Friday, August 17, 2007

For Bandit

On Saturday, a Chandler, AZ police officer left his K-9 partner, Bandit, in the patrol car at his family home for 12 hours. Bandit died from heat exhaustion, an excruciating death and the most common cause of K-9 officers’ demise. Bandit, a Belgian Malinois, was five years old. He had served as a police dog for more than four years. His handler, Sgt. Tom Lovejoy, is head of the Chandler police K-9 unit, and a 15-year veteran of the force.

Ordinarily, Bandit would not have been with Lovejoy on that day. Ordinarily, Lovejoy wouldn’t have learned, upon walking into his house, that his teenager had totaled a family car. Maybe he wouldn't have forgotten Bandit otherwise. We'll never know.

Initially, the Chandler police department declined to investigate, calling the incident a tragic accident, as indeed it was. After intense public outcry, however, Lovejoy is now on administrative leave, and an investigation is being mounted.

“It is at least a misdemeanor to leave an animal unattended in a motor vehicle. And depending on the incident, it could be a felony or an animal-cruelty charge,” said County Attorney Andrew Thomas. In an Arizona summer, leaving anybody unattended in a closed car for longer than a few minutes is likely to be a death sentence. Starting, oh, somewhere around March, our media cycles warnings about leaving animals and babies in hot cars as often as warnings about watching toddlers near swimming pools. It's something we all know not to do.

Those are the basic facts as I understand them.

Bandit’s story is about how humans take animals for granted, and about what we have been taught about our place in the universe relative to theirs. We still function according to the medieval “Great Chain of Being” model, with our image of God on top and banana slugs (or something) at the bottom. The implication for interspecies relations is as clear from the Great Chain as the implication for enlistee-officer relationships is from the Army organization chart.

I just don’t believe in the “Great Chain of Being” anymore. I believe in a Divine creation in which there is (as the Quakers put it) "that of God" in me and in Bandit, too. Therefore, questions like, “Which is more important, my child or your dog,” strike me as just as inane as, “Which is more important, a peach or an avocado.” I don’t believe our Creator thinks of any of us like that at all. Apart from knowing way more than we do about each creature's gifts and potentialities, that Creator loves dogs as much as us humans without confusing which is which, and wants us to do the same thing.

The Creator I believe in doesn’t modify the name of any creature with the words, “It’s just a. . . .”

I don’t want Lovejoy’s head. I know he’s grieving and heartsick, and I am sorry for his pain. Tragedies happen to good people, and I believe that Lovejoy wouldn’t ordinarily have harmed Bandit. But I also believe that like most of the rest of us, Lovejoy didn’t think of his canine partner with quite the regard he just naturally gives to a human partner.

What I want is this: I want Lovejoy and the Chandler police department to make Bandit’s death the turning point at which it becomes every officer’s ingrained instinct to treat a canine partner with all the regard he or she would give to a human partner. I want every K-9 handler’s understanding of his or her responsibility to K-9 to be so core deep, so cellular, that every action involving their team involves as reflexive an accounting for the K-9’s wellbeing as it does when both partners are human.

The fact is that Bandit would not have left Lovejoy in a lethal situation. For Bandit, it just wasn’t an option. I think anyone who knows dogs at all senses that--especially dogs trained, as Bandit was, to be a full team player.

In my world, this makes our duty to adopt the kind of reciprocity I’m advocating even more compelling, rationally and morally. When that’s the standard, K-9s will enter the line of duty with all the protection given any officer. All officers deserve that much--beautiful, bright, and devoted Bandit included.


Divineconomy said...

What a passionate, insightful discussion of the relationship we have with the other sentient beings on the planet. When we as a species can shift our attitude toward the "others" and appreciate them for their contribution to the overall scheme of things, then the Bandits will be justified in their unfailing, yet squandered, trust.