Man’s Best Friend

Eliza Boggia


         On August 16, 2012 in the east village of Manhattan, man’s best friend gave the ultimate sacrifice—being willing to die in an effort to protect his owner. What for do you ask? Maybe in a valiant effort save his owner from a burning building? If only. Unfortunately, the pit bull mix named Star was shot by a police officer on 14th St., while protecting his owner who was having a seizure.

A witness who was visiting a doctor’s office nearby alerted police officers that the owner of the dog was in danger of being hit by traffic.  He was lying in the middle of the road, twitching and shaking.  Now here’s the rub. The police get too close, the dog, in an effort to protect his owner, lunges at the police. The police officer shoots Star at nearly point blank range, he says, in an effort to provide medical assistant to the owner having a seizure. What’s missing here? The police officer that shot Star discharged his mace on Star after shooting him. According to theblaze, “In a split second, the officer pulls his gun and fires a single shot that sends the dog writhing in pain. The dog eventually stops moving as a pool of blood is visible.” 

Was this a human being, there’s no question that this would have been a public outrage.  Unfortunately, partly because pit bulls are so misunderstood, and partly because an animal’s legal status is property, the story of Star has been kept relatively quiet.  It would be bad for the police if the public watched a video of a police officer shooting a animal when there were other options available.   Why didn’t the officer mace Star instead of putting a bullet in him? The Gothamist interviewed the witness who said, “The dog was protecting the owner, that’s what it does.”    Admittedly, the police officer has a legal duty to serve and protect civilians, but he also has a moral duty to protect all life whenever possible. It’s safe to safe the police officer has failed miserably at that. Though Star seemed lifeless at the scene of this brutal act, according to The Gothamist on August 25th, Star is recovering well in a local animal hospital with hopes of being put up for adoption. This dog deserves a medal, and this police officer deserves to be fired.

29 Responses

  1. The police are notorious for shooting dogs first and asking questions– or more accurately, denying liability — later. Some of the more progressive police forces have their officers trained to recognize dog behavior so that they can “read” the dog and not simply point and shoot in a Pavlovian reaction, as they did in this case, whenever a dog approaches them. I hope Star’s “owner” brings a section 1983 action against the officer and the NYPD alleging an unconstitutional “taking’ of the dog and gets a nice verdict. It won’t bring back Star, but at least it might send a message to NYC that this kind of conduct will NOT be tolerated.

  2. Just wondering why Star will be adopted out – doesn’t his owner want him back?

  3. In looking at the video, the dog had already lunged at a civilian, before turning and lunging at the officer.

    Officers face constantly fluid situations, rife with practically endless variables. Just one in this situation — there was absolutely no way of knowing if the dog was vaccinated. Being a homeless person’s dog, it’s a good bet, the animal wasn’t vaccinated.

    Police officers should not have to risk being bitten by an unvaccinated dog. And it’s patently ridiculous to suggest that they should.

    The situation unfolded quickly, I think the officer responded appropriately. Human life and safety comes first. The dog was behaving in a threatening manner to more than one human, and easily could have bitten somebody.

    I found the woman screaming in the background on the video extremely annoying. I’m not sure I could have restrained myself from using profanity toward her, had I been there.

  4. HAL, the only things that I find “patently ridiculous” are 1) your assumption that the officer knew the dog belonged to a “homeless person” 2) your assumption that a “homeless person” wouldn’t vaccinate his dog, and 3) your assumption that the dog could transmit a disease to the officer, which is patently ridiculous unless Star was rabid, and there is no evidence to suggest that he was. The officer had plenty of time to size up the situation appropriately and to take non-lethal action if he felt that he needed to secure the dog. The officer clearly did not act reasonably under the circumstances and I’m quite sure a jury evaluating the case under section 1983 would find that the officer also violated the constitutional rights of Star’s “owner” and is therefore liable for damages.

  5. Eliza, thank you for posting this story. It’s a sad one, but thankfully Star will survive. Having lived in New York City for most of my life, I’m also not surprised by the police officer’s actions. Too many are racist trigger happy bullies.

  6. Verne, I agree police shoot dogs first and asking questions– or more accurately, denying liability — later. They do the same to humans of racial minorities — and the cops always get away with it.

  7. Verne,

    The dog lunged at a civilian, and then at the officer, in just a few second’s time. That dog was making every indication that it was working up to bite somebody.

    There was no time to agonize over “animals are people too” sentiments. The officer responded in a completely appropriate manner.

