Screwtape Wept

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274 Responses

  1. Patrick says:

    This is cross-posted from The Agitator.

  2. David says:

    Ingenious. And enraging!

  3. DrBazUK says:

    The treatment given to this sad story only emphasises the abhorrent nature of what happened.

    As a fan of Lewis, I applaud Patrick bringing this to light with a wider audience.

  4. Ruth says:

    The fact that its a "pitbull" will make it all better in the eyes on the police report most likely. There's not enough information given in that news report to tell whether the dog actually was likely to be a threat or not.

    BUT, I've said it before: damn near every family dog out there has been "trained" to run toward the person who just entered the property to greet them. No, its not deliberate training, but stop and think about it.

    When you get home, whether in the house or in the yard, your dog runs up to greet you. Maybe you make him sit before you acknowledge him, maybe you don't, but either way you greet him back by telling him he's a good boy, and petting him. Most of your family and friends do the same thing.

    Presto, you just trained your dog in "aggressive behavior" that will get him shot by the cop who pulled into your drive with a wrong address….

  5. Bob says:

    I dress up as a cop and pistol whip my dog. That way he runs when he sees cops. Seems to work. He mostly hides under the couch these days, safe from any wandering officers of the law.

  6. Brian says:

    Awesome post! The Screwtape Letters is one of my favorite books of all time, and using it to tell this horrific story was very effective.

  7. nlp says:

    A number of years ago I was amused to find that an officer of the law was afraid of a garter snake that had made its way into a neighbor's car. Since then I've been appalled at the number of police officers who are terrified of dogs.

  8. Dan Irving says:

    I wonder if it was actually a 'pitbull'. I've read reports where the offending animal reported that a 'pitbull' charged and they felt threatened. Funny how it's always a Pitbull or Mastiff. Never a Corgi or Irish Setter. Why are they carrying tasers and pepper spray if they are only going to use them on humans?

  9. Grifter says:

    I've read the Screwtape letters a few dozen times…reading this felt like I'd opened the book again.

  10. Ruth says:

    Dan, it isn't always a 'pitbull', a while back a cop shot a Newfie in a similer situation (seriously, Newfies don't know what aggressive means), and even little 10-15lb dogs aren't immune to being shot for 'aggressive behavior' towards cops. Those piss me off the most I think. I can understand when large dogs coming running at you that you might be afraid, but the chances of that ankle biter being able to inflict life threatening damage in the first couple seconds is really small, give the owner a chance to corral their dog dammit.

  11. Eric R. says:

    Excellent article. C. S. Lewis would be proud.

    While I think the officer acted in haste, my sympathy is lessened by the dog not being on a leash. If the dog had been leashed, it wouldn't have been able to come running from the back yard, Mr. Wormwood would not have received his uncle's latest letter, and Mr. Screwtape would still be a demon instead of a bat.

  12. Patrick says:

    Jesus Christ.

  13. Nicholas Weaver says:

    Eric: If your dog is at your own house, why the fuck do you need to leash it to keep an asshole cop from shooting it!.

    Also, in terms of stopping a dog, pepper spray is probably a better choice anyway: less aim needed.

    Patrick: I always wanted to know what was too low even for Screwtape. Now I know.

  14. GeekChick says:

    I always wonder if the propensity for cops to be terrified of dogs is not a certain amount of projection. The only dogs I know that are routinely trained to attack humans are police K-9s.

  15. Jim Clay says:


  16. Michael says:

    Wonderfully written. Lewis would be proud.

  17. Christian says:

    Gives new meaning to the phrase "And your little dog too!"

  18. Jess says:

    It’s amazing that they train these officers to deal with dangerous human situations but neglect to train them on how to deal with animals. There are safe and effective ways to deal with charging or aggressive dogs. An ultrasonic device like Dazer will usually stop a charging dog in its tracks + pepper spray or mace would work.

    There is a website that tries to keep track of dog shootings

  19. C. S. P. Schofield says:

    Anyone here remember "Screwtape proposes a toast"?. I forsee a rare vintage; this cop bottled with a rabid PETA activist.

  20. Connie says:

    *slow clap* Brilliant. I would love a book written in such a fashion, of devils and demons remarking and commenting on news stories.

  21. kbiel says:

    I'm sure that every dog shot by a police officer is a pitbull just like every time they seize someone's guns it's an arsenal (2 or more guns) containing automatic weapons all of which are either AK-15s or AR-47s (or a Glock if it's a pistol).

  22. Connie says:

    Edit to above: Commenting on current news stories. Ahem.

    Also: Andy Serkiss is attached to the radio play as Screwtape? Awesome.

  23. C. S. P. Schofield says:


    The Audiobook of Screwtape is read by John Cleese. It's awesome too.

