Why Police Dog Shootings Provoke Outrage

Americans get apoplectic at stories of police officers shooting people's pets but seem unphased when they shoot innocent human beings.

One of Andrew Sullivan’s readers wonder why Americans get apoplectic at stories of police officers shooting people’s pets but seem unphased when they shoot innocent human beings.

What about the six year old girl who was hit by a police cruiser on Tuesday and remains in the hospital after police claimed that she had been released? How about the 40% of rape victims whose calls to 911 were dismissed by police officers and never referred to the sexual assault unit?  Or the U.S. Marine shot to death by a police officer around the corner from my house?  Most of the time the police department has acted on these problems only after often-preventable damage has been done. And this is not even to mention the horror of so many murders by and of young men from neighborhoods with no hope.

Mark Thompson thinks that, because most of us “live in neighborhoods where crime is a rarity, violent crime rarer still, where the worst behavior they see from the police is perhaps an overly discourteous traffic cop,” we tend to view these incidents as outliers or that “the victim must have been doing something wrong; besides, that’s a high crime area, don’tchaknow, filled with terrible people and thugs.”   Because of that,

In short, when a story of urban violence or police brutality or police apathy actually does filter its way to the politically capable majority, the story first requires that the victim be proven completely innocent and the police completely guilty (ie, what they did was no accident) before we can even begin discussing whether there is a systemic problem or a systemic solution.  And even then, you’ve got to be able to point to an entire series of cases where the victim was completely innocent and the police completely guilty  in order to show that this wasn’t just an isolated incident.

But stories about the shooting of dogs, sadly, overcome this.  Where this average person may believe humans who live in high crime neighborhoods are capable of uniquely capable of evil or, at the very least, that cops are justifiably anxious and untrusting of such humans, this average person also likely knows that pets – and especially dogs –  are always innocents, and that no decent human being could ever be so afraid of a dog as to try to kill it (well, unless it’s a “pit bull” of course, which is why cops have a bad habit of describing every dog as a pit bull when one of these incidents happen.  The intentional killing of an indisputable innocent who could never be a threat to anyone like a poor, defenseless animal is so incomprehensible that it can, in this worldview, only be performed by a complete psychopath.  When it is done coolly and professionally, or when the police chief tries to defend it as being merely a matter of procedure, even the most insulated suburbanite should be able to quickly understand that this is not the act of a lone bad seed, but instead the symptom of something much, much larger.

This is exactly right:  Dogs are seen as innocents whereas people in inner city communities, especially young black and Hispanic males, are seen as potential threats.

Those neighborhoods are viewed as virtual war zones and officers are given an incredibly wide berth to operate.  Cops are viewed as the men on Colonel Jessup’s wall and citizens who have no inclination to pick up a weapon and stand to post are incredibly reluctant to question them.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Patrick says:

    Not to mention that if there’s enough outrage about needlessly shot dogs, the result is a few refresher courses for policemen, and a few more maced dogs.
    If we get outraged about needlessly shot black and hispanic men, the result may be the end of the war on drugs, with which we’re comfortable because white people don’t get arrested unless they have tattoos and mullets, and, just possibly, even more radical changes to the status quo.

  2. steve says:

    Almost all of this comes from the war on drugs. People are willing to accept it when minorities are accidentally killed. Shootings and near misses on “citizens” seem to get less coverage than you would think. One of my best friends had just returned from the range with his wife, when the locals broke down their front door on a wrong address mistake. Fortunately, their guns were still in their cases. Got zero coverage in the local papers. I suspect that the media does not want to lose access to the local police for news.

  3. John Burgess says:

    Hey, if police dogs are starting to shoot, then I’m going with ‘outrage,’ too!

  4. legion says:

    I’d add something to your concept, James:
    a) Most people have also never been attacked by a vicious dog, and
    b) If they were, they almost certainly didn’t have a gun at hand to defend themselves with.
    So a) most people can’t sympathize with the cop’s situation, and b) under the heading of ‘if your only tool is a hammer…’

  5. Janis Gore says:

    My thought, Mr. Burgess.  And I’d be outraged if people were shooting police dogs, too.

