Jury Awards Damages for Dog Killed by Police

A federal jury has awarded the Russell family, Thomas and Darcel and their sons, Thomas III and Darren $330,000 in damages.

On February 27, 2009, eighteen year-old Thomas Russell III and his brother, sixteen year-old Darren Russell, were at home in their second-floor apartment with their nine-year old dog, Lady. Lady had been part of the family all of her life.

That night Chicago police officers executing a search warrant for illegal drugs knocked on the door and here is what happened:

Thomas opened the door to the officers and asked if he could put away his dog, who was very friendly and who would be coming into the front room at any moment.

Officer Katalinic responded by putting a gun to Thomas’ head, pushing Thomas to the floor, and handcuffing him.

The Russells’ dog, Lady, came into the front room with her tail wagging. Without hesitation, Officer Antonsen shot Lady in the head.

 Lady, who had been part of the Russell family since she was a puppy, was instantly killed.

When Darren-who had heard a gunshot, commotion and his brother crying-came out of his room, Defendants pointed a gun at his head and handcuffed him even though he had done nothing wrong.

Thomas was charged with obstruction of service of process but the charge was resolved in his favor. No drugs were ever found in the Russells’ apartment.

The Russells brought this civil action against the city of Chicago and the police officers involved under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, a Civil War era statute that still offers a remedy when there has been a deprivation of liberty or property without due process of law. 

In this case the Russells’ action under Sec. 1983 was for use of excessive force, false arrest, illegal search, illegal seizure of property for killing Lady, and failure of other officers to intervene. They also pursued state law claims for  malicious prosecution, assault, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The verdict included $2,000 for punitive damages for the shooting of Lady. The jury award otherwise clearly reflected the emotional damage to the plaintiffs, Thomas and Darren Russell, as a result of this entire fiasco and including Lady’s horrific death.


New MD Law Relating to Spay/Neuter Funding

S.B. 639 has been approved by the Maryland legislature. The bill will establish a task force to study and make recommendations about the establishment of a spay/neuter fund in the state.  

The task force will (1) collect and review data on the number of spay/neuter services performed each year in the State and the unmet need for the services; (2) review ongoing successful local spay/neuter programs in the State; (3) review spay/neuter programs in other states and identify best practices; (4) review and make recommendations regarding the most appropriate funding mechanism for a spay/neuter fund; and (5) make recommendations regarding the establishment of a  spay/neuter fund that best meets the needs of the State. 

The task force is to report its findings and recommendations on or before January 1, 2012, to the Governor, the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee and the House Health and Government Operations Environmental Matters Committee.

The task force will be made up of representatives from the state senate, House of Delegates, Dept. of Agriculture, MD Association of Counties, animal advocacy and welfare organizations, Maryland Veterinary Medical Association, the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council and the Pet Food Institute. 

H.B. 339 was the House of Delegates version.

Mandatory Spay/Neuter for Memphis

dog and catMemphis, Tennessee has passed a law that mandates spay/neuter. For the most part. 

Under the ordinance no person "shall own, harbor, or keep within the City of Memphis, a dog or cat over the age of six months, which has not been spayed or neutered". This includes "[a]ny person who feeds, shelters or harbors an animal or permits it to remain on" his or her property. Like feral cats.

There are a host of broad exemptions that will continue to allow breeding for (1) use of dogs as service, guide or therapy animals, by search and rescue, law enforcement and other government agencies; (2) use of dogs for herding or as livestock guardian dogs or hunting dogs; (3) dogs or cats registered with the American Kennel Club, the Cat Fancier Association or other recognized registry or trained and kept for the purpose of show, field trials or agility trials; and (4) dogs or cats whose owner has obtained an unaltered animal permit. The permit requires a one time $200 fee and limits breeding of each animal to once a year. 

Also exempt are animals whose veterinarian has said there is a health reason for not being spayed/neutered and dogs or cats "boarded in a licensed kennel or a business, which boards such animals for professional training or resale".

Regardless, tethered dogs must be spayed/neutered.  Also, an unaltered animal with a record of one bite and/or attack must be fitted with a microchip implant and spayed or neutered within thirty (30) days of the incident.

The penalty for a violation is $50 per day.

Will it work?

The city may need to do something else to reach its stated goal "to protect the citizens and pets of Memphis from the dangers of overpopulation of dogs, the overcrowding of the Memphis Animal Shelter and prevalence of dogs that are abused and abandoned".

Like make free or low cost spay/neuter readily accessible and aggressively educate people on the importance of spay/neuter and where they can obtain the surgery free of charge or at a heavily reduced rate.

The law is likely to prompt many people to spay/neuter their pets certainly over time as they get used to the idea. There is low cost spay/neuter available to some extent in the Memphis area, but it is limited. Without free or low cost spay/neuter that is readily available, it is not clear the mandatory law will work to reduce significantly the numbers of unwanted animals that end up at the city shelter. Certainly, the law will be difficult to enforce and could not only divert but also increase animal control costs.

Studies have shown a mandatory spay/neuter law can mean fewer people license their pets, resulting in fewer animal control dollars and greater incidents of rabies and other diseases from animals whose owners fail to comply with licensing and vaccination requirements.

The burden of a mandatory law like this falls on low and moderate income pet owners. With 11% unemployment and a poverty rate that is twice the national average, spay/neuter will simply not be affordable by many residents. Without free, low cost and even moderate cost pay/neuter, many people are likely to simply dump them at least in the initial period following passage of the law. In Los Angeles, for example, shelter intake and numbers of animals euthanized increased following enactment of mandatory spay/neuter in 2008.

For a look at problems at Memphis Animal Services during the past year…

City Council Upholds Veto of Proposal to Kill Dogs for Barking


Update Sept. 8, 2010:  The City Council of Lebanon, Tennessee upheld Mayor Philip Craighead’s veto of an ordinance allowing euthanasia of dogs thought to bark too much or which are otherwise a nuisance or deemed "dangerous". 


The deadly solution for dogs whose owners are negligent or even criminal was the brain child of City Council member William Farmer. 

Farmer claims pet owners will have an opportunity to correct the animal’s behavior. But it is the owner’s negligence that results in dogs expressing fear or distress through barking. It is the owner’s negligence that results in dogs running loose or biting, not the dog’s. As one resident put it, "They are going to kill a dog because the owner leaves him outside all the time on a chain and so he barks in frustration?"