Pennsylvania Cops Shooting Dogs

Everything you need to know about your rights
when a cop shoots your dog unlawfully

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One common aspect of police misconduct is the mistreatment and even shooting of pets, particularly dogs. Police departments don’t report these events often, but they can impact families severely, and they happen more often than people realize. If a police officer shoots your dog or other pet unlawfully, you can take legal action against them. It can be devastating when your dog is severely injured or killed because of an accident, misconduct, or misunderstanding in an emergency. It’s important to hold law enforcement accountable for their actions, including harm done to pets.

At The Animal Law Firm, we fight for the underdog and protect the rights of pets and their owners. Many pet owners feel their dog is a part of their family, and seeing their dog shot or killed can be immensely traumatizing. Our attorneys have years of experience defending animal welfare and rights, having successfully represented hundreds of animals and their owners.

Civil claims against police officers have unique hurdles. Police officers have unlimited qualified immunity in most states, including Pennsylvania, which can make it harder to hold an individual police officer liable for harm caused. However, it’s not impossible, and an experienced animal law attorney can help overcome qualified immunity and hold officers responsible for illegal actions. At The Animal Law Firm, we believe in earning you the right to compensation.

Police Misconduct and Protection From Illegal Seizures in the Fourth Amendment

Although many people don’t feel this way about their pets, dogs are legally considered personal property under Pennsylvania statutes. This protects them under the Fourth Amendment, as personal property is protected from unreasonable seizure. By filing a civil claim against a police officer for injuring or killing a dog, you are legally stating that your property was unreasonably and illegally seized by the police.

A police officer who is illegally on your property can be held liable if they harm or kill your dog. Frequently, dogs and other pets are harmed when police officers are entering the property on a search warrant. Although the search warrant was legal, that doesn’t mean a claim is impossible.

Seizure of personal property refers to any meaningful interference by officers, including destruction. Destruction of property is considered unnecessary for a police officer’s duties. Often, the injury or death of a dog is considered an unnecessary seizure of property. If the court finds the destruction to be unreasonable, a civil claim could be made.

In some circumstances, a pet owner watching a police officer kill their dog can be grounds for an emotional distress civil claim.

Qualified Immunity in Pennsylvania

Both the municipality and individual officers have a certain level of immunity against civil claims. The municipality, or the police department and city employing the individual officer, is almost never held liable for a case where a dog was shot by an officer. This is because the behavior and actions of an individual officer can often not be considered the legal fault of the municipality.

It’s much more common for an individual police officer’s qualified immunity to be overturned. Police officers cannot usually be held liable if their actions were done in an official capacity under the law. The following must be true to overturn an officer’s qualified immunity:

  1. The officer’s conduct violated an established constitutional right.
  2. A reasonable officer in the same situation would have known their actions violated that right.

In situations where an officer kills a dog, the second point comes down to officer safety and whether the dog was or should have been considered a threat by a reasonable officer. Both points must be found true to get past individual officer immunity.

The first point will not be true if the officer acted in good faith to not violate constitutional rights. If an officer makes an illegal entry, this is a violation of constitutional rights. Because unnecessary destruction of property can be considered an illegal seizure, it may therefore be a violation of constitutional rights.

The second point also refers to a reasonable officer knowing that shooting and injuring a dog is a violation of the Fourth Amendment through unreasonable seizure. However, it can be difficult to determine when an officer is using reasonable force to protect their safety.

Cases generally look at an officer’s years of experience and training dealing with threatening animals. If the police officer directly went against the guidelines and procedures in place, it may be easier to prove that their actions were unreasonable in protecting their safety. Qualified immunity is not automatic protection. Rather, it must be either clear under the law or brought up by the officer.

Claims against police officers can get very complex very quickly, but you have options for justice. Working with an experienced attorney can make a claim easier and more likely to succeed.

The Animal Law Firm Defends Your Pets Against Police Misconduct

If your pet is injured or killed because of a police officer, it’s an immensely stressful and traumatizing experience. If you believe the actions were illegal under the Fourth Amendment, you should file a claim with the help of an animal rights lawyer. Although it is unlikely there will ever be a criminal charge against an officer for misconduct like animal injury, a civil claim can hold them partially responsible. It also provides you with compensation to cover any medical costs and emotional damage. The attorneys at The Animal Law Firm can review your circumstances to help you determine the likelihood of success of a civil claim and what damages you may be able to claim.

Filing a claim against a police officer is not easy. You need to have evidence to overturn the qualified immunity of the officer and then prove your economic and non-economic damages. At The Animal Law Firm, our attorneys have successfully represented animals and their owners in civil claims for many years. We believe in defending your rights and bringing justice for an injured or killed pet.

When Might an Officer Be Allowed to Shoot a Pet?

