Skip to main content
SearchLoginLogin or Signup

Puppycide by gavel: How the judiciary uses the police killing of dogs to reinforce justifications for police violence

To access a print version, select "Download" to the right and then choose "Formatted PDF." The page numbers are not official until the Journal assigns the article to a volume and issue number. Do not use the page numbers for official citation purposes.

Published onMay 23, 2024
Puppycide by gavel: How the judiciary uses the police killing of dogs to reinforce justifications for police violence


Police discharge their firearms more often at dogs than humans, and as a profession, kill thousands of dogs every year. The number of dogs killed by police during these encounters has government officials declaring that an “epidemic” is occurring within policing itself, with some commentators referring to this trend as “puppycide” or “canicide.” The purpose of this article is to examine how the judiciary rationalizes canicide, or the police killing of dogs, and the role canicide plays in the justification of police violence. To do this, the article provides a sociolegal and ethnographic content analysis of federal court cases and legal decisions on canicide, specifically focusing on the most important case to date, Brown v. Battle Creek Police Department. Results indicate that the same legal frameworks used to justify police violence against humans are also used to justify police violence against dogs. Furthermore, results suggest that the human-dog social relationship becomes paramount in transforming the dog into a threat to officer safety. Implications of these findings are discussed.

Keywords: Police Violence, Dogs, Canicide, Puppycide, Officer Safety, Sociolegal, Ethnographic Content Analysis, Human-Animal Studies

On December 19, 2016, the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals filed their decision in the case of Brown v Battle Creek Police Department, 844 F.3d 556 (2016). The decision ignited a firestorm of controversy in the court of public opinion because the ruling was interpreted mainly as granting the police a blanket authority to shoot a person’s dog for moving or barking (Bergman, 2017). One such article begins with the sentence, “A police officer can shoot a dog if it barks or moves when the officer enters a home, under a new federal court ruling issued this month” (Tribune Media Wire, 2016). In another article, Kramer (2017) stated, “A recent federal court ruling states that once a police officer has entered a home, he or she may shoot a dog if it barks or moves.” Helping drive this firestorm was the belief for some that the Sixth Circuit’s decision was novel. Yet, dogs have historically been subject to legal violence that resembles the procedures and logic of legal violence often used to punish and police humans.

On December 11, 1952, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that a deputy sheriff had shot two dogs for killing 180 leghorn hens on his brother’s farm, who placed the value of the lost hens at $260 USD. In another incident, a dog warden—who refused to go out on a weekend to pick up an injured dog—advised local police to dispose of the dog; the dog was subsequently shot by “a patrolman and buried at the town dump” (“Stratford to probe,” 1960, p. 16). In Gettysburg, PA, police killed a stray dog and chased other stray dogs out of a neighborhood because they were causing sleepless nights for residents (“Police destroy ‘homeless’ dog,” 1953). A pit bull was shot in the head by New York City Police while it was defending its homeless owner; the dog survived the headshot (Sandoval, McNulty, & Armaghan, 2012). More recently, officers with the Philadelphia Police Department discharged their weapons at five pit bulls after they barked, growled, and allegedly advanced on the officers (6ABC Digital Staff, 2024). Gaffney (2018) found that police shot over 6,000 dogs between 1998 and 2014, and estimates from an official with the Department of Justice place the number of dogs killed by police at 25 to 30 dogs every day (Griffith, 2014). Exacerbating these findings is the lack of data on police violence against dogs. Even the non-governmental databases that document lethal police violence in the United States—The Guardian, The Washington Post, Fatal Encounters, Mapping Police Violence, and a few state databases (Center for Homicide Research, 2017) – fail to document police killings of canines (Bloch & Martinez, 2020b).

This oversight is somewhat perplexing given that research suggests most firearm discharges by police are directed at dogs (Balko, 2013; Bloch & Martinez, 2020b; Sierra-Arévalo, 2024). Bloch and Martínez’s (2020b) study, which is essentially the only one of its kind, found that officers shot more dogs in non-white majority census tracts than they did in white majority tracts. Their findings led them to conclude that police violence against dogs maps to police violence against the marginalized communities that have long experienced police violence in the most disproportionate of ways. Incorporating police shootings of dogs into discussions regarding police violence then opens another, and possibly richer, avenue for understanding how power weaves its way across diverse communities and populations (Bloch & Martínez, 2020b).

Looking at the Sixth Circuit’s decision from this perspective, we see that their decision in Brown (2016) did not so much as produce some new legal commonsense about police violence against dogs as much as it legitimated an already existent legal history of courts upholding the police right to shoot and kill dogs. The lack of attention to police violence against dogs is a problem that can only be rectified with sustained attention to this particular form of state violence. The purpose of this study is to examine how the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Brown v Battle Creek Police Department (2016) uses canicide (the killing of dogs, in this case, by police) to reinforce the legitimacy of police violence. Realizing this goal begins by discussing the role police violence plays in shaping and maintaining the social order so that it is conducive to property and profit before moving on to discussing how canicide fits within policing’s legacy of violence through an examination of the ways that dogs have shaped American society and facilitated the perpetuation of social inequalities.

A Legacy of Violence

Policing’s legacy of violence extends back to "settler colonialism, chattel slavery, and industrialization” (p. 78), whose primary purpose was, and still is, controlling and managing those populations deemed a threat to the existing bourgeois social order (Whitlock & Heitzeg, 2021). Police help construct this social order by maintaining a functioning poverty class through surveillance and arrest (Neocleous, 2000). The purpose of these laws is to protect property and profit (Whitlock & Heitzeg, 2021) by criminalizing idleness (Neocleous, 2000; Dubber, 2004), which in turn provides police the approved justifications for using violence against members of vulnerable populations (Roberts, 2023).  Although vagrancy laws and their progenies protect the bourgeois social order, along with property and profit, by forcing people to work and regulating their freedom of movement (Roberts, 2023), these laws are just a single panel in a tapestry of violence woven on the blue loom of policing. This tapestry also includes elements of racial capitalism (Whitlock & Heitzeg, 2021) as an organizing force of the social order.

Slavery during the early stages of America’s existence fulfilled many functions. First, it was the primary economic engine for many states, especially in the South (Alexender, 2012). Second, it was a method for preventing an alliance between poor Whites and Blacks (Alexander, 2012) through the violent regulation of a slave’s movements and social relationships (Taslitz, 2006). Slaves questioning the authority of Whites to detain and search their bodies and belongings were subjected to beatings, maiming, or even death (Hadden, 2001). States even enacted laws forcing recalcitrant Whites to harm any slave found off a slave owner’s property without proper authorization (Parénti, 2001). Creating a rift between Whites and Blacks who are similarly situated economically ensures that their combined power is neutralized. Third, propertied Whites developed a stratified social order built on the backs of slaves (Alexander, 2012). Although the form police violence takes changes with each new iteration of the racial caste system (e.g., slavery, Jim Crow, and mass incarceration), the underlying goal of this violence remains the same: to ensure the “enduring racial and ethnic divisions in American society” (Smith & Holmes, 2003, p. 1037). Violence is not only central to the maintenance of a racialized caste system, but it forms the very core of the police identity.