  6. Steve Verdon says:

    Legion you’re a badge licker?  Wow, I’m a bit surprised.
    Vicious dog attacks are actually rare so this idea that the family dog is in reality a vicious beast rampaging around its fenced in yard is just stupid.
    One of Radley Balko’s latest reports of a dog being shot was a rambunctious siberian husky at an off leash dog park.  The husky started playing with the police officers dog (still on leash) when he told the owner of the husky to seperate the dogs then shot the husky.
    Another recent report had a female cop shooting a family dog in a fenced in area in the front yard.  Fenced in.  How can a dog behind a fence be a threat even if it is vicious?
    So go ahead and continue licking that badge dude.  Funny how mail carriers, meter readers, and people doing work door-to-door never have to shoot a dog.

  7. LCB says:

    Steve Verndon:
    “Funny how mail carriers, meter readers, and people doing work door-to-door never have to shoot a dog.”

    No, no reports of mailcarriers shooting dogs…because they’re not allowed too.  There is something about mailcarriers and meter-readers (old time meter-readers that actually entered your house) that drives even the nicest family pet crazy.  My brother, a long time mail carrier, always speculated it was the keys they carried.  Mace was a requirement for self protection, and he still ended up being bit several times over the years.  Then again, maybe its just the uniform…a trait shared by police.

  8. legion says:

    Wow Steve, defensive much? And if you’ll actually _read_ my comment, you’ll note that only one of my points was sympathetic to cops; the other one about hammers was meant to be more scathing. But I’ll explain – If mail carriers or meter readers encounter a dangerous confrontational situation (like, say, an aggressive dog), their job is NOT to try to solve the situation – they are under orders to get the hell away and call someone else, like animal control or the cops. Do all cops everywhere encounter abused & damaged animals that have been turned into dangerous attackers by criminals trying to protect their stashes? Certainly not, nor is the minuscule fraction of those encounters justification for many department’s standard practice of preemptively shooting any animal in a house they enter. But it’s why those policies exist. I don’t like it either.
    As for the ‘hammer’ comment, it’s supposed to be an indictment of the ‘under-fire’ mentality some departments seem to cultivate – that any threat to an officer (or even potential/perceived threat) should be solved first & foremost by drawing down on it. That’s a completely unacceptable attitude for a group that is expected to put the safety of citizens (even criminal suspects) ahead of their own.
    And really – “badge-licker”? You’re better than that, Steve.

  9. Steve Verdon says:



    Sorry, if the shoe fits.  There is no reason to shoot most of the dogs in the reports I’ve seen.  Proper training would suffice.  So to say that people don’t appreciate the position cops are in is just complete Bravo Sierra.  Cops talk a lot of Bravo Sierra about “taking control of a situation” but when it is a dog they fail utterly.  Why?  Because cops rely on fear to get control and dogs respond badly to threats.  It is shit training and a deplorable mindset when you get right down to it.  There is nothing there worth justifying or trying to defend.


    Do all cops everywhere encounter abused & damaged animals that have been turned into dangerous attackers by criminals trying to protect their stashes? Certainly not, nor is the minuscule fraction of those encounters justification for many department’s standard practice of preemptively shooting any animal in a house they enter. But it’s why those policies exist. I don’t like it either.


    I’m sorry but this is just more rationalizing.  The two examples I gave you did not entail dogs that were turned into vicious monsters by rotten people.  They were family pets that lived amicably with humans.  So to try this line of justification is just pathetic.


    Cops always shoot the family dog when they enter a house in a violent manner. Look at the case of Cheye Calvo.  Or how about this case?  Dogs will often approach someone coming into their territory and not necessarily in an aggressive manner.  They might bark, but that does not constitute viciousness.  Or this article.  I like the example where cops ignored the signs indicating there was a dog on the property and entered anyways.  I’m going to go with, “They wanted to shoot the dog,” on that one.  Or how about this,


    A family’s dog was outside their house, the family said, and two children were watching, including a 2-year-old who was a foot away from the dog when it was shot.


