Michigan Federal Court Rules Police Can Shoot Moving or Barking Dogs

PetMD Editorial
Published: January 03, 2017
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In a shocking and controversial decision, a Michigan federal court granted police the right to shoot a dog that moves or barks at them when they are inside a household. 

According to an NBC Columbus affiliate, "The decision stems from an incident in Battle Creek, Michigan where police shot and killed dog[s] while executing a search warrant on a home looking for drugs." 

NBC4i.com uploaded the court documents, in which Mark and Cheryl Brown filed a petition to hold both the city and police of Battle Creek responsible for the deaths of their two Pit Bulls back in 2013, when their property was seized. 

In the petition, the Browns maintain that the police acted unreasonably when they fatally shot both Pit Bulls during the home search. But the responding officers in the case state that at least one of the dogs "lunged" at them, and they did not have the ability to "safely clear the basement" of the house with the dogs present, according to the court papers.

The City of Battle Creek Police Department policy states: "Officers may use response to resistance when the officer reasonably believes that the action is in defense of human life, including the officers own life, or in defense of any person in imminent danger or serious physical injury." They also define a "dangerous animal" as one that "bites or attacks another person or animal." 

The Fourth Circuit decided that the officers acted reasonably in the situation. As the document notes, "[W]e are not saying the officers’ responses in these cases were the best possible responses. We are only saying that, under the circumstances existing at the time the officers took the actions and in light of the facts known by the officers, their actions were objectively reasonable....Even dog owners can find their pets to be unpredictable at times."

Judge Eric Clay wrote in the ruling, "Given the totality of the circumstances and viewed from the perspective of an objectively reasonable officer, the dog poses an imminent threat to the officer’s safety." This decision will give other police in similar situations the right to shoot a dog that they perceive as a threat to their safety and the safety of others. 

The ruling has upset and concerned many pet parents and advocates in the region who want to ensure the safety of both officers and animals alike.

The Michigan Humane Society spoke to petMD regarding the decision.  "The Michigan Humane Society has a long history of collaboration with law enforcement. In addition to training law enforcement personnel in animal behavior, MHS works directly on cases involving animal cruelty and provides support to police in other activities," says Matthew Pepper, president and CEO of MHS. "While we unquestionably support law enforcement, MHS is disappointed by a recent federal court ruling allowing police to shoot a dog if it moves or barks when an officer enters a home. The Michigan Humane Society believes that law enforcement should only shoot a dog when there is a true and real threat to personal or public safety."

Many animal welfare supporters believe that law enforcement officials would benefit from specific training in how to peacefully handle animals in these situations. "Proper training in basic animal behavior and other animal-related topics can provide law enforcement the foundation it needs to interact with animals on the job and in a manner that is safe to the personnel involved and the animals encountered," says Pepper.

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