One of the goals of academy instruction focuses on disciplining recruits to perceive violence in every movement, utterance, and look by those not wearing blue (Bohrer, 2005; Sierra-Arévalo, 2024). Accomplishing this task begins by instilling in recruits both a desire and the justifications for using violence against the public (Correia & Wall, 2021; Sierra-Arévalo, 2024). Nothing exemplifies this ethos more than the motto nemo me impune lacessit—No one injures me with impunity (Hurtt, 2005). This motto—usually invoked after an officer is injured or killed—reminds officers that they are meant to be untouchable and unforgiving against any adversary, and it acts as a warning to the public that the police hold the reins of violence. This idolization of violence manifests through Grossman and Christensen’s (2012) metaphor of the sheepdog and wolf. For Grossman and Christensen (2012), the sheepdog and wolf are the same in their unrelenting yearning to do violence. The difference, however, is that the sheepdog (i.e., police or military) desires to use violence on behalf of the sheep (i.e., the public) who have an aversion or inability to use violence to protect themselves from an unforgiving, evil adversary (i.e., the wolf). Adherence to this metaphor plays out in the glorification among some police officers of the Marvel character, the Punisher.

Inspired by Chris Kyle and his Navy SEALS unit’s use of the skull to strike fear into those they encountered (Sierra-Arévalo, 2024), the Punisher symbol—a human skull with elongated teeth—adorns various items used by the police from their uniforms and personal items (Correia & Wall, 2021; Sierra-Arévalo, 2024) to department vehicles (Campbell, 2017). The appropriation and distortion of the Punisher’s symbol by police led Gerry Conway, a co-creator of the character, to publicly denounce their use of the symbol (McGuire, 2022). Even Marvel published a single-issue comic addressing the matter. In Marvel’s Punisher (2019), a scene depicts Frank Castle (i.e., the Punisher) encountering two officers who are adoring fans. During the encounter, Frank Castle removes a sticker of his symbol from the officers’ police car and tears it apart. Frank Castle ends the encounter by telling the officers that they took an oath and threatens to harm the officers if they continue down the Punisher’s path (Rosenberg, 2019). The adoration of the Punisher not only symbolizes a yearning to use violence, but it is symptomatic of a culture of militarization that has infected policing itself (Delehanty, Mewhirter, Welch, & Wilks, 2017). That is, police apply the same mindset that military personnel use when performing their duties in a combat zone to any interaction with the public.

The increased use of military-style tactics to perform routine police functions opens the possibility that more people become victims of police violence. Delehanty and colleagues (2017) found that access to military equipment through the 1033 program increases the number of civilians and the rate of dogs killed by officers. Facilitating this culture of militarization is society’s declaration of a war against drugs, terror, gangs, and crime (Correia & Wall, 2021). Labeling something a “war” provides police with the justification to push the envelope regarding the use of violence during an encounter with the public. However, children and dogs usually suffer the consequences of pushing the envelope (Balko, 2013). Police were executing a “no knock” warrant at the home of a suspected meth dealer in 2014 when the flash-bang grenade used by the police landed in an infant’s crib, causing severe injuries to the infant (Stelloh, 2015; see also Kraska & Kappeler, 1997). Likewise, a police raid in 2019 ended with a bullet from an officer’s gun shattering the kneecap of a 12-year-old sitting on the edge of his brother’s bed and complying with every police order (Chiu, 2019). What these various police encounters demonstrate is that violence is not just an aspect of policing; it is policing.

Dogs as Functionaries of Society

Dogs have saturated American life from its founding (Grier, 2006). George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate was well populated with pure and mixed-bred dogs (Grier, 2006). Thomas Jefferson brought 3 French dogs along with his family and his slaves, James Hemings and Sally Hemings, when he returned to America in 1789 (Monticello, n.d.). Even today, Americans are obsessed with the dogs of the famous and powerful, from Paris Hilton’s chihuahua to President Biden’s dogs Champ and Major. Even former President Trump’s lack of a canine companion was deemed newsworthy since he was the first president in a century to not have a dog at the White House (Farzan, 2019). Americans' love affair with dogs does not stop at a who’s who of dog parents. In 2023, dogs accounted for 80% of the 5.36 million pets insured by their parents (Metz & Masterson, 2024), and many dog parents went into debt or altered their lifestyle to accommodate having a dog (Gollub & Lobb, 2024). Dog parents were five times more likely to meet other people from the neighborhood through their companion animals, with approximately one-quarter forming a friendship with the person they meet (Wood, Martin, Christian, Nathan, Lauritsen, Houghton, Kawachi, & McCune, 2015). Dogs often become surrogate children for humans (Veevers, 1985; Flynn, 2000). Dogs, then, are functionaries of American society. Recognizing dogs as functionaries of society depends upon taking seriously the different ways powerholders use dogs to shape the social order.

First, state agents have used, and still use, dogs to terrorize and oppress marginalized populations (Wall, 2016). The Roman Legion used dogs to harass and intimidate their enemies during expeditions (Sloane, 1955). George Washington had the dogs of his slaves hanged to prevent the dogs from aiding in the slaves’ nighttime activities (Wasilczuk, 2023). Bartolome de Las Casas relied on bloodhounds to help subjugate and decimate native populations. The Van Buren administration relied on Cuban bloodhounds in the removal of the Seminoles from Florida (Delise, 2007). Police used dogs to intimidate and harm civil rights protestors in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 (Spratt, 2008), and they are still using dogs as weapons against the public (Wasilczuk, 2023). The judiciary has even transformed dogs into literal weapons on par with firearms (Commonwealth v Tarrant, 1975; People v Kay, 1982; State in Interest of R., 1979). In State v Cook (2004), the court affirmed the conviction of James Cook for assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon – a dog. The ways dogs helped shape society go beyond their use as state weapons. The social relationships between humans and dogs shape both our personal and social identities.

The concept of pedigree that society uses to segregate dogs of value (i.e., purebred) from worthless dogs (i.e., mutts and curs) originated from the aristocratic desire to separate themselves from the lower class or other dangerous classes (Ritvo, 1986). When humans first applied the concept of pedigree to dogs, the term centered on traits and abilities passed from parent to offspring. However, pedigree became shorthand for purity of blood as time passed. As such, physical appearance (i.e., breed) became one marker for demonstrating the purity of blood and social acceptance; this belief was later redirected onto humans, thereby creating an intimate link between the concepts of breed and race (Skabelund, 2008). Approaching this link from a different direction, physical appearance became a marker for categorizing someone as an outcast or dangerous. This is exemplified by some biblical interpretations that associate the mark of Cain with skin color (Junior, 2020). The conflation of breed and race made it easier to transpose undesirable traits across species through the human-dog relationship, transforming humans and dogs into social pariahs if either one represents a population or geographical space deemed dangerous. For instance, pit bulls are considered as dangerous in part because they represent the inner city (Harding, 2010), gangs (Maher & Pierpoint, 2011), the drug trade (Junod, 2014), and even blackness (Linder, 2018; Nair, 2016). Weaver (2013) refers to this co-shaping of our identities as becoming in kind, and it occurs within unseen spaces between humans and dogs.

Third, dogs help reinforce the heteronormative and patriarchal underpinnings of the social order. Studies from Australia and the West Indies reveal that men, more so than women, equate a male dog’s sexuality to that of a human and that neutering a male dog emasculates him (Blackshaw & Day, 1994; Fielding, Samuels, & Mather, 2002). Following Weaver’s (2013) concept of becoming in kind, we see that the dog is transformed into an extension of the human male’s sexual prowess and desires. Russell (1988) recounts the experience of one female respondent who disclosed that a man had once suggested to her that they “put a muzzle on the dog, and [she] put some sort of stuff on [her] vagina so that the dog would lick there” (p. 126). Lynda Lovelace (1980), in her book Ordeal, recalls her experience of being forced to have sexual intercourse with a dog so her husband and two other men could film the encounter. After the scene was over, the men praised the dog without giving any thought to Lynda’s experience or emotional state. This connection between a dog’s sexual abilities and human sexual desires becomes another avenue through which a patriarchal social order dehumanizes and oppresses women. As such, the neutering of a male dog becomes the symbolic castration of the human male.