    An officer has every reason and right to act on the assumption that any dog he encounters on the street has not been vaccinated. Regardless of rather the owner is a homeless man, or Donald Trump.
    It would be, frankly, stupid not to.

    Or, are you suggesting police officers risk themselves, or worse, civilians, getting bitten first, and then asking the relevant questions later?

    That so ridiculous, it’s patently offensive.

    Also, it’s ultimately the owner’s responsibility, to ensure his or her animal does not put police officers or others in danger. If this man was aware that he was prone to seizures that could have incapacitated him from having direct and reasonable control over his animal, then he is liable.

    And regardless, in any case it is always, always the dog owner’s responsibility to ensure his or her animal or animals do not become a nuisance or danger to the public.

    Any dog, I repeat, any dog has the potential to bite. And any dog owner who does not act according to that axiom is being, frankly, irresponsible and selfish.

  8. Hal, part of the problem is cops shoot to kill. Even if they think they should shoot, they could aim for the leg or some spot that a dog or human could survive — but they don’t. They deliberately shoot to kill.

  9. Elliem,

    Having been exposed to a small measure of police training — via a class for civilians — police officers are trained to shoot to stop the threat, to themselves, and any civilians who might also be in the area.

    Most shooting cases unfold in a matter of split seconds — just as this one did. There isn’t time to make a shot at at limb on a moving target. Also, a limb shot — especially with the relatively low-powered cartridges of the typical duty weapon, might not stop the threat in a timely enough manner.

    Therefore, officers are trained to shoot center body mass. It’s the biggest target, and the most likely to produce incapacitating results.

    And yes, such shots are more likely than not to produce lethal wounds.

  10. Police need to be trained to become HUMANE which unfortunately they are not!

  11. Hal, I don’t buy your excuses for the police for a minute. They practice shooting continually. So don’t tell me they’re not able to shoot someone (human or nonhuman) in a non-lethal spot. If they really wanted to simply stop someone, a shot in the leg or arm will do that.

    In NYC, a cop shot and killed a teenager who was trying to get an asthma pump out of his pocket — same for Sean Bell and Amadou Diallo. Shooting a dog who was protecting his owner doesn’t surprise me a bit. As Eliza explains, pit bulls are often misunderstood — instead of racial profiling, the cops were dog profiling.

  12. Unfortunately, this is not Star’s first incident. She has a history of aggression toward people.


    “That’s when Star jumped up and bit him in the knee.

    “I pulled away, it was so quick. But usually she doesn’t nip, she’ll lock her jaw,” he said, adding that Mr. Stankiewicz, 29, is homeless and has a problem with drugs and alcohol. “So I had to throw my hands up at that point.””

  13. elliem,

    Your assertions here rest entirely in emotion.

    Yes, by way of specific example, I’m sure we could find many instances of officers making bad shootings. But then again, officer-related shootings are vigorously investigated by outside agencies.

    Your lack of knowledge regarding firearms ballistics and wound effects is also duly noted.

    In general practice, it’s simply irrational and uncalled for to expect police officers to take risks they don’t have to. Their jobs are risky enough as it is.

    There’s no sane reason for any officer to not assume a dog lunging at civilians or at him is going to bite — and that it has not been vaccinated.

    The risk associated with not making those assumptions is simply to great — for the public, and particularly for police officers.

    I, for one, as a tax payer and citizen, do not find it acceptable for police officers to have to risk injury to themselves or the public because of misplaced sentimentality over dogs.

  14. HAL, while I usually find the condescending attitude in your comments unworthy of attention, I nonetheless must point out that, again, as usual, you are just plain wrong. Police-related shootings are NOT vigorously investigated by “outside agencies’; instead, they are investigated by the officers’ employer, i.e. the municipality (in this case NYC) that hired the offending officer in the first place. That is why lawsuits are so important in these kinds of cases, to ensure that the inevitable whitewash that results from the city’s so-called “investigation” is reviewed impartially by a third-party. And in fact, police shootings are very often found to be unreasonable after a court’s impartial review. So please check the facts instead of pontificating arrogantly about things you clearly know nothing about.

  15. Hal, for your information, emotions are essential to moral judgment. It’s lack of emotion that falls short. See Martin Hoffman’s “Empathy and Moral Development …”.

    I don’t know what it’s like in your part of the country, but in NYC there no way police are investigated by outside agencies — they literally get away with murder!

