What do drugs, bombs, arson, and missing persons all have in common? They are all areas of law enforcement that can be masterfully handled by none other than our four-legged friends. With roots dating back as far as the Middle Ages, dogs have been an integral part of law enforcement agencies both large and small, worldwide. Dogs accompany our soldiers on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan and dogs accompany our local police as they administer their daily duties. Although other breeds may be utilized, the most common dog breeds used for K-9 work include German Shepherds, Belgian Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retrievers, Bloodhounds, Rottweilers, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Dutch Shepherds.
Each time a dog accompanies his handler in the administration of his/her law enforcement duties that dog is exposed to the same dangers and same threats of bodily harm as his human handler. One need not look any further than our national news to see what a service dog does to protect our nation each and every day (http://abcnews.go.com/US/secret-service-dogs-battling-white-house-fence-jumper/story?id=26399761). In 2013, 17 K-9 dogs were slain in the line of duty. Through the first 10 months of 2014, that number has risen to 20. While some of these dogs perished through unfortunate and unnecessary circumstances such as in auto accidents or being left in a hot car, five dogs in 2013 and seven dogs so far in 2014 have died as the result of gunshot or stab wounds sustained in the line of duty. These numbers do not account for the loyal service dogs that train and accompany our brave soldiers on the fields of battle.
Though many individuals would argue that dogs are not humans and cannot be placed on the same level as humans, those in law enforcement and the armed forces who work as dog handlers would most likely argue differently (http://nypost.com/2014/10/05/how-4-dogs-helped-protect-their-masters-in-war/). Many police agencies across the country have resorted to giving the K-9s that serve their communities badges and making them full-fledged members of the force (http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2014/09/03/12news-prescott-k-9s-get-badges/15048335/). Many others, including national law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation give their service dogs formal memorial services when they are slain in the line of duty (http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2013/03/fbi_police_dog_ape_killed_in_h.html).
When a law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty, the response is swift and exacting. Fellow officers doggedly pursue all leads and prosecutors work tirelessly to see that justice is served. Punishments for those who kill law enforcement officers can be severe, as many states have the option of pursuing the death penalty for killing a law enforcement officer. Punishments for those who kill a police dog or police horse for that matter, are nowhere near as severe. As the law currently stands in Michigan, under Section 750.50c of the Michigan Penal Code, a person who kills or causes serious physical harm to a police dog can be convicted of a felony. The punishment that comes along with being convicted of that felony-no more than 5 years in prison and a fine of no more than $10,000.
Absent the Michigan Legislature taking any action, there is little that police, prosecutors, and judges can do under the current law to punish these criminals any further. Despite there being little that can be done on the criminal justice front, there are things that communities here in Michigan and across the United States can do to ensure that our brave K-9s are afforded the most care and protection during their career and after. Kennel clubs, such as the one in Battle Creek, Michigan, have donated bulletproof vests to protect that community’s police dogs (http://woodtv.com/2014/09/16/kennel-club-donates-vests-for-bcpd-k-9s/). States, such as Massachusetts, have charitable organizations dedicated solely to raising money for vests for police dogs (http://www.mavestadog.org/ws/pages/home.php). In other communities such as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, retirement funds are being setup to make sure that police dogs are cared for long after their service to the community has ended (http://www.post-gazette.com/news/2014/10/28/Pittsburgh-approves-more-money-for-anti-violence-program/stories/201410280178).
If the U.S., state and local governments had approved the additional approximately $1,000 per dog to purchase body armor, there is a chance that the five dogs from 2013 and seven dogs from 2014 might still be serving their communities today. It is hard to fathom that with all the time and money that is invested in training these brave dogs that governments would scoff at providing law enforcement with the additional funds to purchase protective armor. If dogs are willing to risk their lives to protect all of us, don’t we owe them something more in return?
Dedicated to Koda, Kody, Ape, Ronin, Kilo, Gorky, Rocco, Maros, Mick, Tanja, Tracker, Kye and all the other brave law enforcement dogs who in service to our communities gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Abigail Murray and Michael Rouvina are Michigan attorneys who focus their law practice on Animal Law, as well as Business Law, Family Law, Probate/Estate Planning, and Alternative Dispute Resolution at the law firm of Murray & Rouvina, PLC in Kalamazoo, MI. You can find more information at www.zoocitylawyers.com.