  24. Sara says:

    This is a bit ridiculously one sided, isn't it? A pitbull, without restraint and no owner to call it off is charging you. You have a gun. What exactly would you do in few seconds you have to react?

    I find it hard to believe that you would have stood passively while it attacked.

    This post is of course amusing, but to suggest that the police officer was acting in a deliberately evil manner that would offend hell itself is more than just a little bit inflammatory. It's a deliberate attempt to stir up the drama without consideration of both sides.

    It is a terrible thing to shoot the dog of victim as you telling his family about his homicide. I can't disagree.

    However, this is hardly a black and white situation and nothing reported suggests deliberate cruelty.

    We might suggest that the officer could have made a different choice in the heat of the moment – tried to scare of the dog with a warning shot, or only wounded it or if there was safe cover retreated to it.

    But again, living in that moment would be entirely different than being able to reframe it from a distance, without all the information available, and when you have time cooly make choices.

    You on the other hand, had plenty of time to make a cool choice to vilify this person without any reason except it would make an amusing post.

    I like you better when your topics have real villains.

    I like you better when seem to recognize the virtues of the religion you choose to follow, instead of walking straight into the traps Wormwood and Screwtape would have set for you.

    I state the above as a non-believer, so don't feel too convicted.

  25. Grifter says:


    The police are given guns and both special training and, in practice, rights, with the expectation that they will make a cool choice, not a heat of the moment choice.

    The officer (as I understand it) was never actually attacked by the dog…as a regular citizen, if I had a gun I would be waiting until I was actually attacked before pulling a trigger, and I would expect a police officer to do the same or better.

    If this cop can't tell when lethal force is actually warranted on a damn dog, I shudder to think of his judgement on a person. "The sales lady was coming in my direction at the store, so I had to take her out"

  26. Grandy says:

    Sara, according to the article there were owners present. It doesn't sound like there was time to stop the dog from running around the house before the office shot the dog. Further, I wouldn't make any attempt to coral a dog in that situation because the officer is likely to wind up shooting me by accident. And then get off with a slap on the wrist, no doubt.

    Also, and this is hilarious:

    "I like you better when seem to recognize the virtues of the religion you choose to follow, instead of walking straight into the traps Wormwood and Screwtape would have set for you. "

    You might want to pay attention to who a particular author is when critiquing their posts.

  27. Nicholas Weaver says:

    Sara: Its also a matter of the police have pepper spray, which is a better tool for stopping a dog!. Pepper spray really does a number on a charging dog, without killing it, and is far safer for the officer as well, as much less aiming is required.

    If the dog is a real threat and you miss [1], you're screwed with a gun.

    But with pepper spray, just keep spraying and you will nail the pooch.

    [1] Its easy to miss, have you ever gone to the range? Can you hit a paper plate sized target at 10 yards? Now can you hit said target, when its attached to a dog charging at you at a full sprint?

  28. Roscoe says:

    Okay, yes the post was well written and all, but come on. First, a dog bite can be very dangerous given that a dog's mouth is not a particularly clean place. Dog bites are very likely to become infected and become a serious medical issue.

    Second, all kinds of people might walk up to a home's front door, the mailman, cops, the UPS guy, the Jehovah Witness people (okay, maybe it is okay to bite them). If you are going to keep a dog of any breed, especially one known for being aggressive, it is your responsibility to ensure it is restrained so it can't attack people coming up the front walk. (Okay, mom and dad just learned their son died, maybe it's excusable they didn't tie down the dog. But it isn't the cop's fault that the dog wasn't restrained).

    As for whether the dog was a pit bull, the reporter who did this story obviously talked to the family. If it wasn't a pit bull don't you think they would have said that?

    Okay, if I had been the cop, given the circumstances of my visit, I hope I would have had the guts to risk being bitten, or the sense to reach for a more appropriate weapon (taser, pepper spray, baton?) in the split second I had to decide what to do. But (speaking as someone who in his youth sometimes had to make decisions in a hurry), sometimes surprise and fear make you dumb.

  29. Sara says:

    Grifter – That's entirely possible. But this post is not about the fact that an officer made a poor choice in the heat of the moment. This post suggests that this poor choice was something even Hell wouldn't do.
    To me, the post implies that the officer made a deliberately cruel choice. The original news story does not merit that assumption.

    Grandy – The officer was unable to see around the house. So – frankly it doesn't change my point. At all.

    Nicholas Weaver – You may be right. It doesn't change my point. This post is not about poor choices or poor training. It's deliberately implying that the act was heinously and deliberately cruel, rather than unintentionally so.

    Finally, if Patrick is not a believer, than I retract my last statement and replace it with a suggestion that he return to his usual good sense and decency.

