Dog's Best Friend

In these parts, we're all understandably outraged about the War on Dogs, an apparent precursor to the rising police state. After all, we've befriended some of the cutest dogs on the planet.


It's only fair, then, that I give the copper his due. Today, I went to the public library. Following local custom, I had pulled through one parking spot and into the one opposite to set up an easy departure. In that space, I was flanked by an SUV on one side and a white minivan on the other.

After czeching out some language-related materials, I made my way to the parking lot. There, a police cruiser was parked laterally in front of my vehicle and the adjacent minivan. The latter's owner had left the building when I did. Ignoring me, the policeman intercepted that guy.

"License, registration, and proof of insurance, please."


"There's a dog in your vehicle. It might be 110 or 120 degrees in there. Your windows are up. His life is at risk. That's illegal."


They unsealed the door, and out popped the panting head of a large, goofy, loveable canine, none the worse for sweltering.

Nobody had parked behind my drive in the interim, so I backed up, drove around, and went on my way, wondering how this had come to pass, and feeling glad for dog's sake that it had.

Well done, Office X of the Y police force. Well done.

Screwtape Wept

My Dear Wormwood,

As discussed in my last letter, your patient's decision to join the police department seemed a mixed development at best. It is true that Hell follows no law save the most ancient, "Eat or be eaten." But as a general rule we want to discourage the creatures from obeying any laws, even of their own devising. Despite the best efforts of our most fiendish disputants, we in the Lowerarchy are unable, as yet, to remove from their laws all that reeks of the Enemy, such as justice, temperance, chastity, and respect for their fellow vermin. Still, we have made great strides in this age toward bending those who enforce the laws, such as your patient, to the commendable vices of cruelty, corruption, graft, influence-peddling, and the forsaking of oaths. So I did not discourage your patient's occupation, as long as he could be steered onto a path which would eventually bring him to Our Father's House.

Until I received this report from our colleague Skrimcheez, who is in charge of the local newspaper editor: Henrico police shoot pet as they notify family of son's homicide. As you can see, the report is lavishly illustrated, and spares no detail. It appears that your patient, while performing his mundane duty of notifying one of the humans that her child had been murdered, discharged his weapon into the child's dog. Your patient claimed to have done so out of fear (no doubt of your urging) that the animal posed a threat to the patient's safety. I have carefully read the report, and it raises several questions regarding your care of the patient.

The first of which is: ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR FUCKING MIND? What kind of FUCKING LUNATIC would shoot the GOD-DAMNED FAMILY DOG as he was approaching the GOD-DAMNED FAMILY HOME to notify them that THEIR SON HAD BEEN MURDERED? YOU ASSHOLE! Hell is TOO GOOD for this son of a bitch! I thought I was cruel! I thought I was merciless, but YOU…

(Here the manuscript breaks off, and is resumed in another hand.)

In my rage and fury at reading of your despicable patient's exploits, I find that I have transformed into a vampire bat. My secretary shall compose the remainder of this letter under my dictation.

There are some things, Wormwood, that are too vile even for us. Admittedly, before today, I could not have named one of those things. But shooting the family dog, on the way to notifying the family that its son has been found murdered in the street, is such a thing. Hell has majesty, Wormwood. Even the foulest fiend in the most abysmal of our pits would not sink to such a depth.

Rest assured, Wormwood, that your patient has found his place in Our Father's House. Indeed he shall be most welcome here.  We shall make a sport of him, a plaything, a feast to be savoured slowly with all the cruelty our tormentors can devise. And yet, for all of the anguish that shall be his, for eternity and more, his torment will only barely exceed what he has brought upon this family. Common murderers are, as the Americans put it, a dime a dozen. It takes a special cruelty, one I would call beyond diabolical if there could be such a thing, to kill the family dog before notifying the family of a death.

Your disgusted uncle,


(Signed in his abysmal excellency's disability by his secretary, Toadpipe, B.S.M., D.T.)

Where Are They Now?: Russell Metcalf Edition

In 2003, Patrol Sergeant Russell Metcalf of the Harrisonburg, Virginia Police Department struck Griffin Strother in the face during a traffic stop in which Metcalf was attempting to arrest Strother's friend.  Strother sued Metcalf alleging excessive force and violation of Strother's civil rights.

