Police officers receive extensive training about the use of force when it is applied against humans. But how many departments provide training on dealing with pets? Very few, says the Humane Society. This despite the fact that, according to a Justice Department paper (“The Problem of Dog-Related Incidents and Encounters”), 39 percent of U.S. homes have dogs. More than half of dog owners “consider their dogs family members,” it continues, “and another 45.1 percent view them as companions or pets.” Less than 1.5 percent view them as property.
Do we really need systematic training to combat a few isolated incidents, however unfortunate? The question rests on a false premise. Civil-liberties writer Radley Balko notes that over a nine-year period Milwaukee officers killed 434 dogs – about one every eight days. And that’s just one city. Across the country, according to Justice, “the majority of [police] shooting incidents involve animals, most frequently dogs.”
But surely those shootings occur because the animals themselves pose a serious threat, right? Nope. The Justice Department says not only that “dogs are seldom dangerous” but that even when they are, “the overwhelming majority of dog bites are minor, causing either no injury at all or injuries so minor that no medical care is required.” As Balko writes, “If dangerous dogs are so common, one would expect to find frequent reports of vicious attacks on meter readers, postal workers, firemen, and delivery workers. But according to a spokesman from the United States Postal Service, serious dog attacks on mail carriers are vanishingly rare.”