Heartbreaking stories of dogs being shot by police officers continue to make the news, while countless Youtube videos of incidents, Facebook memorial pages and petitions calling for justice for the lost lives of these four-legged family members continue to follow.
Directors Michael Ozias and Patrick Reasonover have set out to tell their stories through Puppycide, a feature-length documentary that explores the lives and bonds of owners and dogs of all shapes and sizes, whose tales sadly ended in gunfire. The documentary also explores owners’ battles for justice in a system that seems to shield law enforcement officers from any consequences of their split-second, yet life shattering, decisions to pull the trigger.
After reaching out to victims, Reasonover discovered that media accounts were only the tip of the iceberg, telling the National Review that figuring out how many dogs are killed by law enforcement isn’t an easy task because police departments don’t keep easily accessible records of dog shootings.
However, what is known makes it clear that it’s an ongoing problem and one that needs to be dealt with. A report from the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, part of the U.S. Department of Justice, found that in most police departments the majority of intentional firearm discharges involve animals, with the most frequent victims being dogs. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) also concluded that almost half of firearm discharges involve incidents with dogs and stated that while some incidents may be justified, many of the reports coming in involve family pets being killed on their own property.
Some officers act with common sense and compassion when it comes to dogs, but many others do not. If an officer feels “threatened,” shooting a dog can be justified, but that sets a low bar for what they’re allowed to do. Many don’t seem to be able to properly gauge when they’re actually in danger. They’re also rarely provided with the training or tools regarding canine behavior and the use of non-lethal alternatives, including batons, pepper spray, tasers and chemical capture.
Some of the horrific stories were totally unnecessary and involve dogs being shot from behind while they’re running away or while leashed, on a catchpole, laying down or simply standing with a toy in their mouths. In many instances, owners aren’t given the opportunity to secure their dogs before officers shoot.
Many won’t admit to needlessly shooting a dog, but even when no wrongdoing is admitted by law enforcement agencies, some cases have resulted in payouts. Roger and Sandi Jenkins sued after sheriff’s deputies unlawfully entered their property and shot their dog Brandi. The jury found that their constitutional rights had been violated and returned a $620,000 verdict in their favor, including $200,000 for emotional distress.
The film’s creators are quick to note that their intent is not to villainize law enforcement officers, but to raise awareness about a problem that is clearly more pervasive than we believe it is and highlight those who are working towards change. Hopefully this will in turn lead to better training for officers on how to handle situations with dogs that won’t result in their death.
For more information on this documentary, visit Puppycide.com.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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