It was a routine case.  Sergeant Metcalf was given a summary judgment because he was just doing his job when he hit Strother in the face. After all, Strother moved in Metcalf's direction. Strother should have thanked Metcalf for the kindness of a punch in the face, rather than a gunshot to the chest.

Flash forward nine years, in which we learn what Sergeant Metcalf does when he's off duty.  He shoots 20 pound border collies for daring to cross his path.  The collie, named Sadie, was by all accounts a small and gentle beast.  Sergeant Metcalf, a fat and vicious son of a bitch, has been charged with cruelty to animals.

What's amazing is that Metcalf was charged at all. After all, he's a sworn officer of the law. If he'd shot Sadie while breaking into her owners' house, nothing would have come of it.

What's the point of bringing this up, and singling out Russell Metcalf, who after all only shot a dog rather than a human being?  Why do we write so often about police officers who kill dogs that pose no apparent threat to them?

It's because America is in love with its police officers.  In court, in the news, in entertainment, the policeman almost always gets the benefit of the doubt.  Bad movies and television shows joke about incarcerated suspects who "slip on the soap" in the shower, or on the floor, five times in 22 minutes. Police and prosecutors joke about "testilying". Defense attorneys don't.

Rule 404 of the Federal Rules of Evidence prohibits evidence of prior bad acts, or bad character, to prove that a witness is a bad person who likely behaved as a bad character at the time of the crime accused.  There are exceptions, like motive ("Russell Metcalf is one mean son of a bitch; he shoots border collies"), but the rule generally holds.  The rule need not, however, apply to public opinion, and courts take jurors as they find them.

We write about cops who shoot innocent dogs because everyone loves dogs.  It will be hard for Russell Metcalf, dog killer that he is, to testify with a straight face that Sadie the 20 pound border collie lunged at him and put him in fear of his safety.  The public, meaning jurors, should be aware how often policemen shoot border collies, and golden retrievers, and other harmless creatures. The public, meaning jurors, should take that awareness into the deliberation room when asked to decide whether Defendant W really assaulted Officer X, or Officer Y really beat the shit out of Plaintiff Z in violation of Z's civil rights.

Because judges, who know better than jurors that the policeman is made of mortal clay, all too often don't.

What's Wrong With This Headline?

The headline in yesterday's Minneapolis Star Tribune reads, "Dangerous Dogs are a quandary for police," but the story beneath tells us that "Poorly trained police are a hazard to dogs, their owners, themselves, and three year old girls".

Oh, the story begins well enough for the police, with the tale of an officer who, in safeguarding himself from two dangerous pit bulls, wounded a fellow officer by shooting him in the leg.  But there's a buried lede:

The shooting of two dogs during a police raid on April 13, 2011, has led to a civil lawsuit against the city by their owners, James and Aisha Keten.

The couple's three-year-old daughter was eating breakfast at the kitchen table in the Humboldt Avenue North house when police entered the front door on a warrant. As soon as the officers entered the house, they shot and killed one dog, Kano, in the living room, then moments later fired "multiple, hollow-point rounds towards the kitchen table, killing another of the Keten's dogs," Remy, that was lying beneath the table, the suit alleges. The Ketens say neither dog displayed aggression and the bullets passed very close to the 3-year-old.

The officers then restrained James Keten, 28, with plastic zip ties and beat and kicked him in the head, neck and face while he lay on the floor, the suit alleges. After a search of the house, Keten was not arrested or charged with any crime.

The city of Minneapolis denies that its officers kicked James Keten in the head, neck and face, but it admits that Officer Chad Fuchs was aware that a three year old girl was sitting at the table even as he fired multiple, hollow point rounds in her direction.

Fortunately only the dog was killed.

The story illustrates one of the most common forms of journalistic malpractice: taking the police at their word.  Reporters, as much as lawyers, are aware that police lie all the time, and yet so seldom do journalists apply the sort of admirable scrutiny we've seen applied to law enforcement in the Trayvon Martin case to the ordinary, humdrum police work of firing multiple, hollow point rounds at stationary dogs and the three year old girls who own them.

