The apparent police vendetta against dogs continues. This time, officers in Buffalo, New York, stormed into a home during the course of a search for drugs, gunned the dogs down in front of the family, and then left without making any arrests.
According to the Buffalo News, the raided home was the residence of Rita M. Patterson and her father, Daniel J. Patterson. Rita's boyfriend William F. Hanavan, who has served time on drug charges, was present at the scene and the likely target, but the warrant specified only "a white male and Hydrocodone."
Before she knew what was happening, police wearing masks and helmets and carrying automatic weapons had broken through the door. They tied her hands with a zip tie and put her on the floor.
Her father pleaded with police not to shoot the dogs, but they wouldn’t allow him to grab the dogs and put them in another room, Patterson said.
One of the officers started firing a shotgun at the two dogs, one a pit bull and the other a pit bull-boxer mix.
One of the dogs was shot three times: once in the throat, once in the back and the last time in the leg while trying to run away, Rita Patterson said.
The other dog was cowering behind a table. Neither was a threat to the police, the residents said.
While no arrests were made at the time, Hanavan was picked up the next day on assault charges, which may or may not have anything to do with the raid.
Overall, the story fits into a continuing pattern in which police seemingly gun down dogs that pose no apparent threat, sometimes even intervening to prevent owners from securing their pets. Short of assuming institutional cruelty toward animals, the only possible conclusion is that police are choosing to shoot dogs as a precautionary measure -- for those rare circumstances when household companions turn out to be trained killers the police insist they run across from time to time.
It may also be a brutal means of asserting dominance in encounters with the public.
Such shootings are sufficiently common that they've been addressed by the Humane Society. According to Randall Lockwood, Vice President of Research and Educational Outreach:
Some of these reports reveal a disturbing trend. According to a report in The Indianapolis Star, nearly three-fourths of the shooting incidents in the city from January 2000 to September 2002 involved shots fired at dogs, with officers killing 44 dogs during that period.
Phoenix, Arizona police shot eight dogs each year in 1999 and 2000, and then shot 13 in 2001. In Seattle, Washington, there were 11 non-accidental firearms discharges by police between March 1999 and March 2000. Two of these involved fatal shootings of people; four involved dogs killed by officers.
Most instances in which police shoot dogs are avoidable. These incidents often underscore other problems, whether in policies, procedures, communication or training.
Lock wood also points out, "Since more than one-third of American households have a dog, officers are likely to encounter canines whenever they approach or enter a residence. Although they may encounter truly dangerous dogs in some situations, the majority of dogs are likely to be well-behaved family pets who are legitimately protecting their homes and families from intruders."
It's true that pointless shootings of beloved animals by law-enforcement authorities don't rise to the same level of horror as similar killings of people. But the consequences after such shootings are usually petty -- when the police don't completely circle the wagons. After the Buffalo incident, police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge said, “Executing a search warrant, police never know what they’re going to find on the other side of that door,” DeGeorge said. “In most cases, these can be life and death situations.”
It's true that you never know what's on the other side of the door -- that's why you have to exercise judgment and restraint. When there is no judgment or restraint ... well ... we may get a window into institutional police attitudes toward the public. How do officers wield force when they think they can get away with it?
These shootings may offer a disturbing answer to that question.
By the way, the above is written in my "professional" voice -- the one I use for paid gigs so as not to scare the rubes. My personal addendum is that my dogs are members of my family and under my protection. Anybody who harms a member of my family without ample provocation is fair game for whatever retaliation I choose to visit upon them. A blue polyester shirt and a piece of tin on the offender make no difference in the matter.
I strongly suspect that dogs are targeted as a "safe" (that is, consequence-free) exercise of lethal force in order to assert control over situations. Adding consequences to the mix, even if outside the law, may change that calculation.
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