The Courts Just Made It Legal for the Police to Shoot Your Dog

In a disturbing ruling, the 6th Circuit Court gave blanket deference to police officers to shoot any dog they reasonably believe to be a threat while executing a search warrant. As the Washington Examiner points out, this effectively means that if your dog so much as barks or moves towards and officer, it’s fair game to be killed.

Now it’s one thing if, for example, police are responding to a domestic dispute and they get charged by a snarling Rottweiler. It’s common for drug gangs, too, to keep guard dogs which are trained to be vicious towards strangers. At some point, the officer has to do what he can to defend himself.

But the case in front of the 6th Circuit, and the reality in thousands of cases nationwide, is that some police departments exercise a casual “shoot the dog, ask questions later” policy. In some jurisdictions, like Detroit, it’s not even uncommon. It’s difficult to tell how often these episodes occur, because few centralized records are kept. Networks of pet owners and alarmed activists and journalists, however, have begun documenting thousands of what are grimly called “puppycides”.

With relationships between local police forces and their communities already tense, stuff like this doesn’t help.

Part of this “puppycide” epidemic could be addressed by training. In many cases, a basic understanding of canine body language and the difference between excitement and aggression could save a lot of furry lives. Many postal workers and other professionals who are frequently in contact with strangers’ dogs (and who aren’t authorized to just shoot them) use such training to their benefit. Many police departments have seen the value in such preventative measures and have begun educating their officers accordingly.

But training doesn’t solve all of these problems, because dogs are naturally inclined to step in between their owners and a perceived threat. Any dog owner also knows that dogs are incredibly responsive to the moods of their masters, and are going to be more inclined to respond with fear or suspicion in a high-stress situation like a police search. Under a ruling like this 6th Circuit case, even a non-aggressive fearful response like barking or growling would serve as probable cause for blowing away the family pet.

A more effective way to reduce such encounters is to reduce the number of occasions where police even have to encroach on people’s property in the first place. The disturbing trend in policing over the past century has shifted from guaranteeing the peace to enforcing the law, as the volumes of laws restricting our behavior grow thicker by dozens of pages per year.

The thousands of criminal penalties imposed by unelected bureaucrats and the futile, destructive drug war have vastly increased the number of encounters where police are sent to incur on people’s homes and property. This unhealthy dynamic has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the use of SWAT teams and no-knock raids. Both drastically increase the likelihood of both puppycide and officer-related shootings of people because of the sudden, combat-like nature of the raids.

Officers of the law should definitely be held to a higher standard before using deadly force against pets than what the 6th Circuit required. But ultimately, for the safety of both the police and the private citizens they are supposed to protect, the only foolproof way to reduce these encounters is for citizens to demand that lawmakers reduce the number of laws that are enforced at the point of a gun.

This article originally appeared on Conservative Review.

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Free the People publishes opinion-based articles from contributing writers. The opinions and ideas expressed do not always reflect the opinions and ideas that Free the People endorses. We believe in free speech, and in providing a platform for open dialog. Feel free to leave a comment!

Josh Withrow

Josh Withrow is the former Director of Public Policy at Free the People. He transitioned from studying medieval history to modern policy, only to find nothing has changed.

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