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Florida Makes It a Felony To Harm K9 Officers While Cops Keep Killing Pet Dogs With Impunity

A K9 unit police dog.

The Sunshine State is awful choosy about the lives it values within its borders. Florida has made it clear on where it stands regarding trans lives: it doesn’t stand for them whatsoever. As for Black lives, the NAACP recently issued a travel warning for POC considering a visit to the state, saying that Florida is “openly hostile to African-Americans.”

It doesn’t stop with people, though. As for dogs, governor Ron DeSantis recently passed a law making it a felony to harm a K9, one that carries a maximum sentence of up to 15 years. Let me be clear, it should be a felony to kill a dog, whether that dog is a narc or not. The irony is that Florida’s police officers (and U.S. police officers in general) kill dogs all of the time, particularly dogs that live with residents of impoverished and over-policed communities.

The University of New Hampshire Law Review estimates that police officers across America kill an estimated 10,000 pet dogs while on duty each year. However, it is nearly impossible to obtain an accurate estimate because law enforcement agencies hardly ever bother to keep an accurate count of the amount of dogs they kill. While many cops claim that the decision to shoot a dog in the line of duty is usually a split-second decision made in self-defense, records show that many of these dogs are killed when officers “mistake the behavior of a friendly, curious dog for aggression.”

Other dogs are reported to have been killed under even more dubious circumstances, and have been shot through doors, while tied up, or even while running away or hiding. Large and “potentially dangerous” dogs are not even the sole targets. Police officers have also been reported to kill small dogs such as Dachshunds and Chihuahuas, and even domestic cats. Some officers have even shot puppies. Studies have shown that police officers have killed dogs for reasons other than self-defense—in some cases, retaliation.

According to Criminal Legal News, A specialist at the Department of Justice considers the police violence against family dogs to be an “epidemic.” While outrage and legal retaliation against the police by grieving pet owners is common, the judiciary system often rules in officers’ favor. The case of Mark and Cheryl Brown of Battle Creek Michigan was one such example.

As Criminal Legal News details, the Browns’ family dogs were shot by police after officers arrived at their residence with a warrant under the belief that a dangerous drug dealer was storing drugs there. Mark informed police about the dogs and offered them the key to the front door. Rather than opening the door, the cops used a battering ram to bust it down and then shot both dogs living inside the home after one of the dogs barked and “moved and inch” towards them. Their shots only injured the dogs, and the wounded animals fled to the basement. The cops then followed their blood trail and executed them as they were hiding in a corner. The judge presiding over the Browns’ case said that that officers had acted “reasonably.” Reasonably unhinged, maybe.

The ASPCA has come out with an official statement on police violence towards dogs that paints a damaging picture of law enforcement policies. The organization “regularly” receives complaints against cops who have fatally shot dogs while performing their duties and cites police misconduct as the primary culprit. According to their findings, “it is common for 50% or more of all shooting incidents to involve an officer shooting a dog. Many of these incidents involve multiple shots fired and many do not result in the dog’s swift, humane death.”

The ASPCA goes on to blame the low legal threshold set for law enforcement officers to be justified in killing dogs. The law requires that officers “feel” threatened by a dog’s presence, nothing more. As a result “virtually all” cases of dog killings examined by the organization could be considered “justified” by an internal review, whether or not the rest of us would agree with that assessment. The organization goes on to fault the poor training that police receive to deal with dogs, training that fails to teach officers to “rapidly and realistically assess the degree of danger posed by a dog” or “use any of the wide variety of non-lethal tools and techniques available to them as alternatives to shooting.”

Law enforcement agencies also do not possess relationships with local humane societies or SPCAs where they could receive such training. This is especially disturbing considering that one third of American households own a dog, making police encounters with dogs an inevitability. The ASPCA concludes their statement by saying that “most instances of police shootings of dogs are avoidable.”

Despite widespread condemnation from humane societies and legal organizations across America, police continue to kill dogs with impunity. Pets living in communities of POC are increasingly more likely to face police violence than in white neighborhoods, which is no surprise considering how the human beings in those communities are treated by police.

In Slate’s efforts to map police against to dogs and humans in Los Angeles, they found that the highest amount of police violence was concentrated in the same areas as residents of color. The magazine found that in the LAPD’s 417 shootings between 2010 and 2017, dogs were involved roughly a quarter of the time. In these cases, dogs were shot nearly half the time. It is inaccurate to suggest that dogs in communities of color are somehow “more violent” than they are in white communities. Public health records show that less than 1% of dog bites in the Los Angeles metropolitan required hospitalization, and most recorded instances consisted of a single puncture wound in the hand of a child.

While legal protection of dogs working in the line of duty is necessary, law enforcement agencies must reckon with the epidemic of police violence towards animals and the greater problem of police brutality in American society at large. At this rate, the only way for a dog to avoid becoming a statistic when dealing with the police is for that dog to join the force itself. The same could be said of human beings.

(featured image: niuniu)

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Jack Doyle (they/them) is actually nine choirs of biblically accurate angels in crammed into one pair of $10 overalls. They have been writing articles for nerds on the internet for less than a year now. They really like anime. Like... REALLY like it. Like you know those annoying little kids that will only eat hotdogs and chicken fingers? They're like that... but with anime. It's starting to get sad.