A claim against a police officer for injuring or killing a dog is unlikely to be successful if the dog was shot legally or out of a legitimate fear of safety. Whether the officer was acting reasonably and legally will impact a pet owner’s ability to receive compensation. There are several reasons why a police officer may be legally allowed to kill a dog under Pennsylvania law:

  • An unaccompanied dog who is running at large, and is deemed to be a danger to public health, may be humanely killed by an official. Preventing public endangerment is considered a reasonable action in court.
  • Any person who witnesses a dog actively killing or wounding other dogs, other pets, or human beings can be legally killed in Pennsylvania. This is true whether the dog has a license tag or not.
  • An officer can humanely kill a dog at large in a rabies quarantine or excessive damage quarantine.
  • Any person can kill or shoot dogs chasing and bothering sheep.
  • Police officers, among other officials, can detain unlicensed dogs for 48 hours, and then they can give the dog to a humane society or humanely kill it.
  • The police officer was reasonable in their fear for their safety.

Police officers are not allowed to kill or injure a dog that poses no threat or danger. Depending on the situation, it may be difficult to prove that an officer’s injury or killing of a dog was illegal. In a civil claim, it must be determined whether a reasonable officer would know that their actions may violate the pet owner’s rights protecting them from unreasonable seizure.

The dog owner’s Fourth Amendment rights are weighed against how reasonable and necessary the officer’s actions were in fulfilling their legal duty.

What Causes Police Officers to Shoot Dogs?

    • Perceived Threat
      The most common reason for the unnecessary shooting of dogs is because the officer perceives a threat. A dog may be protective of the owner’s home, and they may bark or act aggressively towards strangers. Unleashed dogs are also frequently considered threats.
      A dog may also be a breed that is considered dangerous, or appears to be dangerous, and this may cause a police officer to believe that there may be a threat. This includes breeds such as rottweilers, pit bulls, Great Danes, Doberman pinschers, and German shepherds. Whether the individual dog is dangerous or not, this perception makes injury or death more likely.Ways that owners can keep their dogs safe from being perceived as a threat are to lessen contact between dogs and officers and keep their dogs inside and out of the way if police officers are in the area.
    • Real Threat
      Some dogs and other animals are trained by their owners to be a threat to other people, while others are naturally aggressive. If an animal was a credible and immediate threat to the officer, to other animals, or to the public, it’s likely legal for the officer to injure or kill that dog.
    • Officer Miscommunication
      Unfortunately, there are many cases where the shooting of a dog may have been avoided if police officers had had more effective training, planning, or communication. If a police officer responds to a call, or is conducting a civil or criminal search, the situation can be tense. Sometimes, this response or search is done at the wrong address.
      Despite the frequency of dogs in U.S. households, law enforcement rarely does enough to prepare for that eventuality when conducting searches or entering civilian property for any reason. More effective and clear training may prevent these tragic situations.
      For pet owners, much of this is outside their control. The most they can do to keep animals safe is keep them away from the entryway or keep them in a faraway room if they have made a call to the police.

Changes That Should Be Made in Law Enforcement to Protect Pets

There are several steps that could be taken to prevent harm done to pets, especially dogs, by police officers.

      • Improve professional relationships between law enforcement agencies and agencies like animal control, which are trained to deal with animals. This can improve the flow of information between these agencies regarding previously dangerous dogs and other animals. It can also help with planning procedures when entering civilian residences where there are dogs present.
      • Review the current policies regarding dealing with dogs.
      • Improve the review and follow-up of incidents where a dog is shot.
      • Increase training for assessing whether a dog is dangerous and for using non-lethal options when dealing with dogs. This includes training to help understand and identify dog behavior.
      • Improve training for using current and new non-lethal equipment to deal with dangerous dogs, including batons, nets, or catch-poles.
      • Improve communication between officers.
      • Improve communication between officers and homeowners.
      • Create more effective police procedures for how to handle an animal prior to using lethal force.

Damages in a Claim

Pennsylvania doesn’t often recognize non-economic claims like pain and suffering in cases pertaining to pet injuries and deaths. However, in a situation where a dog was killed in front of you, the court may award emotional suffering damages in a successful claim. You could also recover economic damages, such as replacement costs, if a pet died, as well as burial costs. Whether your pet was injured or treated before death, you could receive compensation for any medical and veterinary bills.

Contact The Animal Law Firm for Animal Police Misconduct

No one should have to deal with any sort of police misconduct. A pet being injured or killed by a police officer can be very upsetting for pet owners, and they deserve compensation for that trauma. If your pet was injured or killed because of police misconduct, you can hold the officer accountable for their actions.

At The Animal Law Firm, we have represented the rights of animals for years. Our attorneys can determine how your claim may be compensable. We have the necessary understanding of animal law to defend you against the significant governmental resources that police officers will have. Contact our attorneys today to learn more about your legal options.



We know how important your furry family member is to you. Whether they have no legs, two legs, or four or more legs, our priority is making sure you and your pet receive the best representation possible.

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