Canine Corner

The human-animal bond

Sit! Stay! Shoot! — Do We Need Gun Control for Dogs?

Dogs have been known to shoot their owners by accident or in self-defense.

dog puppy canine gun control accident shoot owner hunt
We warn people all of the time about keeping guns out of the reach of children. Perhaps now there's good reason to give the same warning when it comes to dogs. I suggest this in light of the fact that recently the media has been filled with a series of stories involving dogs who shot their owners. For example a man from Great Salt Lake in Brigham City, Utah, had been hunting ducks from a boat at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge. As he climbed out of the boat to move some decoys in the shallow marsh he left his Labrador Retriever inside the boat. The dog got excited about the possibility of getting out of the boat and inadvertently jumped on a 12-guage shotgun. The gun then fired, unloading 27 pellets into his owner's behind.

 Another case comes from Sebring, Florida where a man told the police that his dog accidentally shot him with a gun that he thought was unloaded. Gregory Dale Lanier was riding in his truck when the dog knocked his 9mm handgun onto the floor of the truck, causing it to discharge into the man’s leg. Sebring Police Cmdr. Steve Carr said police did not arrest the dog or detain the animal, pending further investigation.

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Yet another report comes from France, where a man was out hunting deer with three of his Blue Gascony Basset hounds near his hometown of St. Michel de Double. Two of the dogs were running after an animal, while the youngest lingered behind, close to the hunter. He later explained that the dog "jumped on me to give me a cuddle, I think." Apparently a paw caught the trigger of his gun and the bullet shattered part of the huntsman's right hand. The victim said he only had himself to blame for not applying the safety catch and did not hold the incident against his dog "at all". He went on to say "It wasn't the dog's fault - and he's adorable!"

 From Canada comes a case where a dog first shot her owner and then heroically went about helping to rescue him. Joe Petrowski who lives in a small town in Manitoba was fixing his rifle and walked away from his workbench. According to Petrowski, his dog, Vegas, ran by the rifle, and perhaps her fur or her paw got caught in the trigger causing it to go off. He reports that the bullet hit him and he lost consciousness. The next thing that Petrowski knew was that Vegas was licking his face and pawing at him. The man was having difficulty moving, so he grabbed his dog's collar and she dragged him to the house. She eventually pulled him close enough to a phone so that he could call for help. Petrowski says that he isn't angry at Vegas for shooting him. "I made a mistake putting myself in front of a loaded gun," he explained.

 Also from Canada comes another case which may be a bit more ambiguous. M. Bernard lives in a suburb of Montréal and he had just returned from a hunting trip. He was about to unload his 30-30 rifle when the telephone rang, so he placed it on the table while he went to answer the call. His Great Dane, Claude, was quite excited about his master's return and as he happily twirled around he knocked the rifle off of the table. The gun discharged and the bullet passed through the ceiling and into the foot of an upstairs neighbor. The neighbor called the police and claimed that Bernard had deliberately fired his weapon through the ceiling because of an ongoing dispute over what he described as Claude's loud and persistent barking. Bernard responded that he had no desire to harm his neighbor. He went on to say that although he understood why Claude might dislike that man he doubted that the dog understood the workings of firearms well enough to use such a weapon against his neighbor. As of this writing no charges have been laid against either Bernard or Claude.

 Finally we have a story out of Pensacola Florida where a dog shot a man in self-defense. Jerry Allen Bradford told the Escambia County Sheriff's office that he found himself in possession of a litter of seven German Shepherd mixed breed dogs. He claimed that he decided to shoot the three-month-old shepherd- mix dogs in the head because he couldn't find them a home. After he had dispatched three of the puppies he grabbed the next two, holding one in his arms and another in his left hand. It was at that moment that the pup in his hand began to wriggle and managed to put its paw on the trigger of his .38-calibre revolver. The bullet tore into Bradford's wrist, causing him to drop the dogs and to run to the phone to call for help. Bradford was charged with felony animal cruelty and the four surviving puppies were rescued by the local animal shelter. All four pups were put up for adoption, and the dog who shot Bradford was given the name "Trigger". An unnamed individual in the Sheriff's office has said that no charges are contemplated against Trigger, since, "Just as in the case of humans, a dog should have the right to use a firearm in self-defense when its life is threatened." Doubtless there are members of the National Rifle Association who are smiling, and nodding agreement at that.

 Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: Born to Bark; Do Dogs Dream? The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome

 Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

Stanley Coren, Ph.D., F.R.S.C., is a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia.

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