Finally, a social relationship sui generis exists between humans and dogs. The strength of this relationship allows us to judge the character of strangers based on the dog’s reactions. Parish-Plass (2008) found that animals act as an “icebreaker” between an abused child and their therapist: “When the child observes the authentic, positive, nurturing way the therapist relates to the animals, the child often perceives the therapist in a more positive light and feels less threatened” (p. 13). This relationship also partially explains why humans experience the same grieving process when their animal companion dies that they do after the loss of a human companion (Cordaro, 2012; Planchon, Templer, Stokes, & Keller, 2002). Even the carceral state exploits this social relationship to reinforce the police as the ultimate authority over violence. In many canicide incidents, the dog’s human family is present when the police kill the dog (see Billingsley v Hunter, 2015; Brown v Battle Creek Police Dept., 2016; Moore v Town of Erie, 2013; Reyes v City of Austin, 2017). Some encounters involve the police forcing the dog’s family to remain near (San Jose Charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club v City of San Jose; P.M. v Bolinger, 2011) or hold their dying companion (Sandoval v Las Vegas Metro. Police Dept., 2014) while the officers secure the location for their safety. From these examples alone, we see that the carceral state incorporates dogs into the same structures that perpetuate the criminalization and marginalization of vulnerable communities (Bloch & Martinez, 2020a; Dayan, 2016). Police violence, however, does not exist without a legal framework ensuring its survival.

The current study extends our knowledge of canicide and police violence by examining federal judicial decisions concerning canicide to determine if a similar parallelity exists within the judiciary. Of particular interest are the legal categories or logic, such as officer safety, that the court uses to protect officers from the consequences of their actions during a police-public encounter. This examination of federal cases will rely on ethnographic content analysis since the method focuses on a document's themes, frames, and discourses to illuminate latent social meanings and hidden power structures within the communication process (Altheide, 1996). This focus also allows for the tracking of discourse across different documents (Altheide, 1996) since narratives often involve “relations between relations” (Fairclough, 2013, p. 3). As a representation of social life, court documents can alert us to those nuances within social life that regulate social interaction by what is included and excluded from the communication process.


Data for the current study comes from federal judicial decisions concerning the killing of dogs by police. I focus on judicial cases to analyze this power of the law because, through these written decisions, the judiciary communicates to courts the current state of the law regarding a specific legal topic. It is also in these written decisions that the judiciary lays out the reasoning for its decision and any concurring or dissenting opinions. Furthermore, I focus on federal judicial cases because legal decisions made at the federal level are binding on the lower courts that fall within the deciding court’s geographical jurisdiction (The Writing Center at Georgetown University Law Center, 2017), with decisions from the United States Supreme Court governing the policies and practices of all other courts in the nation.

I used Nexis Uni (formerly Lexis Nexis) to locate the federal judicial decisions for the current study. Beginning with Brown v Battle Creek Police Department (2016), I conducted multiple readthroughs to understand the social meanings embedded within the Sixth Circuit’s decision. Overall, these readthroughs of Brown (2016) indicated that the dogs’ barking was the vocal representation of the dogs’ resistance to the officers’ authority. It was this resistance that transformed the dogs into threats to the officers’ safety. Using the Shepard’s Citations tool in Nexis Uni— a method for tracing a case’s history and vetting if the case is citable as legal precedent (Danner, 2007)— allowed  me to locate other federal judicial decisions relating to canicide. Judicial decisions that did not involve officers shooting dogs (fatally or nonfatally) were excluded from analysis, along with cases whose subsequent appellate history overruled the original decision. I used the overruling decision for these cases unless a case was overruled only in part. If the part that was overruled does not concern the police shooting the dog(s), thereby leaving the court’s decision regarding canicide intact, then the case was included in the study.

Overview of Brown v Battle Creek Police Department

Officers with the Battle Creek Police Department were investigating Vincent Jones, who allegedly lived with Danielle Nesbitt (the mother of his daughter), Ms. Nesbitt’s mother (Cheryl Brown), and another gentleman by the name of Mark Brown (Brown v Battle Creek Police Department, 2016). The police requested and obtained a search warrant for the home after a trash pull indicated that marijuana and cocaine may be present on the premises, along with mail indicating that Vincent Jones may reside there. Shortly after obtaining the search warrant, officers began planning a raid on the Brown residence. During the operation’s planning stage, the city’s Emergency Response Team (ERT) was included in the search due to Jones’ criminal history, his gang affiliation, and his potential for violence. Other factors considered during the planning stage include the possibility of children and/or dogs being at home when officers arrive. While driving to Ms. Nesbit’s house, the raid team received information that Vincent Jones was detained while in possession of heroin and that a dog was in the home’s backyard. Officer Case testified that they continued with the raid because of the high likelihood that gang members associated with Vincent Jones may still be at the home (Brown v Battle Creek Police Department, 2016).

When the officers arrived, Mark Brown was walking to his car and was subsequently detained and informed about the search warrant. Although Mr. Brown offered the police a key to the home, they refused because he “could have given the officers the wrong set of keys...[which] could have given somebody in the house the opportunity to destroy the drugs or time to prepare to attack or shoot the officers as they entered the residence” (Brown v Battle Creek Police Department, 2016, p. 575). Furthermore, two dogs were visible in the front window while the raid team headed to the front door. Officer Klein, who led the raid, testified that the dogs were “‘digging and pawing’ and ‘jumping’ at the window” (p. 562). Approximately 15 seconds after breaking the door down and entering the home, the police shot one of the dogs—nonfatally—while the other dog ran to the basement. The injured dog escaped from the entry team and also made its way to the basement.

Officers followed the injured dog’s path toward the basement, where they claimed that it “turned towards them and started barking again” (p. 563). Two more shots were fired, which subsequently killed the dog. The dog that ran to the basement during the breach of the front door was shot even though it did not show any signs of aggression other than barking at the officers. According to the police, the second dog presented a threat because it hindered the officers from “safely” searching for possible gang members in the basement. The first shot by an officer on the raid team was nonfatal, as was the second shot from a different officer; the fatal shot came from a third officer who fired to “put her out of her misery” (p. 563). Overall, the Sixth Circuit concluded that the officers’ actions were reasonable because the dogs’ behavior and Jones’ criminal history jeopardized officer safety. The following findings emerged by taking seriously that dogs are functionaries of society and are a necessary component for the reproduction of the social order.

Officer Safety

Officer safety is perhaps the most foundational legal justification for police violence. Responding to the question regarding which behaviors the dogs were displaying that led Officer Klein to fear for his safety and the safety of his fellow officers, Officer Klein responded:

[it was the] [d]eep aggressive barking, consistent barking, not just one or two barks, but steady, aggressive. Lunging towards the windows as we made our approach. The dog moving from the couch directly to the front door after it was breached. The fact that the same dog even after it was shot stood at the bottom of the stairs and turned towards me, continuing to bark aggressively in the same manner, and then the second dog, even after that happened, after firing three rounds at the first dog, the second dog turning, pausing as it was moving across the basement, it stopped and turned and was barking (Brown v Battle Creek Police Dept., 2016, p. 569).