Such as questioning whether the dogs officers shoot are really dangerous.

Or whether the officers who say they're justified in the shooting dogs are people of good, honest character.

Or whether the threats good, honest officers face justify any force whatsoever, much less deadly force.

On the other hand, perhaps these are dangerous questions.  Unlike accused drug dealers and people who against all reason and sanity draw weapons on heavily armed police officers, dogs are friendly animals, beloved by most Americans.  If the media were to look into the facts behind the case every time a police officer shoots a dog, someone might call for that level of scrutiny every time a police officer shoots a human being.

And who knows where that could lead?

Chelsea Kay of KRCR-TV Supports Shooting, Being A Lapdog

In the War on Dogs, trigger-happy officers have one boon companion, one stalwart friend, one ally who will never give them up, never let them down: the media.

Just ask Chelsea Kay of KRCRTV.

Chelsea reported on a story about cops shooting dogs. In this case, Redding police were looking for a fugitive, who visited a room in a motel. Police nabbed their man and were arresting him when a dog described as a "boxer puppy" "charged" the officers. The officers, apparently in fear of their lives from the puppy, opened fire, killing the puppy and a pregnant Chihuahua who was "caught in the line of fire."

There are many different angles that a journalist could take in a story about police shooting a charging puppy and gunning down a Chihuahua in the process. A journalist might write a hard-hitting story on whether the officers' fear for their safety is rational. A journalist might ask whether, if officers are shooting puppies in a manner that leaves other dogs "in the line of fire," the officers need retraining in firearms safety and use of force, whether that Chihuahua could just as easily have been a child, whether the officers' assessment of the relative danger of puppies vs. gunplay reflects rational thought.

Chelsea took a different angle:

After Redding Police were forced to kill two dogs Friday night, a Northstate family is now offering two puppies to console the family.

Awwwww ….. what an adorable gift-of-a-puppy human interest story! And since Chelsea has dispatched those nasty, uncomfortable, unpatriotic questions by the fifth word of the story — stating, as a given, that officers were "forced" to shoot a puppy — we can rush headlong into nice thoughts about how puppies are swell.

The press acting as the placid lapdogs of law enforcement is not new and is certainly not limited to cops who kill puppies. What can we do about it? We can seek out multiple news sources and multiple types of news sources. We can view journalists with skepticism. We can write about the issues ourselves. We can call them on their bullshit.

What we shouldn't do is be passive viewers. Doing so is asking to be duped, in a world in which nominally dog-loving journalists write docile, canine stories in support of police shooting puppies.

Chelsea joined the KRCR News Channel Seven News Team in November of 2011.

. . .

In her free time, Chelsea enjoys traveling, watching movies, yoga, and the beach. You'll find her spending time with her friends and family and snuggling with her dog, Rocco.

Watch your back, Rocco.

Hat Tip to Radley Balko, who owns the cops-vs.-dogs topic.

Leash Your Policeman: It's The Least You Can Do.

The Augusta Chronicle rationalizes a cop's wanton shooting of a family pet, in the family's own yard, thus:

Your dog may be the sweetest, cuddliest creature on the planet. He may never have harmed a flea. He might even be the kind that would lead a burglar to the family's fine silverware.

But until dogs learn to bark in the king's English, how can any of us know what your dog is capable of doing?

A policeman may be the most conscientious, honest man in the city.  He may never have fired a shot off the practice range.  He might even be the kind that helps cats down from trees, and returns lost children to their parents.

But until we begin firing cops who wantonly slay friendly dogs because they lack the common sense to distinguish threatening behavior from ordinary canine enthusiasm, how can any of us know whether that cop is a brutal thug?

The answer, of course, is that we can't. So when an unleashed dog is running at a stranger on the street, even if the little fellow is bounding happily toward a new friend, that stranger has to assume the worst: that the dog will bite. Some dogs will flat-out maul — and, like it or not, some breeds are infamous for it.

The answer to this assertion is that we're discussing a seven year old golden retriever named "Boomer".

A golden retriever is not a vicious or threatening breed.  The policeman, we're led to believe, is hired and selected for his good moral character and sound judgment.  His good moral character and sound judgment are supplemented by the best training our local, state, and federal governments can provide.

