Opinion: Attacked by a police dog

National Post, March 19, 2014

An Alberta judge has set down a sentence of 26 months in prison and a quarter-century ban on owning animals for an Edmonton man who stabbed to death a police dog named Quanto, saying the case “seems to have struck a public nerve.”

The backstory is utterly predictable: In October 2013, Paul Vukmanich, high on drugs, fled from police in a car, before crashing and then taking off on foot. It was then that the German shepherd was loosed.

When Quanto caught up with Vukmanich, he bit him on the arm and hand. In response, Vukmanich stabbed Quanto several times. The dog was dead by the time he arrived at a veterinary hospital. As there tends to be when an animal dies, there was immediate public outrage, and police were upset that the strongest possible penalty was animal cruelty.

The federal government, for its part, announced in the throne speech that it would introduce “Quanto’s Law,” which would “honour” service animals. That bill has not been tabled, though there is a private member’s bill before Parliament that would “make it an offence to poison, injure or kill a law enforcement animal” while it is on duty.

There is a small grain of cleverness to the whole thing: stabbing a police dog is actually neither animal cruelty nor torture. It is not the same as those horrible people who starve or abuse animals over a long period of time and shouldn’t be treated as such by the law.

Though there should be a new law, it’s not because it is more wrong to hurt a police animal than any other, but because an animal cruelty charge misrepresents what happens when a police dog is stabbed during a chase. Obviously, it takes a lot of time and resources to train a police dog, and they are valued members of police forces. It’s also sad when animals – any animal – dies or is killed.

Service animals are family to the police that work with them, and they are understandably protective of their canine comrades.

However, the problem with a new law is that it misunderstands how people generally respond when attacked by a dog. During a chase by police, if you decide you ought to give yourself up quietly, it’s a fairly simple proposition. You can simply stop running, put your hands up in the air, or lay down, and a cop will come get you.

However, circumstances change when you’re being chased by 40 kilograms of muscle and teeth, because eventually you’re going to stop running or that dog is going to run you down.

From a young age, police dogs are trained to attack people and they are not particularly capable of gently (or even roughly) slapping handcuffs on you and walking you away. While some police forces do train their dogs to be called off, many don’t. This means that once they are loosed, police dogs do one thing: they attack, tackle you to the ground, and bite you with the full power of a jaw that can crush bone.

Anyone that has ever been attacked or chased by a dog knows the intense fear when you realize that the animal after you is instinctually and evolutionarily better at hurting other creatures than you are. You’re going to defend yourself, and if necessary, hurt the dog, to stop it from hurting you.

Even when dealing with police dogs, to suggest that it should be a unique crime to protect yourself against an animal that is hurting you is bizarre. It is altogether unnatural to not fight a dog when it attacks you.

Sad though it may be, that’s the risk that police take when they use animals to do their work for them. Dogs cannot communicate like we can, and with that comes a certain amount of risk. Nobody wants to see an animal killed in the line of duty, but new legislation is a knee jerk reaction to an unavoidable situation.

We can’t help but defend ourselves.

 

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