twitter.png fb.png
youtube.png in.png

Compelling Constitutional Conversations


Police shooting family dogs prompts legal actions

Aug 28, 2017

 - by Valerie Jones

An Atlanta homeowner was wounded and his dog killed by a police officer responding to the wrong house for a "suspicious person" 911 call. Police reports indicate they "encountered" and shot the dog in the kitchen, also shooting the homeowner as he left the kitchen. Read the story here.

Two registered service dogs were shot in Minneapolis when a teen triggered a false alarm on the security system. The security response company silenced the alarm, but two police officers arrived anyway. One climbed into the home's fenced-in back yard, shooting the two dogs while the homeowner's daughter watched. Home surveillance video showed the dogs did not charge the officer, were not aggressive and stopped at a distance with tail wagging before being shot. Read more here and here.



On August 7, 2017 a Michigan federal judge threw out a civil rights lawsuit filed by a Detroit couple claiming the police "operating as a 'dog death squad'" shot and killed their three dogs. The judge ruled the couple could not recover damages because the dogs were unlicensed, therefore they have no "possessory interest" in the dogs. 

The circumstances of this particular case bear mentioning, however:

  • Being under suspicion for drug possession and in a drug raid, as the couple was in this case, could cause police to believe there was "probable cause" of injury from the dogs. Read more here.

Why do police shoot dogs?

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, reasons include:

Perceived threat
Actual threat
Unleashed dog
Wrong address
Protective dog
Dangerous breed
Poor planning for approaching situations where an animal is known to be present

What are your legal rights?

As of 2015, pets are considered personal property in all fifty states and can in some cases be protected, under the Fourth Amendment, from unlawful takings and unreasonable search and seizure by government officials. The killing of a pet has been considered a "seizure" under the Fourth Amendment.

According to attorney Jessica Swadow at the Michigan State University Animal Legal Center:

The key to a Fourth Amendment claim when the police kill a pet is whether the police officer was acting reasonablyThis determination is based upon what a "reasonable officer" would have done in similar circumstances. The subjective thoughts and intentions of the officer involved in the incident are not considered. 

You may have little to no recourse due to an officer's qualified immunity and there may be no economic damages proscribed by law in your state. Consult a local attorney specializing in animal law for details.

In an article in The Atlantic, "What Dog Shootings Reveal About American Policing," a Department of Justice official is quoted as estimating that 10,000 dogs a year are shot, calling it an "epidemic." The article also details some alarming statistics of dog shootings and where shootings involving dogs go wrong, injuring or killing innocent bystanders and others.

There is no official reporting on shootings, though a crowd-sourced "Puppycide Database" is an aggregator of news reports. Several law schools have courses and a number of law firms cite "animal law" as a practice area, and include mention of lawsuits filed.

Increased awareness of and news reports about have prompted law enforcement to apply greater scrutiny to dog shootings. Implementation of body cameras will likely shed more light on whether shootings are justified and police departments are beginning to offer more training on how to handle pet dogs, some mandatory, and some in coordination with the ASPCA.

The documentary "Of Dogs and Men" addresses the issue, interviewing both dog owners and police who explain why and when they shot, or didn't. 




How do you keep your dog from being shot?

According to the Daily Dot page "How to Protect Your Dog From Being Shot":

  • Do not leave your dog unattended.

  • Keep your dog crated during police interactions of any kind.

  • Get a "Dog in Yard" sign and keep gates secure.

I would add: When walking your dog, keep your dog leashed at all times. Do not "stake and tie" up your dog in the yard- that can make them more protective and more likely to charge an intruder of any kind. Train your dog to voice commands including sit and stay, no matter what the situation. Some locales may require special registration of dogs who have been deemed "dangerous" by a court or law enforcement. Abide by these regulations or they may have justification to shoot first, ask questions later. Special handling of these dogs is essential.

If your dog is injured or killed, the Animal Legal Defense Fund lists steps to follow. See their page Dogs Shot by Cops: Companion Animals and Law Enforcement.

Next blog post: Your dog (or cat) is attacked by another's pet

One of the most heartbreaking things I've heard lately was the brutal killing of an elderly gentleman's beloved companion, a tiny dog, by a large, aggressive dog illegally off-leash. Watch our blog for this topic.



Please add a comment

You must be logged in to leave a reply. Login »