Last Monday, a female dog called Lessie was minding her own business in the district of Jardim Turu in the northeastern capital city of São Luís, Maranhão state.
Lessie is a community dog, that is, a street-dwelling dog that is looked after by the residents of the are where they live. That is lucky in a country with 20 million dogs living in the streets and exposed to all sorts of dangers, such as accidents, disease and the hostility of people.
Lessie was to face another type of danger: a trigger-happy armed off-duty cop called Rafael Constantino, who shot her just because she barked at him as he made his way to the baker’s with his 45-day puppy.
The bullet pierced her body but fortunately did not kill her. One of the neighbors who fed the stray called the police and the cop turned himself in at the local police station.
Constantino said he didn’t mean ‘to hurt’ Lessie and offered to pay for the costs of her treatment. How shooting an animal is not meant to harm them is beyond comprehension.
The animal welfare commission of the local chapter of the bar association decided to take Lessie’s case to the public prosecutor in an attempt to force the police to give the cop some kind of penalty.
“We want to signal the end of impunity in cases of animal cruelty, either when they are committed by a public agent, which is more serious, or a member of the public,” said Sebastião Uchôa, president of the commission.
Trigger-happy cops shooting dogs
Sadly, Lessie’s case is not an isolated one. Almost every week the press reports a case of a cop shooting a dog, on- or off-duty.
Also earlier this week an on-duty cop killed a pit bull dog in Sapezal, Mato Grosso State in the western part of Brazil. The cop said the dog was running towards him and he had to defend himself. The police department is now ‘investigating’ the case.
Last September, an off-duty cop in Belém, in the north of Brazil, killed a boxer dog called Hulk because he barked at his dogs at the other side of a gate while walking with a 14-year-old boy. Just a case of dogs getting into a harmless barking match, but enough for a hot-blooded cop to pull out a gun and terminate a life.
Cases of off-duty cops killing dogs that belong to neighbors because of minor incidents abound.
The result is a dead animal, traumatized families and children. Rarely, if ever at all, they get punished since the militarized police in Brazil tends to protect their staff.
These acts of violence raise the question as the emotional capability of these men to be cops and be allowed to carry guns.
The violence against animals is part of a wider context of macho behavior and institutionalized violence.
Brazil is always cited in human rights reports denouncing the country’s lethal police violence. Last year, there was an 18% increase in the number of killings by police in Rio de Janeiro state.
All of this shows that violence does not spare anyone. Animals are the most vulnerable, least respected members of society. All of the animals being gunned down by cops, and sometimes civilians with guns, will not have justice because the law is too busy with the high levels of violence between humans.
The only way forward is to continue to work for a cultural change where non-human life is valued and where men do not have to prove to the world how macho they are by wielding a gun and killing a living being.
Let’s hope that Lessie, who fortunately survived the gun rage, will have justice. It is the least she deserves.