Monday, April 19, 2010

A word about dogs...

In the news today: Another terrible story about a so-called "pit-bull" attacking a child. This time the owner let the dog escape the house "repeatedly", according to the story, and attack the child.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the child and her family. They also go out to the dog, who's (rightly) going to be put down. To the owner of the dog I say: "Idiot".

To put it simply: Everyone that's going to be severely punished in this situation has done nothing wrong. The child? Just playing. The dog? Incapable of moral judgements. The dog owner? Oh, they'll get a ticket and a slap on the wrist, but won't be prohibited from owning pets in the future.

Not everyone should be allowed to own certain breeds of dogs. It's not that some dogs are "bad" per se. (as commenters to stories such as this and politicians would like you to believe) It's that the owners are ignorant of the realities and responsibilities of ownership.

To date, the wife and I have fostered three pit bulls or pit bull mixes. Jones, my rottweiler/boxer mix, is what many would consider to be an "aggressive" breed. We've had zero issues with our dogs attacking children, and zero instances where we would have had a 'close call'.


For one, Jones, Duchess and Rocky (our three dogs) have been trained to not bite, but to corner and contain. Even on the instance where a kid DID try to go in my backyard, Jones just barked at him. Once I came out and told him to stop, Jones let the kid come up and pet him. The second reason is this: Our foster dogs are NEVER left unattended outside. When we're gone they're kept in a kennel with a locked door. Until we get to know the personality of the dog (and remember, most of these dogs are rescued from horrible conditions) they're not allowed contact with children. Once we get a better idea of how patient they are, they're allowed to be pet by the older children in the neighborhood. At no time are the dogs left with very small children unattended. Not even for a minute or two.

Part of the reason for our constant attention is that bully breed dogs play rough. A high percentage of "baby maulings" are unattended Pit Bulls trying to play in a manner that damages the child. People say the Pit Bull "attacked" the baby when, in reality, they viewed it as a toy. The second part of the equation are dogs that are trained to fight and view the child as "bait". Often these dogs are released from chutes and allowed to run and maul docile "bait dogs" in rings. I'm not suggesting that this is what happened in this case, but I'm sure it happens.

There are three things that you're probably going to find in any story about a child mauled by a pit bull:

1. The neighborhood knew the dog was aggressive: You saw that in this story, this dog had attacked before.

2. You can bet this dog is an outside dog and "chained to a tree" is somewhere in its life: Although not mentioned in this story, chaining a sociable breed like a Bully to a tree is one of the most detrimental things you can do. Bully breeds bond to a family, and they want to be included. Our foster will get up off of the floor where she's lying and will try to curl up on my lap when I sit in my chair. Our send pit bull (who's currently undergoing heart worm treatment) would lay his head on my chest to hear my heartbeat. The point is these are dogs that don't handle isolation well.

3. The owner of the dog will never realize their dog could be aggressive: Which is the problem. There are too many people that own Pit Bulls for the wrong reasons, either as a status symbol, for fighting purposes, or just because they are cute puppies. (they are, go take a look at one) For certain breeds ownership should require dog training & approved socialization. If your dog attacks a person, you should be prevented from owning pets in the future.

Too-often society's knee-jerk is to take out the pet-ownership failings of humans on the pets themselves. The answer to the problem is not extincting a breed of dog, it's extincting the bad dog owner. The dogs will work it out on their own. They always do.

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