One would hope that training would include a measure of instruction in the art of forbearance.  Deliberation before shooting.  Because only a moron, or a hothead, or a sadist, would shoot a golden retriever in its own yard.  Morons, hotheads, and sadists have no business carrying guns for the state.  They should be employed in jobs where they can do little harm, such as writing editorials for third-tier city newspapers like the Augusta Chronicle.

In addition, sometimes a dog will do things its owner might never have seen or dreamed that it might — especially if another animal is involved. Regardless, a stranger doesn't know what is or isn't characteristic of a particular animal.

In addition, sometimes a cop will do things that citizens might never have dreamed that he might — especially one who's shown such poor judgment as the officer we're actually discussing.  He might shoot a taxpayer for carrying a water hose nozzle.  Regardless, it's safest to put down an officer so vicious as to shoot a golden retriever in its own yard, when it's the officer who's trespassing.

Or at least to take away his gun and badge.

So, occasionally the worst does happen. This past weekend, Boomer, a golden retriever owned by a Clayton County family, sprung off a porch and galloped, in full throat, toward a police officer who was responding to a call on foot. Tragically, the officer felt the need to shoot the animal, which died.

We simply don't know if the officer was justified or trigger-happy. The dog was still on the family lot, which reportedly had an electric fence. The fence, however, was not advertised, and the officer might not have had time to notice even if it had been.

Actually we do know.  We know that the officer was trigger-happy.  We know this because we know that officers are trained to shoot dogs first, and to ask questions later.

An ordinary citizen, in Georgia, has the right to carry a firearm.  An ordinary citizen who went around shooting his neighbors' dogs on the neighbors' property would be locked away as menace and a maniac.  He would be denounced in the pages of the Augusta Chronicle.  But give that ordinary citizen a badge, and the Augusta Chronicle will bend over backwards to give him the benefit of every doubt, and to defend him.  Because ordinary citizens must never know that, sadly, we fill the ranks of our police with the mediocre, the stupid, and the mean.

You also wonder if a non-fatal response, such as pepper spray or Mace, might have done the trick.

Actually, I wonder why the Augusta Chronicle waited seven paragraphs to ask this question.

What is clear is that the officer felt threatened — and no matter what the family says about Boomer's gentility, the officer had no way of being familiar with it.

What isn't clear is whether the officer was justified in feeling threatened, and whether he overreacted to the perceived threat.  And no matter what the Augusta Chronicle says about the officer's internal thought process, I've read too many stories about unjustified shootings of dogs by the police to take the Augusta Chronicle's word for it.

The lesson is clear: Dog owners have an absolute, air-tight and no-questions-asked responsibility to control their pets at all times.

Yet, so many don't do it.

Walkers, joggers and bicyclists, as well as delivery men and other workers, are wholly unimpressed with your dog's résumé. All they want is to be left alone, unencumbered by even the implied threat of a fang in an extremity.

Walkers, joggers and bicyclists, unlike the police, typically make accommodations for strange dogs.  They cross the street, or they keep walking.  They don't pull out a pistol and start firing.  Especially, as in this case, in the direction of a house that contains children. As this officer did.

And, oh by the way, they have a rock-solid legal right to that expectation: Augusta law says, for instance: "It shall be unlawful for any animal to be out of control and/or unattended off the premises of its owner, and/or upon the premises of another person without the permission of such other person."

Boomer was on his property when he was killed. And maybe the officer jumped the gun. But who's to say whether the dog wouldn't have jumped the fence?

Emphasis added.

And who's to say whether the officer won't start firing randomly at strangers in the mall?  According to Boomer's owners, he'd never bitten anyone.  We know that this officer will begin shooting at the slightest provocation.

Keeping your dog restrained on public property is the law.

Doing it on private property isn't a bad idea either.

Firing hotheaded, trigger-happy policemen is a good idea too.  Sadly, it isn't the law.

I Am Thankful That Charles Jones Will Not Be Reinstated To His Job As A Dog Kicker For A Few Days More

Because I'm going to drive through Raleigh, Jones' old stomping grounds, in about thirty minutes.