  30. Kelly says:

    *applauds* After seeing the kerfuffle about the dog in Ireland being put down simply because it "looked like" a pitbull and was no danger, these sorts of stories make me even angrier.

    @Sara: I had an English Lab and we didn't leash him in our yard, our fenced yard. Why would these people have basically pinned down their dog, on their own property? The police were clearly in the wrong here.

  31. Grifter says:


    "This post is not about poor choices or poor training. It's deliberately implying that the act was heinously and deliberately cruel, rather than unintentionally so."

    While I am a firm believe in the "never ascribe to malice what can be ascribed to incompetence" line of thinking, at a certain point one is warranted in thinking that the incompetence would be so great as to stretch the bounds of that credulity.

    You see nothing that makes you say it must be cruelty, Patrick sees no other explanation that makes sense. Your only other scenario stretches the bounds of plausibility.

  32. Debra says:

    Excellent writing! I haven't read Screwtape in about two decades but you've inspired me to dig it out again. Thank you.

  33. zaq.hack says:

    Fantastic post. Look, police make mistakes. If I make a mistake on my job, I get fired. If a doctor makes a mistake, someone may die. If a policeman makes a mistake, it's possible for a LOT of people to die.

    This guy is not cut out to be a cop. It's okay. He needs a new job. Sometimes that happens to us in life. I'm sorry about the dog, but honestly, I'm glad it wasn't a kid with a toy gun. He cannot be allowed to be in a situation where he can make an even worse mistake under pressure.

    Note: The mistake is, as others have said, choosing a firearm instead of a non-lethal, potentially more-effective tool at his disposal. The chances of firing wildly at a charging animal are pretty huge. If the pooch leaps, a bullet could go through it into a person behind. It just isn't the right answer no matter how you slice it.

  34. V says:

    Nice that the officer was trained well enough to get his gun out 'in time'. Some points for improvement:
    - I think actually firing the weapon should not be the automatic/first response
    - recognizing that dogs run up to people and are often satisfied by just sniffing you

  35. Grandy says:

    Sara, you missed my point. "Charging" is a loaded term. I simply pointed out what the dog did – ran around from the back yard to the front – in a different way. Maybe the dog ran straight for one of the officers. Maybe it didn't. It doesn't matter.

    What matter is that dogs do things like this. All the time. Dogs of all shapes and sizes.

  36. Matt says:

    I've read Screwtape Letters any number of times, you nailed it. What a terrible story.

  37. Sara says:

    Explain how either explanation is more plausible than the other?

    Where is there any suggestion of malice on the part of this particular officer. Do you have some knowledge of the officer or of the situation beyond what was reported? If you don't have any evidence related to this particular incident, I suggest you place a huge amount of selective thinking and confirmation bias (based on your belief that the police abuse their station) on this report.

    By the way, I don't disagree that there are departments and individuals who show a very disturbing trend toward abuse. That does NOT mean that every ugly situation represents that abuse.

    The fact is that there is no proof that either Patrick or my version of the story is right or wrong. The only the report from the newspaper. Hearsay.

    However, as much as I like dogs, even pitbulls, I am a realist. As much as I cringed at the horror of the situation, I can't ignore the the immediate circumstances and the lack of any reported malice.

    I also would tend NOT to make this the ground on which I framed an argument that the police are abusing their positions. I prefer to choose my ground well. Without it, you have to defend the position of the circumstances rather than the bigger picture of police abuse.

    Not to mention that most of the police in this world are doing a good job in hard circumstances. And you just look like a dick when you attack the wrong situation. That makes the argument weak and your authority on future abuses is undermined.

    Taking cheap shots muddies the water and makes the real problem harder to solve.

  38. ShelbyC says:

    There are many more CCW holders with guns than cops with guns. And yet, how often do you hear about CCW holders shooting dogs? Never. And how often do you hear about people getting killed by dogs? Almost never.

  39. Laura K says:

    Sara I've tried to play devils advocate on your posts (no pun originally intended) but as someone who has lost both dogs and loved ones (not in the horrific sequence this family did, but unexpectedly and painfully) and dealt with Police stupidity on one of those occasions…no. I'm sorry, this is so inexcusable that Hell is too good for this man–and also too good for whoever suggested to him in training or advice that the course of action he took was at all a good idea.

    I've got to agree withe everyone who thinks the shooting of the dog is inexcusable and the timing of that shooting just takes it into the world of thermonuclear charbroiled douchebaggery. Not a competent police officer, not a man who should have a fire arm and oh THANK YOU Patrick for the Screwtape theme especially the Bat.

