Around eight months ago, Reasonover began to notice the proliferation of online videos of police officers shooting dogs. “People were going nuts about it,” he recalls. “There were tons of views on these things. We had dogs and we were disturbed, so we thought we’d reach out and start contacting some of the victims.” In doing so, he quickly learned that the news reports and the published footage were only the beginning of the story. Because police departments don’t keep easily accessible records of dog shootings, it is hard to gauge the scale. A recent review of public records by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals concluded that almost half of all firearms discharges by police officers involve the shooting of a dog. But nobody really knows.
Indeed, even animal-rights activists aren’t fully aware of the numbers in their communities. “They would tell us that there were, say, five news stories on these dogs that got shot,” Reasonover says. “But through my digging and persistence I found out that actually, you know, 22 were shot and no one ever knew.” One thing led to another, and he discovered that “there is a set of people who are working across the nation, through lawsuits or legislation or appealing to the Justice Department.” As part of his project, Reasonover is hoping to file Freedom of Information Act requests in all major cities and jurisdictions in the U.S. and to get hold of all firearm-discharge records. From that, he hopes to assemble a better list.
It may make brutal reading. A recent lawsuit in Milwaukee filed by a woman whose dog was killed forced that city to compile its records. “They found that a dog was shot every seven days,” Reasonover says. “Just in Milwaukee.” And, unless something changes, the number will only continue to rise. “Over the course of the past forty or fifty years, dogs have moved from the barnyard to the back yard to the bedroom,” Ledy Vankavage, the senior legislative attorney at Best Friends Animal Society, has observed. In the meantime, the drug war has been ratcheted up, terrorism has become a pressing concern, and, as Radley Balko has so distressingly chronicled, the police have become increasingly militarized. “You have this recipe for these police entering our lives more and more and more,” Reasonover explains. “The dogs are there, and so they are killed.”