    One of my dogs continually lunged and barked at anyone who appeared to be a threat, but he never bit anyone. Unless someone was paranoid, there was no reason to think he wasn’t vaccinated, and certainly no reason to shoot him in case he might not be. Ever hear the proverb, “barking dogs don’t bite”? I think Star was barking too. The NYPD needs to learn about dog behavior before they pull out their guns.

    As for your claim, that a shot in the leg or arm would not stop someone, I disagree — but if that person was aiming a gun at the NYPD, I can understand not wanting to take the chance. Star was not armed. The young men who were murdered by the police were not armed.

  16. Verne,

    It’s unfortunate my direct responses to blatantly bad ideas strike you as arrogant and condescending. Perhaps I don’t suffer foolishness well.

    Suggesting that police officers compromise either their own safety, or that of the public, because of sentimentality over dogs is scraping the bottom of the bad idea barrel.

    In any place where I have lived, an outside agency (usually, the state police) promptly and vigorously investigated officer shootings.

    Also, you’ll have to forgive me for being dubious about your assertion that NYC officers, while they might not be investigated by an outside agency, in the literal sense, are also basically “whitewashed” by their cronies in shooting investigations. I’m thinking, there are several more details or steps in the process you’re glossing over, in order to try getting your point across.

    Be that as it may, we’re getting off track from the immediate subject. We’re not dealing with a person being shot by police here.

    In my view, this particular incident is clear. The dog lunged first at a civilian, and then at an officer. No officer should be asked to not make the assumption that first, the dog was going to bite somebody, and secondly, it might not be vaccinated.

    The officer responded in a completely appropriate manner.

  17. elliem,

    Firstly, allowing a dog to continually lunge and bark at people, represents grossly irresponsible pet ownership and horrible manners. Especially if it was out in public. If nothing else, no person should have to suffer that discomfort or fear.

    My thinking is, if somebody, say, breaks into a house that has a dog in it, and gets mauled — to bad for them. Don’t break into people’s houses.

    But in public, that’s a completely different story.

    Furthermore, very naive and cavalier of you to assume the dog was never going to bite anybody. What if it had? If let that sort of thing happen in public, then at the very least, you’re probably lucky your dog didn’t get turned into a football.

    The NYPD, or any other agency, is under no obligation to “learn dog behavior.” If a dog is out of its owner’s control, and lunging at civilians or officers on the street, then appropriate measures should be taken to ensure officer and public safety.

    Officers assuming such things, as a dog intends to bite, or a dog could very well not be vaccinated isn’t being “paranoid.” It’s prudent on the part of police.

    Again, asking officers to not make such assumptions in virtually every situation they come across is completely irrational.

    Owners — not police officers, not the public, are responsible for the behavior and well-being of dogs. For a dog owner to think or act otherwise is foolish and arrogant. If a dog gets loose in a public space, starts acting in an aggressive manner, and is injured or killed — there is nobody to blame but the owner.

    And yes, I’m a dog owner — my entire life — currently have three.

    I can’t comment to police-related shootings of people. NYC is a big place, I’m sure it has some rotten police officers, and some departmental corruption in certain instances.

    But, as I told Verne, we’re focused on one particular incident here. And from what I see in that video, the officer acted very appropriately.

    And emotions have their place, certainly. But allowing rank sentimentality to take precedence over offer and public safety is neither rational or moral.

  18. Hal, that just tells me you don’t know dogs very well, even though you’ve owned them all your life. If a dog perceives a threat, it doesn’t matter if it’s in your house, or outside.

    Yes, one of my dogs barked and lunged at what he perceived as a threat — but no one was in danger!

    That was how he saw it, and I loved him and cared for him throughout his life. What would you have suggested I do? Abandon him to a shelter? Lock him up, so he wouldn’t bark at someone who should have known better than to stare at him straight in the eye? Look up “dogs perceive eye-contact as a threat”, and see how many hits you get.

    Right, the NYPD and other agencies aren’t obliged to learn dog behavior; and my dog was not obliged to appease humans like you.

    Here’s an article on the importance of emotions in moral judgments. “Moral Judgement Fails Without Feelings”

  19. 19peace80, NYC animal control takes dog bites very seriously, whether the victim is rich or poor; and hospitals are also required to report dog bites. So if Star had a history of injuring people, as the East Village Local newspaper claimed, animal control would have already picked her up and promptly killed her.

    The newspaper reported that Star bit someone on the knee *after this person hit her caregiver with his cane*. She was protecting him. Star may have done the same others, but I don’t think they were injured enough to seek treatment, because animal control would have had to follow up on it.