    The shot at the dog with a 2 year old only a foot away.


    Or this account,


    Milwaukee resident Virginia Villo is suing that city for the 2004 police shooting of her lab-springer spaniel mix, Bubba.  As part of her lawsuit, she requested police reports of every dog killed by Milwaukee police over a nine-year period.  The request turned up 434 dead puppy reports, or about one every seven-and-a-half days.


    Shooting a dog, on average, every 7.5 days…I’ll go with trigger happy on this one too.


    And I’ll go with, you don’t know what you are talking about.

  10. legion says:

    Steve, I’m actually on your side about this, so screw you and your patronizing, holier-than-thou attitude. I did not try to _defend_ the policy, if fact I specifically criticized it – it is clearly unnecessary in the overwhelming majority of situations any cop anywhere is ever likely to be in, and AS I SAID unacceptably increases the hazards of simply being a civilian standing near the type of cop that thinks his only problem-solving tool is his sidearm.
    When you fail that badly at reading comprehension, and assume any comment that doesn’t mirror both your words & thoughts is in opposition, your defensive posturing leaves you looking like the one who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. So kindly take your presumptive, judgmental BS and cram it.

  11. Steve Verdon says:


    you’ll note that only one of my points was sympathetic to cops;

    That is where you failed.  No reason at all to be sympathetic to cops on this one.

  12. tom p says:

    My mail carrier was anklebit by an unrestrained toy poodle once… He. Stomped. That. Sucker. Flat.

    In front of the owner of little Fifi.

    Steve, you can get on your high horse about lack of training, lack of restraint, lack of whatever the f*ck you want at the moment, I really don’t care. If little Fifi or big Bruno come after me or one of mine…

    That is one dead dog. (or cat, for that matter. my niece needed a 137 stitches after being attacked by a cat once)

  13. Sandra says:

    Considering I live less than 0.5 mile from the community dog park in the latest incident.  I might be “a little more outraged” than your average reader here.  Than my husband, is LE, also shades my opinion.
    Two dogs met in a dog park, one lived, one died.  The shooter even CLAIMED he did not shoot to kill.
    So why load of hollow points (actually Hydro-shok but why quibble, same-same in the end, “stopping power” and internal damage to organs) in a Gluck 9mm (personal weapon).
    We all live NEAR, as in a 15 minute freeway drive, to Baltimore, but the incidence of crime and shootings are rare in our neighborhoods.  Besides, there are ‘lots’ of ‘badges’ living all around.
    There are some details, some is neighborhood gossip, others, more factual.  The result of the initial “band of brothers in blue” taking care of each-other, well… the AACP looks like they have a problem.  Seems some of the complaints ARE coming from “others in the band.”
    And frankly, guys and gals like my husband, or one of our friends are correct.  If it were just “John Q. Public” the initial investigation would not have been closed at 9:40pm the night of the shooting.  10 minutes after the family pet died.
    Public outcry and watch-dog press have insured the protect of the citizen FROM the Government.  NO summary dismissal of an in-depth investigation, for a “badge”that fires on their own time and away from line of duty.
    “Self Protection” is not allowed as an excuse for the average citizen UNLESS damages to life and property are documented.  That was not the case here.

  14. Sandra says:

    May i correct myself?
    Than my husband, is LE, also shades my opinion.
    Should be: “That my husband is in LE (law enforcement) also shades my opinion.”

  15. anjin-san says:

    Here’s a charming story about Oakland police shooting a baby deer. With children watching. They were so frigging incompetent that they shot the poor thing multiple times, but did not kill it right away, so the deer suffered horribly before dying. Why did they shoot it? Apparently a baby deer is some kind of menace to public safety. The folks at the Oakland zoo would have been happy to help, but the were not asked.