Can you use deadly force to protect your pet? The answer is yes, no, maybe. This is a common question I hear from people and one that came up in a Texas instructors class recently.
We all love our pets; a dog is man’s best friend. Whenever I give the legal answer to protecting your pet, the conversation becomes heated, and as an animal lover, I understand why. Remember, I don’t make the laws; I am here to help keep you out of trouble.
Depending on where you live and the situation, you may or may not be allowed to use deadly force to protect your pet. In the eyes of the law, pets are usually viewed as property and not as family members. Generally, using deadly force to protect personal property (including pets) is not legally justified. The law typically only permits deadly force to defend human life in situations of imminent threat. But there are exceptions and nuances to these laws that can vary greatly depending on where you live.
For instance, in some jurisdictions, they may permit you to use deadly force if you defend your pet from an ongoing attack by a dangerous animal. In this situation, you are using deadly force against another animal, not a person, which may be justified.
This can be very confusing, and a lot depends on whether there was an immediate threat to human life, whether less force could have been used effectively, and so on.
In this attack, a man was out walking his dog when a pit bull came running up and attacked his pooch. The man shot the pit bull because he could not separate them. He may have been technically protecting his “property,” but it was against another animal, not another person.
Also, if someone attacks your pet and you fear for your own life or safety, you may be able to use deadly force to defend yourself. These laws also change from place to place.
In this home invasion, the intruder shot the family dog. The homeowner grabbed his gun and shot the intruder, who was still inside his home. At the time of the shooting, the criminal was a threat to the homeowner, and, therefore, the victim was protecting himself, the dog, and the other family members that were home.
In St. Charles, IL, a bystander, who was a concealed carrier, had to use his gun to stop a dog attack after two rottweilers ran across a yard and attacked a female jogger running down the street. This is an example of “defense of a third party” or “defense of others.” This was interesting because the good samaritan didn’t have his gun on him, and a family member brought his firearm to him from down the street. That information wasn’t available when the article was written, so it is not included.
Here, two unleased dogs followed a man down an alley in Chicago. Although their owner was nearby, they were not on a leash, and a concealed carry holder shot them because he feared for his life. This one turned into a colossal mess, and SWAT responded.
You can see from these examples that too many variables are involved for a single right or wrong answer to protecting your pet.
When dealing with hypotheticals or “what if,” giving a one-size-fits-all answer is impossible. In all cases, it’s important to consult with a legal professional and research the laws in your area beforehand. Violating these laws can have serious legal consequences.
It’s better to make an informed decision than to find out later that you screwed up. Pets are part of your family, and it will be a natural instinct to want to protect them but tread carefully. If anyone knows of a jurisdiction where you can legally protect your pet and it is not considered property reach out to me, and I will update the article accordingly.