There have been many allegations that inmates in Virginia jails have been attacked by guard dogs, even when the inmates are lying prone on the ground — clearly not a threat. A Washington Post article dated March 6th, “Virginia is using dogs to ‘terrify and attack’ prisoners, say lawsuits that describe one man as mauled in his cell,” outlines how Curtis Garrett was mauled while standing with his hands behind his back, waiting to be put in handcuffs. The two dogs not only bit his arm and leg, but when he fell from the attack, the guards lifted him up while the dogs still had their teeth in him, biting him.
There are so many reasons that using dogs to threaten, intimidate, and actually maul prisoners is a horrible violation of not only prisoner rights but common sense. With good reason, the article points out, many states prohibit the use of dogs for guarding prisoners. Prisons are supposed to be places where the convicted are given the chance for rehabilitation so that once released, they can live productive lives. To that end, many prisons have programs where dogs are used to benefit the prisoners instead of terrifying them. Prisoners can take part in programs where they train homeless dogs in obedience so that they can be adopted into families instead of being killed in shelters. Other programs have prisoners raising puppies to be service dogs. They get the puppies when they are a few months old and are responsible for teaching them basic obedience and getting them used to different situations service dogs might encounter. Then the dogs go to the organization for the final year of training.
Once properly screened inmates have worked with dogs, many paroled and released prisoners end up continuing that work outside of prison. They might become dog groomers or even dog trainers. Additionally, having responsibility for another living creature helps those in need of rehabilitation. Unconditional love is a wonderful thing. But that is the opposite of having dogs terrorize inmates both mentally and physically. I’d also like to see studies on what the forced aggression does to the dogs. Dogs, by nature, want to be loved and part of a family. Working dogs who search for people in disasters often get depressed if they only find cadavers, and get happy when they find live people. Yes, dogs can be taught to attack and bite, but what does such prolonged aggression do to them? Additionally, handlers who are so prone to using dogs in an abusive manner, like attacking helpless inmates who aren’t doing anything to merit such treatment (if one can ever be said to “merit” being attacked by a dog) are probably one of the dog handlers that we read about who don’t really care much about the dogs, either. Having an uncaring attitude about fellow humans, and a lack of compassion, surely translates into a lack of compassion for their dogs. Just recently, a Salisbury, North Carolina K9 handler was caught on video abusing his dog by holding it in the air by its choke collar, slamming it against the police car, and punching the dog violently.
Should dogs be used by law authority as attack dogs at all? In a 2018 case in Montgomery, Alabama, a K9 was allowed to attack and ended up killing the son of a homeowner. Her adult son had entered her home, and a neighbor called the police to report an intruder. After the attack, while the man was bleeding out on the floor, the officers stood around without offering first aid or attempting to stem the bleeding. They also allowed the attack to continue for several minutes. The city is fighting the release of the video.
It’s interesting, and not surprising, to note that all of these incidents occurred in the South, which has historically used dogs as instruments of abuse and intimidation of people of color. This practice must end either by legislation, by executive order, or by public outcry.