 On the surface, Officer Klein’s testimony describes an intense and chaotic situation filled with uncertainties. Delving deeper, one sees that Officer Klein uses the template provided by the United States Supreme Court’s (hereinafter, the Court) decision in Graham v Connor (1989) to justify virtually any police use of force. In that decision, the Court prohibited judges from using hindsight when determining the reasonableness of an officer’s use of force. It ordered them to consider that “police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments — in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving — about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation” (p. 397). Not only does Officer Klein’s testimony follow closely with the Court’s Graham (1989) verbiage, but it reinforces the perception that officers always respond to the other party's behavior and never instigate or escalate a situation. The officers’ breaking into Ms. Nesbit’s home was not a factor in the dogs’ behavior. Further analysis of the Sixth Circuit’s decision reveals other key pillars the judiciary uses for upholding police violence.

First, the dog’s ability to bite and inflict harm provides a ready-made justification for officers since it is rooted in the human fear of becoming prey (Delise, 2007; Wasilczuk, 2023). This ability to bite also means the dog is always “armed,” and the dogs’ barking symbolizes their underlying intentions to bite. Accepting the police’s and the Sixth Circuit’s position that barking equates to aggressive intentions is problematic because dogs bark if they are fearful, as a warning, or due to overstimulation (Stephens-Lewis, Johnson, Turley, Naydorf-Hannis, Scurlock-Evans, & Schenke, 2022). It is highly likely that the dogs were experiencing all three during the raid. Furthermore, the social meanings we attach to the dog’s bark define its purpose. The dog’s behavior, including barking, must adhere to societal standards of acceptability, which are viewed through a human-centered lens (Stephens-Lewis et al., 2022). Therefore, the dog’s bark is predictive of aggression, fearfulness, or overstimulation and is a social construct dependent on how those in power wish to define the behavior.

Second, the officer’s testimony demonstrates how the judiciary’s reliance on the unknown becomes foundational to the existence of police violence. When the Court enshrined officer safety into the Fourth Amendment’s framework via Graham v Connor (1989), it included the unknown as an aspect of the calculus that lower courts must use by requiring them to account for the uncertainty associated with the police-public encounter. The judicial construction of the unknown as threatening officer safety finds precedent in Terry v Ohio (1968). In that case, the Court concluded that an officer, after fearing for their safety, which is not dispelled by the other person’s behavior or answers, is “entitled for the protection of himself [the officer] and others in the area to conduct a carefully limited search of the outer clothing of such persons in an attempt to discover weapons which might be used to assault him” (p. 30). The impact of the unknown (i.e., uncertain) element in police-public encounters becomes more poignant when viewed through the lens of the police mantra “It’s better to be tried by twelve than carried by six” (Sierra-Arévalo, 2024, p. 41). This mantra conditions officers to believe that it is better to kill someone who may have a weapon, even if the officer is mistaken than to chance being killed themselves. So far, we have discussed the association between the unknown and officer safety about the possibility of a weapon being present. Yet, the unknown still guides an officer’s decision-making throughout the police-public encounter, even when officers know the other party is armed; this time, it is the unknown regarding the other party’s intentions.

Academy training includes many scenarios that recruits must successfully pass to become police officers. One such scenario involves an occupant’s gun being visible during a mock traffic stop (Sierra-Arévalo, 2024). The recruit, who is not informed about the gun’s presence before the traffic stop, must notice and take control of it to pass the scenario successfully. Failure to notice the gun results in the recruit’s figurative death. As one instructor stated, “If he doesn’t see the gun when he walks back to his car, you get out, and you fucking murder him” (Sierra-Arévalo, 2024, p. 42). This training scenario reinforces the belief that anyone not wearing blue, no matter how congenial or what they tell the officer, is always a threat to officer safety. This belief likely facilitated the death of Philando Castile in 2016. The brief exchange between Officer Yanez and Mr. Castile indicates that Mr. Castille complied with the officer’s commands and even informed him of a weapon in the car; however, Officer Yanez assumed Mr. Castile’s “movements” showed intent to reach for the weapon even though Mr. Castile verbally indicated to the contrary (Ali, 2017). Likewise, the judiciary consistently holds that dogs “contain a latent threat to human safety” (i.e., the ability to bite), and they “can be unpredictable both in their actions and in the signals they send” (P.M. v Bolinger, 2011, p. 20). As such, the police do not have to wait and discover a dog’s true intentions before using deadly force to protect themselves from a possible attack (Powell v Johnson, 2012; Warboys v Proulx, 2004). The Sixth Circuit’s decision in Brown (2016) reinforces academy training that teaches officers to assume that everyone they encounter, including dogs, intends to harm them. Another pillar of police violence highlighted by the Sixth Circuit’s decision is the transformation of benign behaviors into threats against officer safety.

 Passive Resistance as a Threat

Recall that Officer Klein’s testimony began with the dogs’ bark and not their alleged physical aggression (i.e., lunging): “[it was the] [d]eep aggressive barking, consistent barking, not just one or two barks, but steady, aggressive.” Officer Klein mentioning barking before lunging is important because the positioning of words in a sentence indicates the words’ importance for understanding and driving the story (Machin & Mayr, 2013). Therefore, highlighting the dogs’ barking before highlighting their lunging indicates that it is not the physical act of lunging that is threatening but rather the perceived non-submission (i.e., passive resistance) to the officers’ authority. Returning to Graham (1989) for a bit, the Court’s decision, in that case, broadened the powers of police to use force for any behavior deemed as non-submissive or potentially threatening (Ristroph, 2017). Passive resistance operates on “the principle that disobedience is not to be tolerated, and force is the logical result of any resistance” (Ristroph, 2017, p. 1209), and police departments and states have annexed this new terrain and incorporated passive resistance into their policies and laws.

The Charlottesville Police Department (2021) defines passive resistance as any “Nonviolent opposition to authority or refusal to cooperate with legal or lawful requirements” (p. 3; emphasis added). Florida State University Police (2020) defines passive resistance as “a subject’s verbal and/or physical refusal to comply with an officer’s lawful direction, causing the officer to use physical techniques to establish control” (p. 11; emphasis added). This exact formulation for constructing passive resistance also holds for the policies of the Delaware State Police (2020) and the St. Augustine Police Department (2019). Regarding state laws, Nevada state law (199.280) makes it a misdemeanor for any “person who, in any case, or under any circumstances not otherwise specially provided for, willfully resists, delays or obstructs a public officer in discharging or attempting to discharge any legal duty of his or her office.” This same format is followed by other states, such as North Carolina, Vermont, Delaware, Montana, and Florida. Although these statutes are slightly more specific in which behaviors fall under the category of passive resistance than the policies enacted by the police, they are still vague enough to leave the decision to the officer’s discretion. The Sixth Circuit’s Brown (2016) decision is not unique in its reliance on the dogs’ passive resistance to barking as indicative of an imminent threat.

It has been settled that the judiciary may take into consideration when determining the reasonableness of an officer’s actions, “the demeanor of the dog at the time of the incident, such as whether it appeared aggressive by barking and snarling” (Newman v City of Fresno, 2018, p. 10). In Carroll v County of Monroe (2013), a deputy feared for his safety when confronted with a dog that was “growling, barking, and quickly and aggressively approaching him” (p. 650; emphasis added). In Azevedo v City of Fresno (2011), an officer shot at and missed a dog who “immediately began to growl and bark, and aggressively advanced on [the officer]” (p. 4) after the officer had announced his presence; a U.S. District Court in Billingsley v Hunter (2015) found that “the uncontradicted facts show…that once the dog, barking loudly and jumping up on the screen door, escaped the house, the dog approached [the officer] in an aggressive manner…and received gunshot wounds to the front of his body” (pp. 12-13). Again, we see the physically resistant act of moving toward the officer placed behind the passive resistant acts of growling and barking. Finally, an officer’s ride-along heard a suspect’s dog barking while it advanced on him and the officer. This witness account helped support the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan's decision to find the officer’s shooting of the dog as reasonable even though the officer himself did not hear the barking (Bateman v Driggett, 2012). Even when the physical resistant act precedes the passive resistant act, the passive resistance becomes a means to enhance the severity of the physical resistance.

