Puppycide: Public Perception of Police Lethal Force on Domestic Animals

Incidents of dogs being shot and killed by law enforcement officers continue to make national headlines. There’s even a term for it, “puppycide,” a term coined by investigative journalist Radley Balko, who reports on the dramatic increase of cases involving police officers killing family dogs.

Many Americans view pets as beloved members of their immediate family, therefore, the emotional reaction when a pet is killed by law enforcement officers is understandable. This all means that officers need to be aware of the public’s perception of the sharp increase in the use of deadly force to subdue animals.

Many citizens perceive the increase in domestic dog killings as over-aggressive officers who are not trained in non-lethal animal control techniques and who resort too quickly to deadly force. To gain the trust and respect of citizens, agencies need to acknowledge the public’s perception of puppycide and use it to educate the public about responsible pet ownership. In addition, agencies need to create training opportunities for officers about nonlethal animal control.

Legislation and Required Police Training

The outcry from citizens has prompted legislators to take action to decrease the number of deadly encounters with family pets.

  • Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signed into law Senate Bill 13-266, the Dog Protection Act. The Colorado Dog Protection Act requires law enforcement officers to be trained in non-lethal methods of handling non-violent calls to allow dog owners or animal control professionals the chance to safely secure the dog.
  • Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law House Bill 3388 that adds language to the Illinois Police Training Act and includes a training program in animal fighting awareness. The bill provides that officers must be trained about humane responses to animal abuse, how to identify animal fighting operations, and nonlethal ways to subdue canines.
  • Tennessee Governor Don Sundquist signed into law Senate Bill 0374 to amend Tennessee Code Annotated. This amendment include san animal behavior component in peace officer certification training so officers can ascertain threat, control the situation and neutralize the threat with the least amount of force or harm to the animal.
  • Several other states such as California, Georgia, Idaho, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin are in the legislative process of creating similar laws that mandate law enforcement training in animal handling and nonlethal ways to subdue dogs.

This emotional and serious problem has the opportunity to bring law enforcement agencies closer to the citizens they serve by creating local workshops to educate pet owners and explain how police are trained in non-lethal animal control techniques. Together, we can reduce the number of deadly pet encounters and still support the law enforcement mission to protect and serve.

About the Author

Mark Bond

Mark Bond has worked in law enforcement and has been a firearms instructor for more than 33 years. His law enforcement experience includes the military, local, state and federal levels as a police officer and criminal investigator. Mark obtained a BS and MS in criminal justice, and M.Ed in educational leadership with Summa Cum Laude honors. As a lifelong learner, he is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in education (EdD) with a concentration in college teaching and learning. Mark is currently an assistant professor of criminal justice at a university and adjunct professor of administration of justice studies at a community college.