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Unfriendly Fire
Must read: Report on police shootings of dogs.
Not the usual suspects. Police officers even shot a Chihuahua in the line of duty.

In his recent Daily Beast story, “Dogs in A Deadly Crossfire,” Radley Balko reports on an increase in media accounts “of police shooting the family pet—with a notable lack of remorse or disciplinary consequences.” Balko’s beat is police misconduct, with a special focus on paramilitary tactics. From what he sees, dogs are increasingly innocent victims of a war footing at PD’s around the country.

Obviously, the police need to protect themselves but incident reports suggest something out of control, including raids on the wrong homes where pets of bystanders are shot—even when step are taken to keep them away from the police. How about this example from Balko’s piece?

“Last year … a local news station in Oklahoma aired security-camera footage of a police officer pulling into driveway of dog owner Tammy Christopher—just to ask for directions. In the video, Christopher’s Wheaten terrier runs out from the house, and it’s difficult to tell whether the dog is charging the officer or bounding out to greet him. But the officer was on the dog’s property. And instead of merely getting back into his car, he pulled out his gun and shot the dog dead. The officer was cleared of any wrongdoing.”
 

Balko asks the question: If dangerous dogs are so common, why does a spokesman from the United States Postal Service say that serious dog attacks on mail carriers are “vanishingly rare”? Maybe, in part, because postal workers are trained in how “to distract dogs with toys, subdue them with voice commands, or, at worst, incapacitate them with Mace.” Few police departments provide this same training (New York City is a notable exception). It suggests that this is an issue about which police really don’t care.

Also, Balko presents evidence that shooting a dog can create more problems than it solves. Grazed dogs can become angry; misfires can strike a person. And in one case, a police officer mistook shots at a dog for hostile fire and ended up killing an unarmed mother with her baby in her arms.

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Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom.

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