Quails and pitbulls and guns, oh my!

A lot of shooting in the Chronicle this morning.

Our Vice President, a “practiced hunter,” is apparently incapable of aiming a gun properly, to the detriment of his hunting partner, who is now in the ICU. (“Because his condition warrants it.”) The Chronicle assures us that Harry Whittington, a prominent 78 year old lawyer from Austin, Texas, is stable and will make a full recovery, despite being showered in pellets by the Vice President. I suppose it’s sort of an honor to be shot by the administration.

For sure, hunting accidents do happen, and often with much more tragic results. The exact circumstances of the shooting are unclear–the White House claims Whittington was not following hunting protocol and as a result Cheney was unaware that Whittington was where he was. However, the Vice President is 65, and that’s getting fairly old. Most of the 65 year olds I know are pottering around the garden and hosting Sunday tea, not leading the free world and going on safari. I’ve also noticed that we haven’t heard that much about Cheney lately, unless he’s insulting people or in the hospital.

Does anyone else suspect he might be going senile?

The shooting death of a dog by Richmond police in July also made the news, in a slightly different way.

Cynthia Peters and Mark Parr had a youthful pitbull named Blu in July. During the pursuit of a suspect, Richmond police encountered Blu, who was in the yard of the apartment building where the couple and the suspect both lived at the time. Officers shot the dog. 11 times. An internal investigation approved the shooting. The couple appealed–and won.

Peters and Parr claimed that the police department did not have a good working protocol in place for dealing with animal encounters. Problem dogs are an issue. Dogs can get vicious, especially when shouting clanking people in uniform are entering their space and threatening their people. Various police departments have protocols for dealing with vicious dogs, including shooting them if it is warranted. (I would prefer to see police officers trained in the use of tranquilizer guns, or perhaps a “canine” setting on the ubiquitous taser guns.) I certainly respect the needs of the police–police are supposed to be protecting people and defending the law and all that, and it’s a challenge to do that when your personal safety is being threatened. Police departments also admit that cases where it becomes necessary to shoot a pet are extremely rare. (“Your Honor, the rabbit was approaching me so rapidly, I felt I had no other choice.”) The Ninth United States District Court of Appeals ruled in 1992 that killing a pet violates the Fourth Amendment after a similar case of police entry and dog death.

The Police Chief is taking an important step–he’s asked to meet with the couple, not to discuss settling or internal investigation, but to apologize for the death of their companion. He has said that saying one is sorry is not an admittance of guilt, but that it is important. He supports the choices his officers made in July (although they weren’t his at the time, as he is a recent appointment), but he is still saddened that anyone had to die on 27 July.

Dealing with problem dogs is very difficult, and I hope that the Richmond Police Department will set up a strong training program with animal welfare organizations to defuse potentially ugly dog on human encounters. Perhaps it would set an example for other departments around the nation, and lead to positive change for pets. Dogs should be able to loaf in their yards without fear. In cases where problem dogs are shot, as is inevitable, the clear and consistent protocol in place ought to help smooth ruffled feathers all around. Police in urban areas have enough to deal with as it is–they don’t need stacks of wrongful death suits piling up, especially in a case like Blu’s where the police department lost, and now faces a hefty cash settlement.

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