An Unnecessary Death
My dogs are members of my family. Even though they dig through the trash with the enthusiasm of a starving raccoon and speak far less English than I would wish, I am as attached and protective of them as I am any other person I love. I say this so you can imagine my horrified reaction when I read this article in the Washington Post.
To summarize the article, a Washington D.C. police officer fatally shot a dog while subduing the animal after an altercation between two dogs at an outdoor festival. The article provides the details:
Aaron Block, 25, of Dupont Circle said he was walking his 2-year-old Shar-Pei mix, Parrot, up 18th Street when the dog suddenly turned around and bit a poodle that was passing by. He said he separated the two dogs — cutting his hand inside Parrot’s mouth in the process — and was subduing his dog when police arrived.
That’s when a D.C. police officer took over, putting his knee in the middle of Parrot’s back while he pulled the dog’s forelegs behind him, Block said. He said that the officer then grabbed Parrot by his neck and threw him over a banister at the Brass Knob antique store and that just as the dog righted itself, the officer pulled out his gun and fired. Parrot was “a full 12 to 15 steps away,” Block said, and was “making no aggressive overtures.” The dog, he noted, “doesn’t handle stairs well.”
“The officer drew his gun in an unnecessary act of cowboy gunslinging law enforcement and shot my dog amidst a crowd of thousands,” said Block, who was fostering Parrot while he was waiting to be adopted through the Lucky Dog Animal Rescue.
Obviously, the police department disputes that description of the incident in the police report although most eyewitness accounts agree with the description given by the foster owner, as shown in the complaint filed with the D.C. police department.
This incident, which happened last month, has raised a lively discussion about police conduct involving animals. Particularly, three questions seem to be in need of an answer:
1) Why wasn’t the other dog involved in the fight subdued by the police officers? Would we even be having this discussion if Parrot hadn’t been a bully breed?
2) Was lethal force necessary to subdue parrot?; and
3) Was police intervention even required in the first place?
The first question is a long, emotional discussion that could have its own separate post. I have my own feelings on the issue, and I’m happy to have that discussion with anyone that wants to.
Moving beyond the breed question, the last two questions will (hopefully) be decided by the courts in D.C. I am not an attorney licensed to practice in D.C., so if I am wrong on how the specific laws work in Washington, I freely accept corrections. With that disclaimer out of the way, my short answer to both questions is an emphatic no.
Dogs are not humans. Dogs don’t have constitutional rights. For most intents and purposes, they are property. That being said, animals have rights beyond physical property that are generally reflected in animal cruelty laws. These laws generally prohibit the needless and unreasonable torture or killing of any animal. What that means is that anyone that harmed Parrot, including a police officer, would only be allowed to injure, let alone kill, Parrot if it was reasonable and necessary at the time.
In the current instance, even according the police report, Parrot had been subdued by the officer. After he was subdued, the officer then threw the dog down a ten foot drop onto concrete. After that, the officer shot Parrot in the neck. Parrot bled to death over the course of two hours because the officer refused to call for emergency veterinary care.
I would venture to guess that if a civilian had committed the same behavior, no one would be contesting
that it was cruel to the animal. After Parrot had been subdued, there was no urgent, necessary reason to continue to harm the animal, and it most certainly wasn’t reasonable to throw the animal into a potentially
fatal fall. By all eyewitness accounts, Parrot was injured after the fall and was in no condition to run up the stairs towards the officer. It certainly wasn’t necessary to shoot the animal. Furthermore, there is nojustification for failing to get the animal necessary medical care. In no way would that have threatened the safety of anyone at the festival.
Even if Washington D.C. had no animal cruelty laws, which means Parrot would have been treated as any other property; there is no jurisdiction in the United States that allows police officers to destroy property that isn’t an imminent danger to the public. To do so would violate our constitutional rights against unreasonable searches and seizure.
What is really disturbing in Parrot’s case is that police intervention probably wasn’t even necessary. By most accounts, Parrot’s owner had already subdued the dog by the time the police arrived. The owner had him on a legal restraint and was actively calming the dog. The owner was the most likely person there that would be able to restrain and calm the dog because Parrot was used to him. In what instance would it have been more reasonable for the officer to escalate the situation? If the owner of the other dog wanted to press charges, it would make sense for the police to investigate; but removing the one known person to Parrot seems to be completely unnecessary and certainly doesn’t meet the requirements of safely seizing the owner’s property before Animal Control arrived with reasonable restraints to transport Parrot.
What do you think? Were the police within the power to kill Parrot, or should police show more restraint when dealing with dogs being dogs?