Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On dangerous breeds

About 10-15 news agencies covered this story, in which English Cocker Spaniels are painted as the world's meanest dog breed. The information is based on a study recently published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior:
Spain's School of Veterinary Medicine at the Autonomous University of Barcelona crunched data related to more than 1,000 dog aggression cases logged at an area veterinary teaching hospital during the period of 1998-2006.
I haven't read the study so don't know the parameters or methods of data collection. I am a little put off by the "dominance" theory babble as I think "dominance" theory relies too much on a black-white paradigm and not enough on the complex interactions dogs have with one another and with humans.

What these studies bring to light, for me, is our difficulty with group versus individual. To claim a breed is dangerous is to claim all individuals within that breed are dangerous. That is treading on thin ice. There is zero evidence, I mean zero, that all or most individuals within a breed express the same degree of aggression or so-called "dangerousness". None. There is zero evidence that all individuals within a breed express the same degree of affability or friendliness, either.

I think that if such a dangerous breed existed, one that posed significant threat to our livelihood as a species, we would not welcome such creatures into our homes, around our children, into our lives. There is not a single breed of dog I can think of that is solely comprised of individuals so ill-tempered, so ill-equipped to deal that they choose to attempt mauling under every circumstance in which they encounter humans. There is no breed where the majority of individuals, no matter the training or breeding, exhibit such low bite inhibition, such inability to master day-day interactions with humans that they resort to attacking people instead. If you knew of a breed of dog where you had a 75% chance of losing a limb within the first month of owning that dog, would you honestly take that risk? Sure, some folks would. Most folks with a shred of common sense and self-preservation would not. To my knowledge, there is no breed of dog with such tendencies, thankfully.

It just seems to me that the issue of dangerous breeds misses the point. That there are individual dogs who exhibit unwanted behaviors because of a whole host of reasons. That sure, maybe there are "lines" within breeds with a majority of individuals exhibiting wonky behaviors because a breeding program chose to exacerbate one trait to the detriment of another (either physical or behavioral). But a breed where all or most individuals are a threat to humans? I just don't see it. All this talk of dangerous breeds seems to exclude the reality that most dogs don't bite, most don't bite hard, and all are individuals who mostly bite for reasons other than coat color or head size.

Any thoughts?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Kent County dog bite, a case of the weird and bad reporting

What happened? It depends on which account you read. One reports that two of the dogs got into a fight and redirected when the owner attempted to intervene. Another states that all five dogs immediately began fighting inside the car when the owner's dad approached to provide gasoline for his son's car - one slipped out and attacked the dad and owner. And another one states that the dogs all got out of the vehicle, began fighting, then ate everybody in sight.

How severely the dogs bit is in question too. All three who intervened in the dog fight were bitten...guess where? On their arms. You know, that appendage most likely to be used in breaking up a dog fight. The dogs were not so hyped up that they couldn't be calmed down and corralled - all five were safely handed over to authorities.

If you see some of the pictures, you'll notice the dogs aren't in prime shape. They are a little underweight, one looks fearful, and one looks relatively comfortable/friendly. It's my understanding that the owner was having some financial woes and in lieu of getting rid of his dogs, he was living with them in a car.

His dogs, by the way, are all licensed. They all have their rabies vaccinations. Their owner is not a criminal. Friends and family describe the dogs as friendly, treated with love and compassion by their devoted owner. I think this opinion piece is a worthy read.

We have, in my view, an obvious (and sad) case of easily aroused, under-exercised dogs getting excited, redirecting and biting when humans interfered in a fight. Add the fact they were in a confined space with no escape and you have a serious problem. We don't have dogs who went on a mauling spree - five dogs on a mauling spree would probably put a person in traction rather than a short stay at the hospital emergency room. That isn't to call the injuries a nip - the dogs may have shown some restraint but they bit hard enough to cause puncture wounds.

The worst part of this case, to me, are the comments on the articles which mostly suggest shooting or poisoning the dogs or possibly getting rid of all pit bull type dogs in the universe. These dogs did nothing wrong. They are as much victims as the ones they bit, even more so because they were supposed to be protected by their owner. No matter how much I empathize with the owner's situation, he wasn't being responsible. He put those dogs in a situation in which failure was a guarantee, not just a mere possibility. Which sucks, because he didn't do it out of malice or cruelty, he did it because he loved his dogs and didn't want to see them get killed. I'm certain he never imagined this would happen AND that it would become state news.

I can only hope his friends and family will rally around him and, yes, his dogs. That they will help bail the dogs out and find better living conditions for him and his dogs. I hope that a behaviorist or trainer or qualified rescue can analyze the dogs behavior and figure out which dogs would work best together and which dogs should be considered for placement elsewhere. These dogs and their owner deserve a lot better. I really do wish them all the best of luck.

A possibly strange comparison

In Ireland, thousands of children in "reform" schools endured rapes, beatings and other forms of humiliation from the 1930-1990s. I cannot even begin to comprehend what it was like for a child to be sent to one of these schools for petty theft and then get raped and beaten. That they never received any justice for these crimes is even worse.

