A National Epidemic is Threatening Family Dogs

Police answering a domestic violence call were sent to the wrong house and drew their guns on Michael Paxton of Austin, TX. When Paxton's dog Cisco came from the backyard to see what was going on, an officer shot and killed him. Across the country in Brooklyn, NY, Yvonne Rosado opened her apartment door to see an officer. When her dog Spike walked into the hallway, visibly wagging at the officer, he shot Spike. Rosado and her daughter had to watch Spike die, still wagging.

The number of incidents of officers using lethal force against family dogs is growing. It doesn't just happen in high-intensity SWAT raids or drug busts. It happens during simple calls. It happens when police are sent to the wrong address. It happens every day. The stories come from every corner of the country--dogs in their homes, dogs on leashes and dogs exhibiting clear signs of friendliness.

It's uniquely terrifying to feel unsafe in your own home. That fear is on the rise for those who share their lives with a dog, as the trend of dogs being shot and killed at home persists. Each year over 10,000 companion dogs are killed by police officers, according to the Department of Justice. It's a staggering figure. Not only are thousands of family dogs killed needlessly, often while their loving guardians look on powerless, our officers are walking into situations they are not prepared for. It's a lose-lose situation. These are preventable tragedies, but we have to mobilize now to put the solutions in place before another 10,000 animals are killed.

As an activist and part of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, I've spent decades paying close attention to our society's attitude toward animals, and I am deeply concerned about these statistics. The death of 10,000 dogs a year means an equal number of American families are grieving. In a 2015 Harris poll, 95% of respondents considered their companion animal to be members of the family, up from 91% in 2012. The loss of a dog is a loss of a family member To help shine a light on this tragic trend, the Animal Legal Defense Fund partnered with Ozymandias Entertainment to produce Of Dogs and Men, a documentary that sheds light on this national tragedy by telling the stories of people fighting for change in the names of the animals they've lost. Of Dogs and Men has already received critical acclaim as an official selection of the 2015 Austin Film Festival and a winner of the 2016 Anthem Film Festival. The film also earned an honorable mention for the audience award during its run at the Austin Film Festival.

Of Dogs and Men reveals the root of the problem--a lack of police training. If we care about dogs and police officers, we owe it to them to demand fully funded comprehensive training programs for all officers. Every officer needs to be comfortable coming into contact with dogs, and be prepared with non-lethal strategies to interact with them. We can spare families the trauma of losing their dogs violently, and we can spare officers the fear and shock of shooting someone's dog.

You can put change in motion today. Call your state legislators and tell them you support government-funded police officer training for safe dog interactions. Then share this information with your friends and ask them to do the same. The Animal Legal Defense Fund will host the premiere screening for Of Dogs and Men on Thursday, Sept. 22 in Los Angeles. The screening will be followed by an exclusive Q&A session with the film's director Michael Ozias, producer Patrick Reasonover and Animal Legal Defense Fund criminal justice attorney Diane Balkin. To get your tickets and learn more, visit aldf.org/ofdogsandmen or ofdogsandmen.net.