Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Death for a laceration

For the past six months, six-year old Gina has been behind bars for causing a one-inch laceration to a city worker who, according to the dog's owner, snapped a garbage bag in the dog's face. Her owners/guardians have not been permitted to visit her.

The city of Millbrae, California wants her dead.

Part of their reasoning stems from a 2005 incident where Gina was off-leash (her fault? No) and attacked another dog, knocking over the dog's owner. The dog survived and the owner was fine. But a dog can be labeled dangerous in Millbrae for animal-animal attacks, even if no human was physically bitten or scratched. Of course, Gina should have been on-leash, but she wasn't acting completely abnormal. Many of us have been accosted by aggressive off-leash dogs who aren't all pit bulls. That does not make any of those dogs inherently dangerous - it does make them owned by seemingly irresponsible people. But should that mean the death of the dog?

The stipulations set forth by the city for the original incident included keeping Gina on a 4' leash and wearing a collar with a special tag identifying her as a "dangerous dog". She wasn't on the day of the second incident when she apparently reacted poorly to a loud garbage bag and scratched or caused a minor puncture wound to the city worker.

Now, does causing a minor puncture wound/scratch warrant a death sentence? Does it warrant spending thousands of San Mateo County's tax dollars to argue this case? Or the thousands of dollars to confine a social animal in solitary for 6+ months without access to her owners?

I mean, is it really worth all this heartache and trouble?

Not really. And not because it isn't worth saving this dog, it is. Mainly because this case should not have ever happened. We should not have laws that dictate silly things like leash lengths and tag colors without offering a basic system of support to help people help their dogs. A leash length is not going to manage dog aggression. A tag color is not going to reduce arousal and reactivity. We certainly shouldn't have laws that put a dog-dog attack at the same "level" as a dog-human attack nor should we have laws that put a one-inch laceration on the same level as a full-on, hardcore, level 5 mauling.

As I always say in these cases, I don't know anything about this dog personally. We have at least 15 letters from 15 different people claiming this is a friendly dog. We know she was set up to fail in both situations - being let off leash around dogs and being too close to scary city employees with noisy garbage bags. She sounds like a dog who is easily aroused and, in certain situations, willing to use her teeth to - and I say this in all seriousness - gently convey a point (not gently would have put the guy in traction). But maybe not, maybe she really is a nervy, unsound beast ready to eat the entire population of city employees. It just doesn't appear that likely.

It seems that these months of social isolation and thousands of dollars for housing and litigation could have been better spent improving the dog's leash manners and getting her to be a calmer dog in less-calm situations.

Instead, we have a dog failed so many times, it's a bit ridiculous. Failed by her owners. Failed by the justice system. Failed by the shelter. Failed, failed, failed.

I won't hold my breath, but I will hope for Gina's life. She's six and, in those six years, her worst crime has been a one-inch laceration. That isn't worthy of a death-sentence.

1 comment:

jessicasmith said...

This is such a great article!! I completely agree that this dog should not die for this minor offense. Dog aggression is not uncommon, and can be dealt with by responsible owners. Dog aggressive dogs should never be off leash in public areas, as should any dog. However, the owner should be fined, or something as that was her fault. A great "punishment" in this particular case would be to require owner and dog to complete a dog obedience class. People need to be realistic, and jailing a dog for 6 months while racking up legal fees, housing/nourishment costs, not to mention the emotional trauma this dog is going through on her owner's behalf. Not to say that the dog is innocent of hurting a human, but it sounds like it was fear based, and shelter employees should realize that they this is the type of enviroment they work in.