  20. elliem,

    I know dogs very well, and fully understand their protective instincts.

    None of that changes the fact that a dog’s behavior in public is the full and sole responsibility of the owner.

    Allowing a dog to lunge and bark at people in public is rude and inconsiderate, and displays either a lack of skill or effort in training the dog.

    And I have to repeat, it’s naive and cavalier to assume a dog that behaves that way won’t bite. Any dog has the potential to bite.

    Not everybody loves dogs. And nobody should have to suffer being lunged and barked at in a public space. In other words, there’s is no excuse for you, me or any dog owner to allow our animals to become other people’s problem.

    I’m aware of the place and importance of emotions. I love my dogs, I love my children, I’m still very much in love with my wife. That’s all good, and moral.

    But as I said before, allowing sentiment over dogs to supersede public and officer safety is, IMO, neither rational or moral.

  21. Hal, you’re missing the point entirely, which is that dogs who bark and lunge at people whom they perceive as a threat to their human friends do not deserve to get shot. If you love dogs, I don’t know how you can possibly argue with that. And if you lived in NYC, you might not be so willing to accept police stories.

    In fact, the NYC Animal Care & Control now considers protective dogs blameless! That’s why it’s treating Star’s wounds and suggesting she be adopted. There was a time when the NYCAC&C killed dogs and cats without a second thought, but thanks to animal advocates, it was pressured to account for its policies.

    You’re implications that I permitted my dog to bark and lunge at people, and that he wasn’t professionally trained are both incorrect. And yes, I knew he would not bite, and he never did.

    Neither did I suggest that dogs were not the owner’s responsibility in public or anywhere else — but we cannot allow fear of dogs to dictate how the police and public agencies treat them. Dogs shouldn’t have to pay for human problems. Fear of dogs is not justification for killing them.

  22. Elliem,

    Dog’s don’t “deserve” anything. They are completely innocent.

    The dog in the video wasn’t merely “lunging and barking” It was displaying extremely aggressive behavior in a public space — both toward a civilians and a police officer. For his own protection, and that of the public, the officer made the right decision. That dog was probably going to bite somebody.

    Each case will be unique, of course. I’m not suggesting the police simply open fire on any dog that barks or growls.

    I’m glad you “knew” your dog would not bite. It was still inconsiderate of you to expect other people to live according to that assumption.

    Fear of vicious dogs is not a “human problem.” It’s a genuine concern.

    Likewise, annoyance toward, or even a little worry about, a dog that is barking and lunging in public isn’t a “human problem.” It’s the dog’s owner being inconsiderate enough to allow their animal to disrupt somebody else’s peace and basic right to just go about their business in a public space.

    Like I said, not everybody loves, or even likes, dogs. To turn your last phrase around, our sentimental feelings toward our own dogs, or dogs in general — even if they aren’t vicious dogs — isn’t justification for letting them become a pain in the ass for everybody else.

  23. Dogs “don’t deserve anything because they’re completely innocent”? That makes no sense to me, Hal.

    Unreasonable fear of dogs is indeed a human problem, and dogs shouldn’t have to pay for it. Nor are the people who love them required to placate people who either don’t like dogs, are unreasonably fearful of dogs, or who get annoyed over just about everything.

    Fear in dogs is not the same as viciousness. Whether they are protecting their owners, or they perceive a threat to themselves, we are obliged to use non-lethal methods to control them — like a zoo did today for tigers.

    In the News this evening, there was a report about young man who was severely mauled by tigers when he jumped into a tiger’s den. His leg was severed and he was in critical need of medical care — and like the man on the NYC street, they couldn’t help him because there were surrounding tigers — but unlike the cops who shot Star, no one shot the tigers. Instead they found a way to control and cage them, and then let the medics assist the man. I don’t like zoos, but I think in this case the zoo keepers did the right thing.

  24. I have to say that if the officer felt his life was in danger, I can’t really blame him. What if the dog didn’t stop with just the mace? No one can say for sure of course, because it wasn’t tried first, but… if the dog had mauled the cop, there would be an injured officer AND the dog would be put down. At least the dog survived, and it sounds like Star will recover and due to the publicity he’ll likely find a new home… I can’t help but wonder if the officer feels bad, knowing now what the situation was. Out of curiosity, has anyone heard a statement on it?

