The family dog has bitten someone and must be destroyed.
If ever there was a case for animal rights, this is it! Whenever a dog
bites, the dog is always seen as the bad guy. But this is not
necessarily the case. There is the urban legend of the benevolent St.
Bernard, a family pet who lived in Long Island with three little
children for several years. He was a trusted member of the family. Then,
one day, suddenly and without warning, he attacked and killed his 5 year
old "master". Later, the parents found that the child had shoved a
pencil in the dog's ear. Like all urban legends, nobody actually "knows"
the family to which this happened, but everyone has heard the story. In
a recent article, my colleague and friend, PrkStRangr wrote about how
stories such as this one, though lacking in authenticity, have an ironic
slant to them. This story is no different.
Unfortunately, in most counties across the country, when
a dog bites someone, one of several things may happen: he may be placed
on a "dangerous dog" list and given one or two more chances; he may be
given away to another family; he may be instantly killed or maimed by
the owner; or he may be seized by an animal control agency to be
euthanized. If the biting dog is not current on his or her rabies
vaccinations, s/he may be placed in a ten-day quarantine for
observation, or killed immediately and decapitated and the head sent for
analysis so as to protect the victim.
In other words, dogs rarely get "due process"; and of
course, they never get a chance to explain why they were forced to bite
in the first place. In a dog-loving society that places a significant
amount of importance in the concept of everyone having their day in
court, this seems a little unjust.
Some dogs bite out of territorial instinct. They see an
intruder and they instinctively protect their property. This instinct
usually cannot be "trained" out of a dog. Dogs that bite out of a sense
of protecting his home and family should be confined, and people coming
near should be warned. This not only protects the visitor from harm, but
the dog's guardian from legal liability should a serious injury occur.
But should a dog that bites out of some sense of protection for his
family be punished? From the animal's point of view, this dog has done
something heroic. Perhaps the answer to this situation is a session with
a behaviorist, or confinement of the dog when others are near. Killing a
dog because he was protecting his owner is extreme.
Some dogs bite out of fear. "Fear biters" are a big
concern for animal control officers, groomers, and veterinarians and
their staff. These dogs are unusually submissive and would ordinarily
never hurt anyone. However, their fear of being hurt or subjected to
restraint overcomes their benevolent nature and causes them to bite.
Fear biters will generally give a warning; a low growl, telling body
language or a certain look in their eyes. When a dog has shown to have
this temperament, the best remedy is to muzzle the dog whenever he must
be restrained for medical or other purposes. Again, this not only
protects the person working with the dog, but it protects the dog from
being labeled a "dangerous dog" and possibly being killed for being
vicious. Muzzling a dog may not be pretty, but if it will save the dogs'
life and reputation, and protect the person trying to help him, it may
be the only reasonable solution.
Remember the St. Bernard story? The worst case scenario
is a dog that bites after having been harassed. In neighborhoods all
over America, there are dogs that are tied to trees, confined to
backyards with fences, or simply allowed to run loose. These dogs are at
the mercy of anyone who would mean him harm. Kids playing nearby may
find it funny to amuse themselves by making a dog angry. I have even
seen children who come into an animal shelter kick or hit a dog's crate
just to make him bark. It's the dog that bites a child or adult who have
been tormenting him that is punished the most. When these dog-bite
reports come in, they almost always state that the dog "got out of his
yard and attacked a child". Upon further investigation, animal control
officers learn from witnesses that the victim almost always brought the
attack on himself by teasing the dog. When the dog breaks his chain or
jumps the fence or digs an escape route, he will attack the person who
has been provoking him. Unfortunately, people don't admit to having been
pestering an animal, and the animal is taken away to be euthanized while
the dog's bewildered guardian wonders what happened. Victims initiate
lawsuits, insurance rates go higher, and medical and legal professionals
make lots of money. Blaming the dog is profitable!
The issue of animal rights has been discussed long and
hard and we almost always concentrate on the animals in labs, the marine
mammals, the factory-farmed "food" animals and performing animals. These
are very important issues and this is not meant to minimize their worth,
but let's take a look at the rights of the animals in our own backyards
too. Dogs that bite should have the right to a fair and impartial
investigation as to what happened. Some veterinarians believe that there
are "criminal dogs" and that may be true. There may be dogs that are
aggressive, vicious and mean-spirited and probably should be humanely
euthanized so that they don't have the opportunity to hurt or kill
someone. But gentle family dogs, dogs that have a history of kindness
and benevolence who suddenly bite someone are not those dogs. These
situations should be looked into before jumping to any conclusions.
Dogs that bite is a problem that affects just about
everyone. Almost all of us know of someone who has been bitten, or of a
dog that has been sent to "death row" for biting someone. We hear about
dog attacks in the news all the time. Each year, in Palm Beach County,
Florida, there is an average of 3,000 dog bite cases that require
medical intervention or even hospitalization.
Oh, and one more statistic that will probably not
surprise you -- of all the dogs who bite, 95% of them are unneutered.
Just one more point in the argument for early spaying and neutering!
Go on to Legislative
Call to Action
Return to 6 February 2000 Issue
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