Protection of pets

Does anyone know how the law in the US views the use of deadly force to protect pets? For a hypothetic example, you see a stranger trying to stomp your puppy — what would be the result of you shooting the threat to keep the puppy from dying?

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27 Responses to Protection of pets

  1. Observer says:

    My understanding is that in general, pets are treated the same as any other property. Some states allow the use of lethal force to protect property while others don’t.

  2. Matthew Carberry says:

    Right or wrong, pets are usually considered “property” and the use of lethal force to defend property is usually not justifiable. I think the answer to your question is going to be very state specific based on that.

    Some states allow deadly force to “prevent a violent felony” and animal abuse may be a “violent felony” in those states, but I think the intent of the law would be decided as applying only to “violent felonies” against a -person-. As pets aren’t people under the law anywhere (AFAIK) your defense attorney will almost certainly be working uphill to expand some definitions.

    In Alaska you can use deadly force to defend a domestic animal against a wild animal under the “defense of life and property” exception to the Game regs, but Game regs don’t apply to the “taking” of people.

    There’s also an interesting moral question in regards to the value of even a scumbag human life versus an animal, however loved.

    • Oleg Volk says:

      The value of scumbags is very negative, thus below even that of a dead chicken, much less a live dog. Again, that doesn’t seem to be the legal definition used by courts.

      • Pvt.Joker says:

        Jeff Cooper referred to this as “the good-riddance factor”.
        When an orc is killed, and he has a rap sheet like a roll of paper towels, and a tattoo of Satan on his bicep, he’s not likely a great loss to society.

      • Kristophr says:

        Exactly. Pets are simply property. You might be able to sue for emotional damage but that is about it.

        Keep the cat indoors. lethal force against burglars is lawful in most states.

    • alanstorm says:

      Idaho uses this standard. Pets are property; deadly force is not considered appropriare. That said, I wouldn’t bet against a case of jury nullification were a DA to file charges against a pet owner.

  3. Ken Hagler says:

    It would depend on the state. In Texas you can use deadly force to stop “criminal mischief in the nighttime,” which means you could shoot the would-be puppy killer if it was at night, but not during the day.

    Note, though, that in the US a stranger trying to kill your dog is probably a cop, and it won’t matter what the law says if you shoot one of them.

  4. R. M. Potter says:

    Even if you were to be prosecuted, is there a jury in the country that would convict you?

  5. R. Frazier says:

    Check out non lethal methods. Tasers, or rubber ball shotgun rounds. You may end up with a law suit, or assault charge in those cases but if you record the encounter you can counter sue or even get them on a charge of cruelty to animals.

  6. Leverett Hadlow says:

    I am NOT an attorney. All of the above are good points as I understand the law. However, I have to wonder how such a case would fare in front of a jury, especially when some fraction of that jury learns that the pet they consider a family member is merely property, and the low life that stomped it to death did nothing worse, in the eyes of the law, than pop a kid’s basketball. Is this a set up for jury nullification?

  7. Dog Adopter says:

    One’s legal protections vary but one’s moral obligations do not. Yes that is simplistic and I use that word with care but it’s my take. The amount force applied to stop the crime must correlate to the disparity of force. I’m not going to shoot an old lady but she can expect to get knocked on her ass. On the other hand, as a man of advanced age and failing health, a linebacker gets a BACK THE FUCK OFF before being forced to desist via superior fire power.

  8. Brian says:

    I recommend carrying pepper spray. I think it is important to have a go-between your gun and bare knuckles. I would spray the “attacker” and when he came towards me…I am in “fear for my life”.

  9. Yardbird says:

    It will be hard to find a jury that will convict you.

  10. Mike says:

    It varies tremendously state by state. Excepting in the case of a home invader, I’d be reluctant to use deadly force to defend a pet in Illinois. I would, however, act immediately with lesser force to defend my pet, and at that point if the assailant came after me the game changes.

  11. Dave says:

    Stomp my dog and I’ll take me chances with a jury.

  12. Art out West says:

    What kind of stupid question is that?

    If somebody breaks into your house and is stomping your puppy, you would seem to have a pretty reasonable fear for your own life. Shoot if you have to, but remember that you did so out of your own fear of death, or grievous bodily harm.

  13. PM says:

    Erin Palette raised this same question with Andrew Branca (“Law of Self Defense) at a seminar she attended recently in Florida: see @Friday 22.01.16. The answer seems largely in line with the earlier comments.

  14. SportPilot says:

    The comments attributed to Andrew Branca are in line with my understanding or TN law on this matter. No matter our personal regard for our pets they are considered property. Castle Doctrine is going to guide any of your actions within your household and Stand your Ground Doctrine outside of you house. If the pet is attempting to protect you from a violent aggressor and you are in fear for your life or safety resulting in your use of lethal force the pets not the issue is it? I seriously suspect anyone you encounter who is kicking your cat or puppy to death is going to be placing you in fear of your own safety.

  15. Kurt Martin says:

    Matthew Carberry’s post is accurate.
    Pets are not people, nor legally part of your family or household.
    But sometimes hurting them is a felony, and you can use non-deadly force to stop a felony in progress. If confronting the pet-torturer results in him attacking you, then you can protect yourself. Possibly by killing that person if they are armed or there are a group of them or otherwise easily capable of maiming or killing you.
    Georgia law (for situations outside of your habitation and not involving the Castle doctrine) allows deadly force if it’s necessary to stop a forcible felony, and in that context force = Vikings or threat of violence against a person (not an animal or other property).