In Esterson v Broward County Sherriff’s Department (2010), a court decided that a Broward County deputy’s shooting of a dog was reasonable because the deputy—responding to a call about a barking dog—was “confronted by an aggressive dog with a territorial bark” (p. 12). Another officer’s shooting of a dog was deemed reasonable because “several large dogs ran out aggressively charging, barking and growling” at him and another officer (Romero v Bexar County, 2014, p. 661). The purpose of classifying passive resistance (e.g., barking) as threatening, then, is to provide the police with legal justification for using violence against non-violent resistance. This power to define specific behaviors as threatening, thereby justifying violence, finds sanctuary within the courts as well. That is, the judiciary gatekeepers who hold the power to construct the narrative upon which their decision is based.

Gatekeeping Police Violence

Legitimizing who has the authority to establish the facts of a shooting occurs through the concept of a “genuine issue of material fact.” The term “genuine issue of material fact” refers to the existence of a dispute that requires “a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial” (First Nat. Bank of Ariz. v Cities Service Co., 1968, p. 289). The police, and by extension the government, have a stake in which version of events the judiciary accepts as accurate because government officials are only responsible for those actions that violate clearly established “bright lines” (Maciariello v Sumner, 1992, p. 298). Although there is “a conflict of self-serving statements” (p. 341) from both human sides when canicide occurs (Jones v Lopez, 2017), this conflict is usually resolved in favor of the government itself and justified on the basis that the non-government party failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact.

In Brown (2016), the Sixth Circuit concluded that the Plaintiffs failed to provide evidence forming a genuine issue of material fact that counters the officers’ testimonies regarding their fear for their safety upon entering the residence with the dogs. The Sixth Circuit’s conclusion regarding the discrepancies between Mark Brown’s version of events and those of the officers is problematic because “Officer Sutherland placed Mark Brown in handcuffs” (p. 562) and detained him while the other officers executed the warrant. At no point did either the Sixth Circuit itself or through officer testimony indicate that Mark Brown was allowed inside after being detained by Officer Sutherland. The Sixth Circuit, through a verbal sleight of hand, uses Mr. Brown’s temporary detention outside the home with Officer Sutherland as justification for dismissing his version of the dogs’ behaviors. That is, Mr. Brown was not actively present with the officers when the dogs were shot; therefore, he does not have a first-hand account to refute the officers’ testimonies. Even Mr. Brown’s testimony from his vantage point looking through the window regarding the timing between the officers’ entry and the shooting, as well as whether the dogs were barking, is not sufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact:

The disputes as to the timing of the first shots and the barking of the dogs are immaterial to the issue of whether the officers' use of force was reasonable because the testimony that the dogs threatened the officers' safety was unrebutted (p. 570).

 Yet, the officers’ justification for killing the dogs is based in part on the dogs’ barking at them.

Again, the Sixth Circuit does not create a unique precedent when it relies on the contesting party not being present when the shooting occurred to justify accepting the government’s version of events. In McCarthy v Kootenai County (2009), a United States District Court stated, “Plaintiffs maintain the shooting of the dog was not reasonable. However, the Plaintiffs did not observe the dogs interacting with the officer and this statement alone cannot create a genuine issue of material fact” (p. 16). The judiciary’s reluctance to provide guidelines for what constitutes evidence sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact is exacerbating this power imbalance. The only guideline provided by the judiciary is that a “genuine issue of material fact exists when there is sufficient evidence for a trier of fact to find for the non-moving party” with the caveat that a “‘mere scintilla’ of evidence” (Brown v Battle Creek Police Dept., 2016, p. 565) is not sufficient to create such a dispute.

The vagueness of this requirement provides the judiciary with sufficient leeway to dismiss claims challenging the government’s stance regardless of the evidence presented. A sentence in footnote 3 of the Esterson (2010) decision states, “In fact, it is Plaintiffs who offer no evidence to challenge the evidence that Fred threatened [the deputy’s] life” (pp. 12-13). In Powell v Johnson (2012), a United States District Court declared that “Plaintiffs contend that Blu [the dog] was ‘not in attack mode,’ but the record is devoid of evidence to support that assertion” (p. 876). Likewise, a United States District Court in Viilo v City of Milwaukee (2008) dismissed Ms. Villo’s counterclaims to the official one put forward by police because she provided “no discussion or citation to evidence contradicting that this is what the officers did or suggest that that there was a way for the officers to avoid the dog” (p. 830, footnote 3). A similar excuse was used in Jones v Lopez (2017): “It is the Plaintiffs who offer no evidence to challenge the evidence that Fred threatened Deputy Damiano’s life” (p. 12, footnote 4). Again, the “evidence” presented by officers in these cases is nothing more than their sworn testimony: “the unrebutted fact that Officer Klein said the large brown pit bull lunged at him before he shot her would still establish that his actions were reasonable” (Brown v Battle Creek Police Dept., 2016, p. 570; emphasis added). Yet, an officer's authority to establish a case's facts may be suspended if those facts are exculpatory.

Providing testimony from various officers of the Battle Creek Police Department, the Plaintiffs in Brown (2016) argued that a custom existed in the Battle Creek Police Department that encouraged the shooting of animals via a tally system. According to one officer’s testimony, “it was very common that officers would talk about [how many animals they shot]’ and that he could not identify individual officers who did this because ‘there were so many of them just bragging about it’” (Brown v Battle Creek Police Dept., 2016, p. 574). The Sixth Circuit refused to accept this as evidence of a “custom or policy” because the “ [u]nsubstantiated testimony from a few officers generally describing the tally system while not providing details about the number of officers participating in it or the number of shootings tallied is neither persuasive nor meaningful” (Brown v Battle Creek Police Dept., 2016, p. 575). The Sixth Circuit’s contradictory stance on officer testimony may appear strange initially. Still, it is a continuation of a judiciary custom for narrowing the list of those individuals with the authority to establish the official narrative of the shooting—that is, authorized narrators.

We see that the judiciary protects the sacredness of officer safety by gatekeeping who has the authority (i.e., the power) to define the official narrative of a canicide incident by broadening or narrowing the list of authorized narrators relative to where the social system stands in the dispute. The judiciary broadened the list of authorized narrators by declaring that human experience and common sense were the guiding framework when declining to establish a bright line restricting the discretion of the police. Yet, the Court in Graham (1989) restricted itself and all other courts to a rigid set of parameters when requiring judges to place themselves in the proverbial shoes of the officer when deciding the use of force cases. Gatekeeping the power to determine who has the authority to narrate police killings tips the scales in the police’s favor since it is the police version of events upon which the judiciary bases its determination regarding the reasonableness of an officer’s actions. A final pillar upholding police violence relies on the social relationships established between humans and dogs to transfer characteristics of dangerousness from one species to the other.

Transference of “Dangerousness” and Spoiled Identity

The Sixth Circuit continually relied on Vincent Jones’ “criminal history, known gang affiliations, possession and use of firearms, and possible possession of cocaine and heroin he was alleged to be distributing out of the residence” (Brown v Battle Creek Police Department, 2016, p. 561) as justification for the reasonableness of the officers’ killing of the dogs. These facts even lead off the Sixth Circuit’s overall conclusion, even before the dogs’ alleged behaviors of lunging and barking:

Jones' criminal history, gang affiliations, the types of drugs he was suspected of distributing, the fact that the officers had no time to plan for the dogs, in addition to the officers' unrebutted testimony that the dogs either lunged or were barking aggressively at the officers, the nature and size of the dogs, the fact that the dogs were unleashed and loose in a small residence, all culminate into a finding that the officers acted reasonably when they shot and killed the two dogs (Brown v Battle Creek Police Dept., 2016, p. 572).