What I don't get is that the names of adults who sexually violated these children, beat them and humiliated them were not published. The Christian Brothers who ran the schools successfully sued to keep the information private. This means there will be no criminal charges, at least not stemming from this report. Victims *could* receive a payout funded by the government but only if they don't sue the state or church - rightly so, many have refused and taken their abusers to court.

Now, back in 2005 in Colorado, a newspaper editor saw fit to publish the names and home addresses of every person who had a licensed dog fitting the physical description of a pit bull. These people had not committed a crime nor were they in violation of a law pertaining to dogs or pit bulls. They had just complied with the law that stated your dog must be licensed.

In no manner, shape or form am I comparing rape to owning a pit bull. What those religious officials did is heinous, abhorrent and they should damn well be charged with violating the bodies and minds of thousands of children.

But is it not strange that pedophiles apparently have more rights to privacy than law-abiding dog owners? I'm not arguing the names should have been publicized to us, the public, but why not to authorities?

I can only hope that these children have found in adulthood some form of peace and light in their lives.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lake County News Sun shows us how to mis-report!

Sometimes I get mocked for claiming there is a bias towards over-reporting pit bull bites and ignoring bites from other breeds. You'll see this derision more so on comment boards; usually it's folks telling us we're so silly for buying into a massive government-news media conspiracy against pit bulls.

Which is silly, of course. I doubt the news media of the world are colluding to conspire against us lowly pit bull owners. What I think is true, though, is that news agencies knows what sells, knows what gets comments and readership up, knows what inspires fear and ire amongst their audience. When it comes to dog issues, bringing up "pit bull" does all of that - it sells, it inspires raucous debate, is engenders fear where no fear need be present.

And a perfect example is the Lake County News Sun's most recent article on dog bites in the county.

If you read the article and the sidebar, you might be inclined to believe that a) dog bites are significant health hazard in Lake County and b) pit bulls should be run out of town.

Let me list to you the order of species/breeds listed in the sidebar.

1) Pit bulls are mentioned first and foremost with 72 bites out of 500
2) Long and short haired cats - 69 reports (what about the medium haired?!?)
3) Horse - 1 bite
4) Bats - 33 bites
5) Coyotes - 7 bites
6) Muskrats - 5 bites
7) Raccoons - 5 bites
8) Skunks - 5 bites
9) Rats, wild - 2 bites
10) Rat, domestic - 1 bite
11) Chipmunk - 1 bite
12) Squirrel - 1 bite

So, you have to get through 11 other species before you get to see the other two top biting breeds:
13) German Shepherds - 70 of the 500 bites
14) Labrador Retrievers - 69 of the 500 bites

"Pit Bull" is mentioned five times more than the one mention of German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever. It's almost an afterthought that the two other breeds are mentioned.

I don't think I'm going out on a limb here and saying that this article is a little skewed toward the mentioning of pit bulls and not in a positive way (one mentions an attack, two are in reference to the dog bites, and two are in reference to banning pit bulls).

What does the data proffered really tell us about Lake County's dog bite problem?

Between January and April, there have been 500 dog bite reports. That means 0.07012% of the population reported a dog bite to the health department. Let's say 500 is only 10% of the actual number of dog bites and, really, 5,000 of the 713,000 residents were bitten. That's still 0.7% of the population who can claim being bitten by a dog.

And the top biters? Pit Bulls - 14.4%, German Shepherds - 14.0%, Labrador Retrievers - 13.8%. That is to say, you are as likely to be bitten by a pit bull as you are by a GSD or Lab.

None of the data includes severity of bites. All the news agency could come up with is a publicized case of a serious bite from a pit bull. That does not establish that pit bulls are inherently more dangerous, bite more frequently or cause more damage when they do. It only establishes that the newspaper handpicked what they wanted to share with their audience.

The top biting breeds are popular dogs, the most popular dogs. It makes sense they'd bite at the same rate (not high). I'd probably argue that pit bulls are more populous than GSDs and so, as a population base, bite less frequently. But even if I really argued that, who cares? Unless there are only 80 pit bulls in all of Lake County, they aren't a real health threat. Neither are GSDs or Labs.

Yes, let's be safe and educated on how to interact with dogs. That's just common sense stuff we should all know and learn. There is no evidence I've seen, though, that indicates dogs are a significant health hazard. If anything, the opposite is true - dogs provide medical benefits and companionship more so than they provide bites on people. We really don't give them enough credit.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Am I marginalizing myself?

Sometimes I ask myself how I could make my life easier.

For one, I could own a Golden Retriever.

For two, I could eat meat, drink milk, eat eggs and wear leather and wool like it's going out of style.

Instead, I have a pit bull and I'm vegan.

