U.S. Eighth Circuit - The FindLaw 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Cop Shoots Dog Blocking Traffic; 8th Cir. Says 'Reasonable'

In what is undoubtedly a tragic case, a state trooper shot and killed a dog that was loose on the highway. Sadly, in Hansen v. Black, the owners were left with no legal remedy as the courts have ruled the officer's actions were reasonable.

The dog had gotten loose and was causing havoc for drivers. The officer attempted to get the dog off the highway, but it did not respond to his commands, and kept running away when chased. Ultimately, the officer had to shoot the dog twice before it went into the median and collapsed. Then, the officer shot the wounded animal two more times to put it down and end its suffering.

Pet Owner Rights When Pets Escape

Generally, when a pet escapes, if the animal is causing problems, officers have the authority to do what is necessary to stop the animal, including the use of deadly force. Because it is often unclear whether an animal is a pet or a stray, trained to kill or trained to fetch, officers may need to make split second decisions. In the calculus of trying to save an animal or putting human lives at risk, officers must protect the humans. This can often result in officers being forced to shoot animals that do not immediately respond to commands, if there is a threat to human life.

When Safety Trumps Tragedy

Fortunately for the officers that are put in the position where they must shoot an animal that might be a family pet, so long as they acted reasonably when effectuating their duties, they will be protected by qualified immunity. It is highly unlikely that any officer wants to shoot a pet, and very likely that they will feel awful about it.

As the court explained in this case, the officer had to make a decision to shoot the dog, or other drivers on the highway could have been injured. In cases where the officer's action are objectively and subjectively unreasonable, courts will allow those cases to move forward.

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