A Highway Patrol trooper who kicked and hoisted his canine partner off the ground by its neck should be rehired to the job he lost after videos of the mistreatment surfaced, a judge ruled.

Superior Court Judge James Hardin Jr. ruled in an order signed Monday that former North Carolina Highway Patrol Sgt. Charles Jones was improperly fired. Hardin said Jones also should recoup back pay and attorneys' fees.

This is video of Jones, "training" his state-provided Belgian Mallinois Ricoh, for the offense of refusing to let go of a rubber ball:

When I wrote about Jones' non-ASPCA-endorsed training methods earlier (after an administrative law judge ordered Jones reinstated) I was under the impression that the North Carolina Highway Patrol did not endorse Jones' rather … unusual … methods. It turns out I was wrong.  Jones must have been fired, not for doing anything wrong (after all, a dog is only a dumb brute, so it's okay to put the animal through hanging and abuse that would get a soldier in Iraq a court-martial if used against a terrorist), but because the truth embarrassed a few politicians.

Hardin ruled that although Jones' actions were not among the training techniques specifically approved by the Highway Patrol, they were no worse that the agency's accepted methods.

Jones' conduct, "while appearing excessive and extreme to the general public, is not unreasonably outside of or substantially different from several of the training techniques that are tested, trained and approved for use by the patrol," Hardin wrote.

Hardin said the Highway Patrol's dog training methods included whipping dogs, hitting them wit sticks, and using choke collars and stun guns.

"All of these training techniques are extremely harsh and well beyond what an owner of a typical 'house' pet would use to discipline or train a 'family' dog," Hardin wrote. "Canine handlers were taught to rule with an 'iron fist' as canines were 'weapons' which had to be under control at all times."

That the methods go beyond those used by the United States Army, well, that just goes to show how hard-core the North Carolina State Highway Patrol is.

So congratulations, soon-to-be ex-ex-Trooper Jones. And here's hoping the Wake, Johnston, and Durham County criminal defense bars, which also serve your territory, will be made aware of your imminent return. I'll bring the popcorn for your first cross-examination.

Yet Who Would Have Thought The Old Dog To Have So Much Blood In Him?

If you want a textbook case of what's wrong with the drug war, look no further than Marietta Robinson's bathroom.

Full disclosure:  I take everything Ms. Robinson has to say on faith.  Why?  Because Marietta Robinson has never lied to me.

Marietta Robinson, to my knowledge, has never invaded a 62 year old lady's home, looking for someone who doesn't live there, and shot a 13 year old dog which had been placed out of harm's way for his own protection.

Marietta Robinson has never described the dogs she didn't shoot as "pit bulls," because she doesn't shoot dogs, and even if she does, they aren't pit bulls.

Marietta Robinson has never used her victim's water fountain to wash the blood off her hands after casually firing eight shots into that victim's pet.

Marietta Robinson has never tried to fob off fortune cookie wrappers as glassine bags containing drug residue.

All of this, on the other hand, is Standard Operating Procedure, Business As Usual, in the War on Drugs. Of course, Marietta Robinson is lucky to be alive, much less not arrested because the fortune cookie wrappers didn't actually contain any drugs, so she should shut up and stop complaining.

Out! Out! Damned Spot!  Oh, I'm sorry.  The dog's name was Wrinkles.

I, on the other hand, don't have to shut up.  This could never happen to me. I'm a white male lawyer of good family and reputation, not an old black lady.  So I'll say it.

Everything about the drug war is a miserable failure.  Millions of otherwise productive citizens languish in the criminal justice system, while drugs continue to circulate, making billionaires of the criminals who control the trade.  That's a problem of policy, not the fault of the police, who are merely following orders.

But it's also a problem of execution, and that's the problem with the people who are just following orders.  Because it takes a special sort of person, the sort of trigger-happy goon who would be drummed out of the military for bloodthirstiness, to want a job that involves home invasions and shooting 13 year old dogs.  We hire the dregs of society, base animals barely better than the dogs they shoot, to enforce our laws.

The fault, dear Marietta Robinson, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.  We vote for the people who retain and expand these laws.  We pass bonds to pay for more prisons, and more thugs in uniform.

And until we do something about it, it will continue.  It just won't happen to people like us.