Although gang members may use dogs for drug-related activities or as quasi-weapons (Harding, 2010), they do not join gangs, carry or use weapons, or knowingly distribute drugs throughout a neighborhood. Highlighting Jones’ criminal history and activities allows the Sixth Circuit to tap into an age-old practice of transferring the dangerousness of the human onto the dog and vice versa, thereby creating a feedback loop that further reinforces the dangerousness of both human and dog (Boisseron, 2015). This connection is evidenced by the Sixth Circuit’s coded language, “the nature and size of the dogs” (Brown v Battle Creek Police Department, 2016, p. 572; emphasis added). Here, the Sixth Circuit uses the word nature instead of breed—both dogs were pit bulls—to reinforce a narrative that pit bulls are inherently dangerous and anyone who has them as companions is likewise dangerous. The Sixth Circuit’s use of “nature" subtly racializes the dogs as well.

As stated earlier, the pit bull has become synonymous with the urban (Harding, 2010; Junod, 2014; Maher & Pierpoint, 2011) and blackness (Linder, 2018; Nair, 2016). Tarver (2014), expanding on Foucault’s concept of heredity, argues that a contagion effect (i.e., heredity by association) exists in which humans and pit bulls transfer their pariah status to the other through their mutual association (see also Alonso-Recarte, 2020; Harding, 2010). Similar to how “blackness defines the criminal” (Alexander, 2012, p. 199), the pit bull moniker defines a dog as a member of a deviant breed (Twining, Arluke, & Patronek, 2000). This stigma allows humans to commit atrocities against any dog, given the pit bull moniker, the same way the label criminal allows society to justify police violence against marginalized populations (Nair, 2016). Harking back to the vagrancy laws and slave laws of yesteryear, the Sixth Circuit decision transforms the dogs in Brown (2016) into traditional targets of the police. Nair (2016) recounts an incident in which a slave named Ball had to quiet his dog, Trueman, so that the person whipping Ball would not harm the dog for defending his companion. In the same way that those whipping Ball perceived Trueman as a slave dog and any resistance as threatening to the whipper, it is the social perception of Jones’ shameful status as a criminal that influences the judiciary’s perception of the Brown’s dogs as criminal and their barking as aggressive. Without these cultural scripts, it is difficult to establish that the officers feared for their safety. The pit bull becomes, for all intents and purposes, the Black Man’s dog in the eyes of society (Linder, 2018).


Canicide affects more people than just those who lost a dog and those who took the dog’s life. It brings to light an issue that should not be normalized or overlooked too quickly, even as it might seem like a commonsense point: the legal justification of canicide is premised on, or at least depends on, the very same legal categories the law turns too in the justification of police violence against human subjects. In other words, both police violence against human “threats” and non-human “threats” such as dogs is justified in similar terms due to what Neocleous (2000) calls a “permissive structure of the law,” which grants police what is essentially an unlimited discretionary power over life and death. Understanding the function of canicide in the reproduction of the social order requires delving deeper into the social relationship between the police, the public, and dogs.

First, we need to know more about officers' decision-making process when it comes to encounters with dogs. Regarding humans, Correll, Park, Judd, Wittenbrink, Sadler, and Keesee (2007) examined whether police officers were better at discerning armed suspects from unarmed suspects compared to non-law enforcement professionals. Results from Correll and colleagues (2007) study demonstrate that both officers and the non-law enforcement participants were able to make quicker decisions when cultural stereotypes were meet—that is, Black as threatening and White as nonthreatening (see also, Correll, Urland, & Ito, 2006; Kleider, Parrott, & King, 2010; Ma & Correll, 2011; Nieuwenhuys, Savelsbergh, & Oudejans, 2012). Examining these same decision-making processes from a canicide lens directs us to ask if officers are quicker to shoot dog breeds labeled as “dangerous” than dog breeds deemed “safe.”

Second, there may be an element of post-traumatic stress associated with canicide. Bor, Venkataramani, Williams, and Tsai (2018) found that mental health declines the more exposure one has to police killings, “specifically, estimates imply that police killings of unarmed black Americans could contribute…55 million…excess poor mental health days per year among black American adults in the USA” (p. 308). Approaching Bor and colleagues’ (2018) findings from the lens of canicide leads us to ask, what are the lasting psychological effects on adults and youth who watch their companion animal slowly die while police secure the location? Broadening this question, quantitative criminology can provide insight into how marginalized populations experience police violence via their companion animals.

In 1897, the United States Supreme Court declared that dogs exist somewhere “between animals feræ naturæ in which, until killed or subdued, there is no property, and domestic animals, in which the right of property is perfect and complete” (Sentell v New Orleans and Carrollton R. Co., 1897, p. 701). The Court declared that existing between these two worlds meant the dog’s existence ebbs and flows with the legislature's will. This categorization of dogs by the Court opens a rich vein of research examining how specific populations in America who live within a similar liminal space experience police violence against both humans and dogs. For instance, animal control officers exist within a perpetual liminal space where the promotion of animal welfare meets the policing power of the state (Animal Care Center of NYC, 2018; Los Angeles County Animal Care and Control, 2017). Qualitative research is optimally positioned to examine how individuals working as animal control officers navigate their dual identities as an animal advocate focused on preventing harm and violence and as a part of the state’s policing apparatus, which relies heavily on the use of violence, especially in instances of canicide. Relatedly, qualitative research can better understand how the thin blue line and the blue wall of silence regulate policing by examining how “mainstream” officers perceive their colleagues who investigate harm against animals.

Third, many police academies train cadets in the “ask, tell, make” method even though it was initially instituted to help one class of police cadets (Wolf, 2019). The “Ask, Tell, Make” method trains police cadets to attempt to gain compliance through a request before telling (i.e., ordering) the individual to comply. The officer then physically makes the individual comply if the first two attempts fail. The problem with this method, according to Wolf (2019), is that it forces police tactics into a one-size-fits-all approach regardless of the circumstances surrounding the police-citizen encounter. This “Ask, Tell, Make” approach to policing also instills a belief that the officer must control every situation, including everyone present (Cooper, 2020). Furthermore, the paramilitary structure of policing instills the belief that commands must be followed without explanation or question (Waters & Ussery, 2007). Any slight deviation justifies an officer using deadly force. In Mesa, Arizona, Officer Brailsford killed Daniel Shaver while he crawled on the floor per the officers’ commands because Mr. Shaver reached to pull up his basketball shorts (Ortiz, 2019). According to Officer Brailsford, Shaver’s reaching toward his shorts resembled someone reaching for a weapon. The current study shows that this same mentality extends to canines as well. Except the make portion of this process for canines involves using deadly force.

The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey partially justified the shooting of a dog by an officer as reasonable because the dog “ignored [the officer’s] commands to ‘stop’ and ‘heel’” (Petitt v New Jersey, 2011, p. 20). In McCarthy v Kootenai County (2009), the shooting of a dog was declared reasonable because “[t]he officer indicated that he felt threatened by the two attacking dogs and his verbal commands did not cause the dogs to stop attacking” (pp. 15-16; emphasis added). A United States District Court in Texas did not criticize the police chief’s attempt to yell at a dog to get its attention and gain compliance (Kinchloe v Caudle, 2009). In these instances, the judiciary does not suggest that dogs understand or speak English; instead, the judiciary uses the dog’s body as a conduit for transmitting and reinforcing the belief of compliance without question.

