There is an old saying that suggests one must never, under any circumstances, strike a neighbor’s dog. But 29-year-old Iowa native Luke Carter didn’t have much of a choice but to break this golden rule. In fact, he shot a dog not once, but twice, with his 9mm SIG Sauer P365 when it began to maul his dog and threatened his and his father’s lives.

A Stroll Turned Violent

On the afternoon of Feb. 2, 2021, Luke Carter and his dad decided to get some exercise by taking a stroll around the block. Carter’s friendly, 44-pound Labrador retriever mix was on a leash. It was a cold but bright February day, with a couple of inches of snow on the ground. The men were talking, minding their own business. Carter’s Lab trotted along, occasionally sniffing or peeing as dogs do, but neither barking nor growling.

Carter’s 64-year-old father noticed two pit bulls in the driveway on the other side of the street. “Better keep an eye on those two,” his father muttered. As suddenly as these words had left his lips, one of the pit bulls came charging at them, the other following at a quick walk.

Carter yanked his dog behind the only nearby cover — a green trash receptacle which a neighbor had left next to the street — and hoped the charging pit bull might lose interest. He had no such luck. His father, who struggles with arthritis, fumbled ineffectually for the pepper spray or stun gun he often carries.

It all happened so fast, and they hardly had time to react. The pit bull didn’t bark, growl or howl. It just charged them.

The pit whirled around the trash container and seized Carter’s dog by the neck. In less than a second, it had the Lab down and began crushing its windpipe. His canine companion struggled and yelped in pain. Carter was wearing boots and gave the pit bull a good kick in an attempt to free his dog from the pit’s clenching jaws. He struck it again and then once more in the head. The kicks didn’t faze the attacking dog at all, and Carter hesitated.

What was he going to do? His dog was whining, struggling, thrashing beneath the 97-pound attacker and gasping for air. Would the enraged dog turn on him and his father next?

In desperation, Carter drew his SIG and fired. The bullet hit the attacking canine in the abdomen, but the dog didn’t seem to notice that it had been shot. It backed away for a moment and then jumped at the Lab again, resuming its attack. Carter fired once more, hitting the dog only a few inches from the first shot. The pit released its deadly grip on the Lab, turned and walked back toward the house. No limp. No blood dripped on the pavement. The second pit bull also turned and followed.

The Outcome

Before they left, the police examined Carter’s dog and confiscated the SIG.

On July 1, 2021, Iowa become the 19th state to pass constitutional carry. Iowans who are at least 21 years old who may lawfully possess a handgun will now be able to carry openly or concealed without a permit. Of course, constitutional carry was not yet the law in Iowa when Carter shot the attacking dog. But he did have a permit to carry and was a member of the USCCA.

Thus, as soon as Carter and his father realized the pits were retreating, the men hustled straight home with the wounded Lab. On the way, Carter called 911 to report the incident. To say that he was apprehensive about meeting the police is perhaps an understatement. But after making the call, he phoned the USCCA Critical Response Team and asked for advice. The agent he spoke with helped ease his mind. When he met the uniformed police, he wasn’t so nervous that he couldn’t talk or tell his story in a straightforward manner.

Patrol cars were parked at Carter’s place before he and his dad got back home. The cops spent more than a half-hour interviewing the men and took their statements. Before they left, the police examined Carter’s dog and confiscated the SIG.

Eventually — and rather rapidly — the drama played itself out. Carter was not charged with a criminal offense. It was evident that Carter had fired to protect himself, his dog and his father.

The law in Des Moines requires a pit bull owner to keep this breed of dog confined inside a house or residence or in a fenced yard on a leash; to carry $100,000 liability insurance; and to hold the animal securely on a leash that is no longer than 6 feet when it is being walked. In addition, anyone walking a pit bull must be 18 years old or older.1

The dog that attacked Carter was running loose with its companion. At the time of the attack, no one seemed to be present at the dogs’ home. The owners subsequently claimed that some unknown person had accidentally “left the gate open.” This is hardly a reasonable or satisfying excuse. Shot twice in the belly, the attacking dog was taken to a veterinary office and put down. Its owners were apparently not charged or ticketed.

Carter said he has not been harassed by anyone, including the owners of the pits, anti-gun neighbors, animal-rights activists or the police. Indeed, the cops returned his SIG a couple of weeks after the incident.

