duty Animal Care and Control officer who didn’t recognize the dog so police proceeded on their own, without any further support from AC&C.
Steve also explained to me that many, if not most, officers are issued and trained to use the following weapons: gun, pepper spray, baton, bean-bag shotguns and Taser, among others. When police are called into any situation, they are trained to protect the public and themselves. They are not trained in reading dog behavior or on handling loose dogs properly. It’s somewhat ironic to me that the King County Prosecutor will be investigating Rosie’s shooting since our own King County Executive, Dow Constantine abolished King County’s Animal Care and Control function. I wrote an article about this, King County “getting out of the shelter business”. Has Constantine reversed himself on this again and King County is still providing Animal Care and Control services?
Police officers are not adequately trained on this growing segment of their duties and Animal Care and Control is underfunded. Obviously, part of the answer to this complex problem is money, money for training and money for expanding the role of Animal Care and Control. Sadly, we’re facing budget short falls in every state, city and county in the country so additional funding is a difficult proposition. The other problem is that institutional change is usually slow, very slow to take hold. Training for the Oakland, CA Police Department for handling dogs and wildlife is under development. We’ll see what affect this training has once it’s underway with officers on the streets.
So, if you’re a dog owner, what is your take away from all of this? Keep your dogs safely contained in your home, on a leash or in your sight at all times. We recommend that you never leave your dog outside unattended, even if you have a solid fence and certainly not if you have an invisible fence (see my article Invisible Fences: Not a Recommended Solution). Too many things can go wrong if your dogs are left outside and you’re not home to respond.