Finally, the Sixth Circuit’s decision highlights the normalization of the military mindset infecting many officers today has found its way into judicial decision-making. Using the Browns’ home and surrounding property as metaphors for a nation and its borders, we see that the Sixth Circuit constructs the Brown’s nation and those living within its border— human and canine— as threatening to the established social order. The police, like a colonizing army, enter the land and assert their dominance over the land’s current occupants. Viewing police violence in this manner shows us that the resistant dog (i.e., barking) to the officer’s presence is not aggressive; it is defensive. Through this military mindset, the dogs are transformed into enemy sentinels, or even armaments, protecting insurgents (i.e., gang members) and, therefore, must be eliminated. This transformation occurs because police are not allowed to be perceived as threats in our society, regardless of species.


Alexander, M. (2012). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York: The New Press.

Ali, S. S. (2017). Officer who shot Philando Castile acquitted of manslaughter charges. NBC News.

Alonso-Recarte, C. (2020). Pit bulls and dogfighting as symbols of masculinity in hip hop culture. Men and Masculinities, 23(5), 852-871.

Altheide, D. L. (1996). Qualitative media analysis. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Animal Care Centers of NYC (n.d.). Field Services. Retrieved from

Balko, R. (2013). Rise of the warrior cop: The militarization of America’s police force. New York, NY: Hatchette Book Group.

Bergman, P. I. (2017). Brown v Battle Creek Police Department: Highlighting the controversial intersection of man’s best friend, qualified immunity, and the Fourth Amendment. University of Cincinnati Law Review.

Blackshaw, J. K., & Day, C. (1994). Attitudes of dog owners to neutering pets: demographic data and effects of owner attitudes. Australian Veterinary Journal, 71, 113-116.

Bloch, M., & Martínez, D. E. (2020a). Cops are also shooting pets in black and brown communities at much higher rates. Slate.

Bloch, M., & Martínez, D. E. (2020b). Canicide by cop: A geographical analysis of canine killings by police in Los Angeles. Geoforum, 111, 142-154.

Bohrer, S. (2005). After firing the shots, what happens. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 74(9), 8-13.

Boisseron, B. (2015). Afro-dog. Transition, 118, pp. 15-31.

Bor, J., Venkataramani, A. S., Williams, D. R., & Tsai, A. C. (2018). Police killings and their spillover effects on the mental health of black Americans: A population-based, quasi-experimental study. The Lancet, 392, 302-310.

Campbell, A. (2017). Kentucky police stop using ‘Punisher’ logo after realizing what it means. Huffpost.

Center for Homicide Research (2017). Police shootings database. Retrieved from

Charlottesville Police Department (2021). Response to resistance. General Order 537.00. Retrieved from

Chiu, A. (2019). ‘Mom, they shot me’: Unarmed 12-year-old maimed in bed during SWAT raid. The Washington Post.

Cooper, F. (2020). Cop fragility and Blue Lives Matter. University of Illinois Law Review, 2020(2), 621-662.

Cordaro, M. (2012). Pet loss and disenfranchised grief: Implications for mental health counseling practice. Journal of Mental Health Counseling, 34(4), 283-394.

Correia, D., & Wall, T. (2018). Police: A field guide. New York: Verso Publishing.

Correll, J., Park, B., Judd, C. M., Wittenbrink, B., Sadler, M. S., & Keesee, T. (2007). Across the thin blue line: Police officers and racial bias in the decision to shoot. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 6, 1006-1023.

Correll, J., Urland, G. R., & Ito, T. A. (2006). Event-related potentials and the decision to shoot: The role of threat perception and cognitive control. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 120-128.

Danner, R. A. (2007). Legal information and the development of American law: Writings on the form and structure of the published law. Law Library Journal, 99, 193-227.

Delaware State Police (2020). Response to resistance. Retrieved from

Delehanty, C., Mewhirter, J., Welch, R., & Wilks, J. (2017). Militarization and police violence: The case of the 1033 program. Research & Politics, 4(2), 1-7.

Delise, K. (2007). The pit bull placebo: The media, myths and politics of canine aggression. Ramsey, NJ: Anubis Publishing.

Dubber, M. D. (2004). “The power to govern men and things”: Patriarchal origins of police power in American law. Buffalo Law Review, 52(4), 1277-1346.

Fairclough, N. (2013). Critical discourse analysis: The critical study of language (2nd). New York:  Routledge.

Farzan, A. N. (2019). Trump, the first president in a century with no dog explains why: ‘I don’t have any time.’ The Washington Post.

Fielding, W. J., Samuels, D., & Mather, J. (2002). Attitudes and actions of West Indian dog owners towards neutering their animals: A gender issue? Anthrozoos, 15, 206-226.

Florida State University Police Department (2020). Response to resistance. General Order 601.

Flynn, C. P. (2000). Battered women and their animal companions: Symbolic interaction between human and nonhuman animals. Society and Animals, 8, 99-127.

Gaffney, G. (2018). 6,083 dogs shot and killed: The unknown puppycide epidemic in America. Animal Law, 24(1), 197-220.

Gollub, H., & Lobb, J. (2024). Survey: 91% of dog owners have experienced financial stress over the cost of pet ownership. USA Today.

Grier, K. C. (2006). Pets in America: A history. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

Griffith, D. (2014). Can police stop killing dogs? Police Magazine.

Grossman, D., & Christensen, L. (2012). On combat: The psychology and physiology of deadly conflict in war and in peace. BookBaby. Kindle Edition.

Hadden, S. (2001). Slave patrols: Law and violence in Virginia and the Carolinas. Harvard University Press.

Harding, S. (2010). ‘Status dogs’ and gangs. Safer Communities, 9(1), 30-35.

Hurtt, H.L. (2005). Message from Chief Harold L. Hurtt. Retrieved from

Junior, N. (2020). The mark of Cain and white violence. Journal of Biblical Literature, 139(4), 661-673.

Junod, T. (2014). The state of the American dog. Esquire.

Kleider, H. M., Parrott, D. J., & King, T. Z. (2010). Shooting behavior: How working memory and negative emotionality influence police officer shoot decisions. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(5), 707-717.

Kramer, P. (2017). A federal appellate court ruled that police officers can shoot a dog if it moves.

Kraska, P. B. (2007). Militarization and policing—Its relevance to 21st century police. Policing, 1(4), 501-513.

Kraska, P. B., & Kappeler, V. E. (1997). Militarizing American police: The rise and normalization of paramilitary units. Social Problems, 44(1), 1-18.

Linder, A. (2018). The black man's dog: The social context of breed specific legislation. Animal Law, 25(1), 51-74.

Los Angeles Animal Care and Control (2017). Law and enforcement: Protecting animals. Retrieved from

Lovelace, L. (1980). Ordeal. Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press.

Ma, D. S., & Correll, J. (2011). Target prototypicality moderates racial bias in the decision to shoot. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 47, 391-396.

Machin, D., & Mayr, A. (2013). How to do critical discourse analysis. Los Angeles: Sage.

Maher, J., & Pierpoint, H. (2011). Friends, status symbols and weapons: The use of dogs by youth groups and youth gangs. Crime, Law and Social Change, 55(5), 405-420.

McGuire, L. (2022). Punisher creator says symbol can be reclaimed, but hero needs a reboot. Screen Rant.

Metz, J., & Masterson, L. (2024). Pet insurance statistics 2024. Forbes Advisor.

Monticello (n.d.) Dogs. Retrieved from

NAACP (2023). The origins of modern day policing. Retrieved from

Nair, Y. (2016). “Racism and the American pit bull” my review of pit bull: The battle over an American icon. Retrieved from

Neocleous, M. (2000). The fabrication of social order: A critical theory of police power. London: Pluto Press.