Perhaps Carter’s escape was facilitated by the fact that he acted in a legal and responsible manner. He did nothing to provoke the attack. Although his SIG is chambered for 9mm Luger and has a capacity of 10+1 rounds, Carter did not fire more shots than were necessary to protect himself, nor did he fire as the dog retreated. He did not shoot at the second dog or chase it, even though he did not know what it might do. He called 911 and reported the incident immediately. He cooperated with the police, stating, “I thought the pit bull was going to kill my dog,” and expressed his fear that he did not know what it might have done after that.

What surprised Carter most about the situation was how loud the 9mm sounded in a quiet setting and how negligent the dogs’ owners were to leave them running free. He asked, “What if it had been children walking home from school or playing nearby? What then?”

After the shooting and the interview with the police, Carter told the responding officers that the incident had made him more cognizant of the difficulty and hazards of police work.

“I wouldn’t want your job,” he told them.

Carter showed remarkable compassion for the dog he shot, even though he acted in self-defense when it attacked. “I love dogs and I hated to shoot it,” he said, “but I felt I had to.”

It isn’t at all clear what Carter and his dad might have done differently to avoid the attack. Maybe they could have turned back as soon as they first noticed the pit bulls. But it was only a matter of a few seconds from the moment his father spotted the dogs and the attack. And, of course, fleeing may have triggered the dogs’ instinctive chase response, and the situation could have become far worse.

Despite the cries of some owners that pit bulls are sweet-tempered by nature, pits can be very dangerous animals. Over a 15-year period, from 2005 to 2020, 521 Americans were killed by dogs, and pit bull breeds accounted for more than 66% of these deaths.2

Carter’s Takeaways

He has watched videos of actors appearing in need — lost or suffering a health emergency — ignored by real bystanders. These videos are reminiscent of the famous 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese outside her New York City apartment. Numerous neighbors apparently heard her screams — may even have witnessed the murder — but they returned quietly to their television sets or their dinners because they “did not want to get involved.”

The term “bystander effect” refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people will help a person in distress. When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses. In a large crowd, no single person wants to take responsibility for some dramatic action.

In Carter’s case, and despite the noise of the shots, no one came to a window. No doors opened.

Now he believes, based on his experience with the pit bulls, that a person must not only exercise situational awareness at all times but also be mentally prepared to act without fear of taking action. You must be prepared to accept the consequences of doing the right thing, whether for self-protection or to protect someone else. There is a cognitive bias, Carter said, in assuming that everything is OK. But sometimes everything is not OK and a person must be prepared to be the one to stand up and help. Don’t wait for the approval of the crowd.

Carter praised USCCA’s educational videos in helping him through the incident with the attacking dog. Although the assault happened very fast and a person cannot ever be completely certain about bullet pass-through and ricochets, he did try to see if anything was on the other side of the dog that might be struck by one of his bullets.

In a fast, critical and close-range situation, the aiming-breathing-squeezing exercises taught at the gun range are practically useless.

“Hit rates vary notably across police agencies but rarely exceed 50%,” wrote Dr. Michael D. White, a criminology professor at Arizona State University, in a 2006 study published in Police Quarterly.3 And those rates, while varying dramatically by situation and level of training, have not significantly changed in 16 years. That said, Carter’s two close-range shots were well-executed.

“The way I look at it,” Carter explained, “is if you’re going to use something as serious as a gun, you have to use it as a de-escalation device only, something to make the situation stop. Not to make it worse. We [Iowa] recently passed a constitutional carry law, and while I think that’s a really cool thing, I’d still recommend people get training and learn all of the laws so they have the respect and responsibility of their right to carry.”

It’s good advice from someone who experienced it firsthand.

Endnotes

(1) “Breed Specific Legislation in Des Moines,” Animal Rescue League of Iowa, Inc., 2021, https://www.ARL-Iowa.org/community/des-moines-bsl/.

(2) “15 Year U.S. Dog Bite Fatality Chart — 2005 to 2019,” DogsBite.org, July 15, 2020, https://www.Dogs-Bite.org/pdf/15-year-dog-bite-fatality-chart-dogsbiteorg.pdf.

(3) Michael D. White, “Hitting the Target (or Not): Comparing Characteristics of Fatal, Injurious, and Noninjurious Police Shootings,” Police Quarterly 9 (2006): 304.