    If anything this shows that we need to include more training for officers in regards to dealing with animal encounters. Most officers recieve little to no training on it since it typically falls under animal control’s jurisdiction. The only major training they can rely on in these situations is whether or not ot use deadly force, and without any more knowledge on animals than a typical person… I can see exactly why he thought his life was in danger.

    Sorry if this is has all been stated above. I admit I only read the first few comments, as there were so many…

  25. Pit bulls are associated with dog fighting, and dog fighting — though it’s most prevalent among Southern white men — is associated with black men. I’d like to see a police department that doesn’t racial profile or associate dogs with a racial stereotype, i.e. discrimination.

  26. elliem,

    Dogs are innocent. What are we going to do, charge a dog with assault?

    Zoos have control methods on hand, and also, jumping into a tiger den is just asking for it anyway, so that’s a poor comparison.

    Police officers on the street should not be asked to take needless risks for themselves or the public. Yes, a dog is without fault. But if a dog is lunching viciously at people with mere seconds to react, then an officer must do whatever he or she has to do. Again, in viewing this video, I see no wrongdoing on the officer’s part. He neutralized the threat. And, luckily enough, the dog lived.

    Perhaps it will think twice about lunging at people from now on.

    I’m also sensing you might have some trouble grasping the basic principle of common courtesy in a public space. If your dog is barking, growling or doing anything that might annoy or upset other people, that falls directly upon you, and is your sole responsibility.

    Lucky for me, I live in a small town/rural area, where it’s not much of an issue. It’s easy enough for me to load my canines into my pickup, and make a short drive to wide open country where the dogs can do pretty much whatever they please.

    But, I still take care to try my best to ensure my dogs don’t become other peoples’ problems while I’m in town.

  27. Hal, I don’t need a lesson on responsibility, especially from someone like yourself, who refuses to take responsibility for the gratuitous killing of living beings who have some of the same interests and emotions as you do. And trust me, if I didn’t grasp the principles of common courtesy, my posts would be far less polite.

    What happened with the tigers in the Bronx Zoo is actually a very good comparison to what happened with Star in NYC — there are plenty of animal experts in NYC, who could have arrived within minutes. Had the police not regarded Star’s life as expendable, they could have called the experts to control her, just as the Bronx Zoo called the experts to control several tigers.

    Would you lunge at someone to protect those you care about? I know I would if I had to, because I’d do whatever I could to protect the people I love. If, as I suspect, you would too, then you shouldn’t blame Star.

  28. elleim — you’re sort of bouncing all over the place here, but still missing the point.

    Your distaste toward hunting is noted, but not relevant to this discussion — we’re talking about domestic animals in public spaces here, not wild ones in natural ecosystems.

    Again, I see no good comparison to the incident at the zoo — where a person was apparently overcome with a bizarre and moronic urge to jump into a tiger den. Be that as it may, the responsibility is his — for putting both himself and zoo staff in danger.

    Patrol officers don’t need to become experts in animal behavior, there’s no need for it. That’s what animal control officers are for.

    Star’s life and well-being take a back seat to human health and safety. When the dog started lunging at people, time was up — it’s that simple. I’m guessing, animal control probably had been called, but the dog turned vicious before animal control officers could arrive.

    What I would do, or not do, is beside the point. I’m not a dog. And I repeat, I’m not “blaming” the dog. Dogs lack the capacity to carry blame.

    I guess we just have a fundamental difference in values. I value basic kindness to animals, and animal welfare. I do not put animal life on par with human life, health and safety, or see it as having any intrinsic claim to “rights” in that regard.

    A dog’s life or well being is not worth an officer risking getting bitten, or allowing a member of the public to be bitten. A dog acting viciously in a public space is a threat, and should be dealt with accordingly. If animal control officers can arrive in time, great. If not, then other courses of action — up to and including shooting the dog — must be applied.

  29. Hal, you think I’m “bouncing all over the place” because you’re not connecting the dots — I mentioned hunting in relation to *you, and the myths you cling to, in an attempt to excuse your lack of empathy for animals and the gratuitous killing you inflict on them*. If anything, your insistence on their innocence is all the more reason to protect their interests — rather than disregard or violate them, as you do.

    You justify shooting Star because you’ve projected your mistaken sense of self righteousness and human supremacy — that you believe entitles you to hunt — on to the policemen who shot her.

    As it happens, one of my uncles was a policeman, and I’m sure he’d disagree with you.

    The man who jumped into the tigers’ den was mentally ill — you can’t hold him responsible for his actions, or use his lack of judgment to qualify the zoo keepers’ choice of non-lethal methods.

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