Last night, a report ran on local television news about the fatal shooting of a dog in Broadlands. The report indicated that people in the community are upset, and that the shooter is now calling for a ban on Pit Bull dogs in Broadlands.
I suggest we take the rhetoric down a notch and take a look at what we know . . .
First of all, not very much. Television news stories rarely contain enough facts for anyone to draw a fair conclusion. Maybe we’ll learn more over the next few days, but for now – here is what we know:
(1) The dog owner and the shooter of the dog are neighbors; (2) the shooter says that he had warned the dog owner that he did not appreciate the loose dog coming onto his property and told the dog owner that he would shoot the dog if he came on his property again; (3) when the dog was shot, he was running-at-large and on the shooter’s property; (4) the dog was identified as being a Pit Bull or Pit mix; (5) the shooter was reported as claiming that the dog was a threat to his children; (6) the dog owner claimed that the dog was nice and wouldn’t hurt anybody; and (7) the police are not prosecuting the shooter for anything because ‘it’s legal to shoot a dog that comes on your property.’
Let’s take the last point first. Whether the police said this or not, it is not legal to shoot a dog just because it enters your property. Under the Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act, shooting a dog is Aggravated Cruelty, a felony. That law states: "No person may intentionally commit an act that causes a companion animal to suffer serious injury or death" (510 ILCS 70/3.02). Many municipalities also have laws regarding the discharge of firearms within city limits – so before you go picking up your gun to scare off a local stray dog or cat, you better check your local ordinances.
That said, I think it’s fair to say that if you’re being attacked or seriously threatened by a dog, and you shoot the dog to protect yourself or another human, you’re not likely to be prosecuted for Animal Cruelty. Call it an “exigent circumstance” or “self defense."
It’s clear to me that we don’t have enough facts – based on last night’s news report – to draw a conclusion about the Broadlands shooting and the decision of the Police not to pursue charges. If there were no witnesses to the event, we’re left with the statement of the shooter and any forensic evidence (i.e., where did the bullet enter the dog’s body?) to determine whether this was an act of cruelty or an act committed out of necessity to prevent human injury.
Despite all that we don’t know . . . there is one thing that we do know, or can learn, from a case like this. Saying you love your dog is not enough – you have to “walk-the-walk,” even when it is difficult, inconvenient, or expensive. As a loving pet owner, it is your responsibility to protect your dog from danger and prevent him from running at large. Loose dogs can ingest toxic substances and be hit by cars, attacked by wild animals, impaled by sharp objects, or shot by hot-tempered neighbors. Yes, accidents happen and sometimes your dog breaks out of your yard, gets off his tie-out line, or runs out the front door. But when this happens repeatedly, and you’ve been warned that your loose dog is a nuisance to your neighbors, the responsibility falls on you to find a way to prevent such incidents.
The “defense” that your dog has a wonderful temperament and wouldn’t hurt anybody doesn’t fly with me. You cannot expect everyone on earth to intuitively know that your dog is “harmless” when they meet him – especially if they meet him running loose. Some people find all large dogs threatening; some people have had bad experiences with dogs in the past; some people are uncomfortable with dogs in general. Everyone should be able to live in their community free from any threat (real or perceived) that someone else’s loose dog will make an unwelcome approach to them, their pets, or their children.
All of that said, if it’s true that the shooter shot the dog simply because the dog re-entered his property after he warned the dog’s owner about his intention – in my opinion, the shooter did commit an act of animal cruelty and should be prosecuted. Under the Humane Care for Animals Act, shooting a dog is a crime – even if the dog is on your property – and even if you own the dog. The Act protects companion animals from acts of cruelty and there is no exception for companion animals that wander into your yard.
I certainly hope that nobody in Broadlands takes seriously the shooter’s suggestion that a Pit Bull ban is called for. Based on the facts as we know them, the breed of the dog may have been a factor only in that it caused the shooter to be trigger happy because he made assumptions about the dog’s temperament based on the dog’s breed. Far as a I can tell, the dog acted like any dog would. If Broadlands officials need to examine local ordinances in response to this case, they should look at enactment/enforcement of loose dog/leash laws and discharge of firearms provisions. And maybe they could consider some programs on being a good neighbor and anger management.