  40. Sara says:

    Grandy – Yes it is a loaded term, but it was term used in the only evidence we were presented on this case. Do you have any reason to think that the dog was just running up to say "hi".
    I know dogs. And I can certainly tell the difference between a dog who is charging and a dog who isn't.
    Did the officer have the same knowledge of dogs? Who knows. We don't. Anymore than we know whether the dog was charging or just coming up to say hi.
    The officer made a choice. Possibly (even probably) a bad choice. But I don't see why we should assume it was a choice of deliberate malice any more than we should assume we have any real knowledge of the actual situation as it happened.
    My original comment was showing that there is another way to view this situation. The satirical assumption that it was an act worse than hell itself would perpetrate was a suggestion that it was done with malice.
    There is no proof that it was.

  41. Patrick says:

    Sara, did you know that the Screwtape Letters were originally published in serial form in a Christian publication known as the Guardian? It's true.

    When the letters were first published, the story is told that an Anglican vicar from a rural parsonage wrote the Guardian to complain. His chief complaint was that the advice the letters offered was inappropriate for a Christian publication. In fact, he went on, much of it seemed positively diabolical.

    The Screwtape Letters are an allegory. This post, like the letters it apes in its clumsy way, is an allegory.

    If I were to extend the allegory further, to whom would I compare you?

  42. Sara says:

    Laura K
    I'm sorry about your losses and horrific experiences. However, applying your previous experiences to this situation does not actually make a valid point. It merely suggests motivated thinking, rather than consideration of evidence and probable explanations.
    No one, least of all me, thinks this is less than a horrific event. My only point is that to paint it as malice rather than poor choices is not based on any evidence.
    Even to suggest poor choices is hard to justify because we really don't know the true circumstances.
    We don't know whether the officer tried to run, scare the dog, or how far away the dog was when officer actually shot him. We don't know if it was feasible to retreat to his car. We don't know if he has been trained to put down a dog that is charging.
    We just don't know.

  43. Pete says:

    …and the bounds on police behaviour have been pushed so far beyond outrageous that none of it is, really, any longer.

    "Oh, that poor family. I hope they're alright."

  44. Pete says:


    Not so much:

    Any dog can be trained to be vicious. Most dogs, brought up in family settings, may be leery of outsiders, but Pit Bulls generally have great temperaments and an undeserved bad reputation, mostly because of incidents with PB's trained for dogfighting or brought up in bad homes.

  45. Laura K says:

    Sara, very well, to depart from empathy (because what a great idea in discussing this man's failure to retain it)… my point about whatever congenital moron who trained or advised this officer and what they may have trained or advised him to do remains–as you say we don't know. Well and good. But the very fact that we don't know the circumstances–and that, you may agree, this officer did not know anything about property or dog before him dictates HIS responsibility and the responsibility of his department, trainers and advisers to give him better resources and for him to make better choices. choices have to be made when circumstances are murky and we need our law enforcement caapable of making more effective and safe decisions. Discharging a firearm on the grounds of a private home that might not hit a fast moving animal and MIGHT hit a bystander–as Nicholas rightly points out is so stupid that it is beyond poor choice; the man is a liability to himself, others and the saftey of the area he works in.

  46. Dan Weber says:

    You guys need to dispense anti-depressants with your blog. Holy cats.

  47. Jess says:

    "We don't know if he has been trained to put down a dog that is charging."

    And if he has, the police department needs a serious overhaul and the police officer does as well for not questioning that training. As I've stated from the beginning, if the department trains officers to deal with dangerous or unbalanced humans they should be training them on how to deal with dogs. There is simply no excuse for not doing so – especially since over 39% of households have a dog and there are over 78 million pet dogs in the USA.

  48. Luke says:

    I was a runner all throughout high school and college. I cannot count the number of times an unrestrained strange dog would run towards me. Number of times I was attacked by any of these dogs: 0. But according to some I would have been fully justified in shooting every single one of them.

    Just because a dog is running toward you does not mean it is "charging" or "attacking". This "shoot first" mentality towards dogs is ridiculous.

  49. Joe says:

    Excuse me while I go pet my cat.

  50. Sara says:

    I am well aware of what the screwtape letters are. I'm afraid it's allegorical nature doesn't change my position.

    You are, of course, right about the Anglican Priest. You have as much right to publish what you choose on here as the Christian Publication had to publish what it liked. And you can think that your allegory is amusingly illustrating police brutality quite as well as the screwtape letters illustrated the pitfalls of tempation, sin and the machinations of demons.

    If you don't like criticism from "Anglican Priests", you have the privilege to remove my comments and point of view. It is your site.

    Or you could provide a rebuttal to my position on it's merits, instead of trying to discredit the writer by making me into an extension of your allegory. Not that I mind the caricature, it's just not a cogent argument.

  1. July 13, 2012

    [...] h/t Patrick at Popehat [...]