  16. Paul Koning says:

    It’s unfortunate that defense of property is no longer generally considered a valid cause for the use of deadly force. It should be, and it was in the past.

    Art, I don’t think this was a stupid question, and calling it that doesn’t seem helpful. But you raise a good point. In NH, if I remember the wording correctly, lethal force is permitted in response to a threat when you have a reasonable belief you’re in danger of death or major injury, and either you’re at home or you “cannot retreat perfectly safely”. If someone were stomping your puppy out in the driveway, that might be a debatable point. If someone breaks into the house and stomps the watchdog inside, I’m going to argue imminent threat to me and my wife and act accordingly.

  17. Will says:

    In CA, they have put people in prison for deliberately harming someone’s pet (usually a dog). Multi-year sentences make it a felony. If it isn’t now, I would expect that at some point employing deadly force to protect a pet will become legal. IIRC, trying to harm a police dog will get you dead real quick.

    I can understand why people would consider shooting a pet attacker. If my dad had figured out that the teens of a family one street over were the thieves who kept stealing his tools, and killed his final dog (so they could continue to have access to his property), I’m fairly sure he would have employed the 3 S’s program in retaliation. ( I’d have helped with the shovel work.) He was heartbroken about the dog. He lived another 9 years, but couldn’t deal with the thought of that happening again.

    What most people don’t understand about theft of personal property is that what is stolen/destroyed/killed is the amount of lifetime you have invested to buy/create/nurture that object. You can’t get that time back as compensation. Essentially, they have stolen part of your life. That is the true cost of theft. That is why thievery has traditionally been treated so severely throughout world history.

  18. Flint says:

    The NH statute is 627:4 (

    III. A person is not justified in using deadly force on another to defend himself or herself or a third person from deadly force by the other if he or she knows that he or she and the third person can, with complete safety:
    (a) Retreat from the encounter, except that he or she is not required to retreat if he or she is within his or her dwelling, its curtilage, or anywhere he or she has a right to be, and was not the initial aggressor;

    Since there’s never complete safety in a situation where deadly force is justified, that exception is pretty much meaningless. I suppose if you could hit a button and cause a vault door to swing into place between you and the attacker, or somesuch ridiculous example, it might apply.

    If the individual’s attack on the pet caused you to “reasonably believe” that the attacker was going to turn on you and use deadly force against you, then you would be justified in defending yourself (not your pet). Interestingly, the standard is whether you reasonably believe that the threat is real, not whether someone else would reasonably believe that – many states apply a “reasonable man” test, which requires that the process be objectively-reasonable. NH still requires that the choice be reasonable, but allows for the subjective details of the specific participants in the situation to be considered. So, if a victim of domestic abuse had seen her pet killed by her abuser (a common tactic) just before he tried to kill her, she could argue that seeing a pet killed made her reasonably believe that she was going to be next (without being forced to plead insanity, with all of the future repercussions).

    Additionally, in NH, if someone is committing or attempting to commit a burglary and is “likely” (51/49) to use “any unlawful force” (not just deadly) against you, then you are justified in defending yourself with deadly force. And if someone is in your home or its curtilage and is likely to use “any unlawful force” against you in the commission of a felony (even if the felony is not physically violent – let’s say insurance fraud, passing bad checks, or the like), then deadly force is justified. Because both of those merely require that “any” unlawful force be “likely,” the standard would be much easier to meet: if I catch a burglar stomping my puppy, then it’s more likely than not that he will at least punch me.

    But, if we take Oleg’s question to be solely about killing pets – that is, where there’s no threat to the human which could separately justify defending human life – then there’s no justification in using deadly force. Which, perhaps, is something which should be addressed in some manner. Animals are animals, and do not have human rights, but on the other hand, someone who kills others’ pets is highly likely to be someone who has or will at some future time be a deadly threat to humans. I’m thinking that an explicit statement should be added to that statute, making it clear that killing a pet may be considered prima facie evidence of a threat to any other humans in the area if there’s any other evidence to support that. Perhaps also stating that if you catch someone killing your pet, you have a right to arrest them, and if they resist in any manner, deadly force is authorized.

    • Paul Koning says:

      Thanks for all that detail, Flint. I knew about arson but I did not know the one about burglary. Time to re-read the RSAs.

      The main problem is that defense of property is not nowadays treated by many laws as a justification for deadly force — it was in earlier centuries, and it should continue to be so today. Will’s last paragraph is a good explanation why. (Neil Smith, in his excellent work “Down with Power” spells out that same argument in the chapter “Property”.)

  19. Fred says:

    Yep, pets are property.

  20. Riley says:

    Shoot the demon stomping your puppy. There should be no debate on such things, but we live in these times. Do what seems right and then live by it. Should it not fit with your state’s prescription, it’s hurtful to live in a hole. Deal with your poor planning.

  21. Jeff says:

    With respect to the narrow quote above. In Texas you can. To wit:

    TEX PE. CODE ANN. § 9.42 : Texas Statutes – Section 9.42: DEADLY FORCE TO PROTECT PROPERTY

    A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property:

    (1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41; and

    (2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:

    (A) to prevent the other’s imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime; or

    (B) to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property; and

    (3) he reasonably believes that:

    (A) the land or property cannot be protected or recovered by any other means; or

    (B) the use of force other than deadly force to protect or recover the land or property would expose the actor or another to a substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury.

  22. JSW says:

    You/people may not be justified using any kind of lethal force in protecting their pets, but ask any lawyer what will happen if you harm a police K-9 dog.

    The problem with laws is they’re never meted fairly.

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