U.S. House Urges Tracking of Police Use of Force Against Pets and Their People

August 30, 2021

Dog looking at camera

  • Officer-involved pet shootings are estimated to account for the death or injury of thousands of dogs in the U.S. each year.
  • Research reveals these violent encounters disproportionately happen to pets whose guardians live in communities of color.
  • There is no uniform requirement for law enforcement agencies to collect, maintain or report data regarding police use of force against pets.
  • Fortunately, a measure was recently passed in the U.S. House of Representatives urging law enforcement agencies to track and report this data.

It is estimated that thousands of family dogs are killed or injured by law enforcement officers across the country each year. The United States House of Representatives recently took steps to mitigate these tragedies by passing a measure that encourages data tracking and reporting requirements for police use of force against pets. The House-passed Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies subcommittee report urged that these incidents be tracked and collected in any database that tracks use of force against people, noting that “Police shootings directed at pets escalate encounters with policed communities and erode trust in law enforcement.”

A few recent examples of these often-avoidable tragedies:

  • On April 11, 2021, the New Orleans Police Department shot and killed an 18-week-old rescue puppy in his yard while responding to a 911 call. 
  • On March 23, 2021, the Tampa Police Department shot the dog of a woman who called them for help.
  • On February 26, 2021, an officer with the Lynchburg Police Department in Virginia shot and killed a dog while attempting to take a man into custody for a mental health evaluation.
  • On November 16, 2020, an officer with the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Department in Arkansas shot and killed a family dog after responding to the wrong residence.

Incidents involving officer shootings of pets often account for a significant percentage of the total firearms discharges in a police department or agency–between 25-75% of police shootings from some municipalities were directed at family dogs.

Further research reveals that these violent encounters disproportionately occur in communities of color. An analysis of officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles County revealed that between 28-46% of all firearms discharges were directed at dogs, and these shootings were geographically clustered in communities of color.

The ASPCA believes that most of the occurrences of use of lethal force against pets are avoidable, and we have been spearheading state and federal efforts to prevent it from happening, including the development of state-mandated trainings on police encounters with dogs.

Many state and local law enforcement agencies do not collect or maintain data on firearms discharges if directed at pets. Currently, there is no standardized requirement for police departments or law enforcement agencies across the country to collect, maintain or report data regarding police use of force against pets. The U.S. Department of Justice maintains a general use-of-force database, but state and local agency participation is voluntary.

The measure passed by the U.S. House of Representatives urges law enforcement agencies to include use of force incidents involving pets in any nationwide federal database created to track the use of force against people, or to provide Congress with a report within 180 days on how data can be collected and maintained on law enforcement’s use of force against people and pets. It also calls for policy recommendations needed to implement that data collection.

We thank Subcommittee Chair Matt Cartwright (D-PA) and the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies subcommittee for ensuring that this important data is not omitted from any established national use of force database.

Now, the U.S. Senate must follow suit and direct the Justice Department to require collection and reporting of data regarding police use of force, including use against pets.

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