Nevada Revised Statutes 199.280 (n.d.). Resisting public officer.

Nieuwenhuys, A., Savelsbergh, G. J. P., & Oudejans, R. R. D. (2012). Shoot or don’t shoot? Why police officers are more inclined to shoot when they are anxious. Emotion, 12(4), 827-833.

North Carolina Statute 14-223 (n.d.). Resisting officers.

Northam, J. (2023). Stache the Sealyham terrier wins the National Dog Show. NPR.

Oregon Revised Statute 162.315. Resisting arrest.

Ortiz, E. (2019). Fort Worth police officer who fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson indicated on murder charge. NBC News.

Parénti, C. (2001). Policing the color line. The Nation.

Parish-Plass, N. (2008). Animal-assisted therapy with children suffering from insecure attachment due to abuse and neglect: A method to lower the risk of intergenerational transmission of abuse. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 13, 7-30.

Planchon, L. A., Templer, D. I., Stokes, S., & Keller, J. (2002). Death of a companion cat or dog and human bereavement: Psychosocial Variables. Society and Animals, 10, 93-105.

Police destroy “homeless” dog. The Gettysburg Times.

Ristroph, A. (2017). The Constitution of police violence. UCLA Law Review, 64, 1182-1245.

Ritvo, H. (1986). Pride and pedigree: The evolution of the Victorian dog fancy. Victorian Studies, 29, 227-253.

Roberts, C. (2023). Discretion and the rule of law: The significance and endurance of vagrancy and vagrancy-type laws in England, the British empire, and the British colonial world. Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law, 33, 181-251.

Rosenberg, M. (2019). The home front. The Punisher, (13). Marvel.

Russell, D. E. H. (1988). Pornography and rape: A causal model. Political Psychology, 9(1), 41-73.

Sandoval, E., McNulty, & Armaghan, S. (2012). Pit bull trying to protect his master on Manhattan street gets shot in the head by police. New York Daily News.

Sierra-Arévalo, M. (2024). The danger imperative. Columbia University Press.

6abc Digital Staff (2024). French bulldog dead following dog fight; pit bull shot after charging at officers. 6ABC.

Skabelund, A. (2008). Breeding racism: The imperial battlefields of the “German” Shepherd Dog. Society and Animals, 16, 354-371.

Sloane, C. F. (1955). Dogs in war, police work, and patrol. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 46, (3), 385-395.

Smith, B. W., & Holmes, M. D. (2003). Community accountability, minority threat, and police brutality: An examination of civil rights criminal complaints. Criminology, 41(4), 1035-1064.

St. Augustine Police Department (2019). Response to resistance.

Stelloh, T. (2015). Ex-Georgia deputy acquitted after flash bang grenade hurts toddler. NBC News.

Stephens-Lewis, D., Johnson, A., Turley, N., Naydorf- Hannis, R., Scurlock-Evans, L., & Schenke, K. C. (2022). Understanding canine ‘reactivity’: Species-specific behaviour or human inconvenience? Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science.

Stratford to probe claim dog warden refused call. (1960, March 27). The Bridgeport Post, p. 16.

Tarver, E. C. (2014) The dangerous individual('s) dog: Race, criminality and the ‘pit bull.’ Culture, Theory and Critique, 55(3), 273-285.

Taslitz, A. E. (2006). Reconstructing the Fourth Amendment: A history of search and seizure, 1789-1868. New York, NY: New York University.

The Writing Center at Georgetown University Law Center (2017). Which court is binding? Binding v persuasive cases.

Tribune Media Wire (2016). Court rules officers justified in shooting barking dog during drug raid. WREG3.

Twining, H., Arluke, A., & Patronek, G. (2000). Managing the stigma of outlaw breeds: A case study of pit bull owners. Society and Animals, 8(1), 25-52.

Veevers, J. E. (1985). The social meaning of pets: Alternative roles for companion animals. Marriage and Family Review, 8, 11-30.

Wasilczuk, M. K. (2023). The racialized violence of police canine force. Georgetown Law Journal, 111(5), 1125-1210.

Waters, J. A., & Ussery, W. (2007). Police stress: History, contributing factors, symptoms, and interventions. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 30, 169-88.

Weaver, H. (2013). “Becoming in kind”: Race, class, gender, and nation in cultures of dog rescue and dogfighting. American Quarterly, 65(3), 689-709.

Whitlock, K., & Heitzeg, N.A. (2021). Carceral con: The deceptive terrain of criminal justice reform. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Wisconsin State Journal (1952). 2 Deerfield dogs shot for killing 180 hens. Wisconsin State Journal, 2.

Wood, L., Martin, K., Christian, H., Nathan, A., Lauritsen, C., Houghton, S., Kawachi, I., & McCune, S. (2015). The pet factor- companion animals as a conduit for getting to know people, friendship formation and social support. PLoS ONE, 10, 1-17.

Wolf, D. (2019). The ‘ask, tell, make’ mistake. Retrieved from

Cases Cited

Azevedo v City of Fresno, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10132.

 Bateman v Driggett, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91221.

 Billingsley v Hunter, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 93065.

 Brown v Battle Creek Police Dept., et al., 844 F.3d 556 (2016).

 Carroll v County of Monroe, 712 F. 3d 649 (2d Cir. 2013).

 Commonwealth v Tarrant, 367 Mass. 411 (1975).

 Esterson v Broward County Sheriff’s Dep’t, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117490.

 First Nat’l Bank v Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253 (1968).

 Graham v Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989).

 Jones v Lopez, 689 Fed. Appx. 337 (2017).

 Kincheloe v Caudle, 2009 U.S. Dist LEXIS 96371.

 Maciariello v Sumner, 973 F.2d. 295 (1992).

 McCarthy v Kootenai County, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 105439.

 Moore v Town of Erie, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101298.

 Newman v City of Fresno, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 121861.

 People v Kay, 121 Mich. App. 438 (1982).

 Petitt v New Jersey, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 35452.

 P.M. v Bolinger, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134130.

 Powell v Johnson, 855 F. Supp. 2d 871 (2012).

 Reyes v City of Austin, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127505.

 Romero v Bexar County, 993 F. Supp. 2d 658 (2014).

 San Jose Charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club v City of San Jose, 402 F.3d 962 (9th Cir. 2005).

 Sandoval v Las Vegas Metro. Police Dept., 756 F.3d 1154 (2014).

 Sentell v. New Orleans & C.R. Co., 166 U.S. 698 (1897).

 State v Cook, 164 N.C. App. 139 (2004).

Terry v Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).

 Viilo v City of Milwaukee, 552 F. Supp. 2d 826 (2008).

 Warboys v Proulx, 303 F. Supp. 2d 111 (2004).


Jeremy J. Smith is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He earned his Ph.D. in 2021 from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. His dissertation examined federal court decisions addressing incidents where the police killed a domestic dog. Jeremy has worked in the animal welfare profession on and off since 2008 and volunteers at his local animal shelter. He loves motorsports and drawing and enjoys spending time with his friends and family.


I want to thank God for helping me get this article written. I would also like to thank Drs. Tyler Wall, Lois Presser, Michelle Brown, Harry Dahms, and Derek Alderman for their support and help in getting my dissertation finished. This acknowledgments section will only be completed with a thank you to Drs. Willard Oliver and Dennis Longmire for believing in me when I did not believe in myself. I also want to thank the reviewers of my original manuscript for their constructive feedback. Finally, I want to acknowledge my co-workers and the animals accompanying me along this journey.

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?