There are places in this country and in the world where I cannot live because of how my dog looks, some places would confiscate and kill her for just passing through. I could be fined for having a pit bull in some areas - fined, people, for having a non-aggressive, friendly dog. Finding an apartment or home is hard enough with a 30-lb dog, let alone two 40-lb dogs, one of whom is a pit bull. Few renters and homeowners insurance companies will insure me. Some people choose to cross a busy street and avoid my placid-looking pit bull rather than walk by her. Even my parents were shocked the first time I brought my pit bull home and said, "I'm keeping her." I've had folks tell me my dog should be dead. I have to plan out road trips very carefully, lest I drive through a place with a breed ban in place.

And then there's the whole vegan thing. I'm that lady you see in the grocery store, furiously reading bread labels to see if there is milk or eggs in the product. Going to restaurants with omnivore friends is tough - I'm sorry, but I can spend three bucks and make an awesome salad, why would I spend $15 for the same thing? Yes, I want something more substantive, sue me. I am mocked and poked fun of and the general public finds any way possible to condemn veganism, it's too "out there" and not mainstream enough.

So why do I to do it? Why make my life harder? Why not just go with the flow, be a part of the in-crowd, the mainstream?

It's not because I'm a sucker for punishment. The answer is pretty simple, really.

I love my dog, Mina. Like a lot. She is the perfect size (40lbs). She likes me. She likes people. She's a dog I find to be pretty and easy to live with. I didn't pick her because she was a pit bull, I picked her because she needed someone to help her. I picked me (no one else volunteered).

I'm vegan, because, for me, loving animals means not eating them, drinking their breast milk, wearing their skin, or eating their eggs. I can thrive on a plant-based diet, so I do so. Mainly, I'm vegan because of two very personal experiences - one at a slaughterhouse, the other at a dairy facility - that cemented my choice to eat and live as compassionately as possible.

Being a vegan pit bull lover has earned me a tough, thick skin when it comes to the opinions of others. It has also helped me discover what is important to me, what issues I will work harder on. So yes, in a way, I am choosing to marginalize myself. I do it out of a desire to help others, both human and nonhuman.

And, quite frankly, I'm very happy as a pit bull loving vegan. I can't say I'd have it any other way.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I believe these dogs were bred for fighting

Those are the words of a woman whose son was wounded by three large dogs running loose. The dogs had been loose for several days, possibly becoming more aggressive due to lack of nourishment. All three dogs were shot and killed by police. One dog was a bull mastiff, one a pit bull mix, and the other a german shepherd mix. In conclusion, they were all mutts.

I'm sorry, but how on earth does one conclude, based on this attack, that these dogs were bred for fighting? The reality is less felonious - the dogs were probably abandoned and no one bothered to call animal control to catch them. It's as likely they were being bred for bear-baiting as dog fighting. That is to say they weren't being bred for either.

But an article about a dog mauling isn't complete without a pit bull reference or dog fighting innuendo (or outright assertion). These types of stories are even less complete without a supposed expert discussing fighting dogs:

Barb Busko, a worker with the Trumbull County Animal Welfare League, hasn't seen the dogs but said fighting dogs can have scars and may have their ears trimmed down, which is to prevent another dog from biting down on them in a fight.
To be fair, the key words are "can" and "may" which are very different than "do" and "always". So, there's me giving credit where credit is due. Still I can't help but cringe at this statement. Lots of dogs have scars, mine has one from a cyst removal. Lots of dogs have cropped ears, they cannot all be fighting dogs. Countless dogs confiscated from actual pits have happy, floppy, rose-pricked ears.

But what does scarring and ear cropping have to do with these dogs? It doesn't sound like they were fighting each other or that they had cropped ears. It sounds like they were loose, packed up, aggressive dogs who were "confident" enough to bite a guy from behind and attack a small sized child. These weren't tough dogs, they were fearful dogs driven by a pack mentality that can often cause individual dogs to act like complete idiots. They had been loose for days and not shown an ounce of aggression towards this child or other people. Something happened to change that. I don't know what.

Here's my advice, people. If you see a loose dog or group of dogs, do yourself, the dogs, and your neighborhood a favor and call animal control. Keep calling and be annoying about getting the dogs picked up. As street-savvy as dogs can be, most are ill-equipped to thrive or survive well on their own. Many cities/counties have leash laws and most have at least one animal control officer. I don't think we need a felony-level dangerous dog law to prevent this type of attack.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I think this tragedy could have been prevented had folks in this neighborhood* been a bit more persistent in getting animal control or police out. Maybe the dogs would have still been shot (though their lack of aggression when first loose seems to indicate maybe not) but it probably would not have been in response to an attack that required 250-stitches and nearly scalped a boy.

*Yes, the owner is a douche-bag. Yes it is the owner's fault for abandoning the dogs. Yes, s/he should have been more responsible. No, that does not excuse the lack of community support in removing these abandoned dogs from the streets and into a shelter or new home.

All the laws in the world won't prevent these bites from happening. In this case, someone picking up a phone and calling animal control very well may have. We'll never know. And that sucks, because a kid is seriously injured and three dogs are dead.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Let mating dogs mate

A North Carolina couple are in the hospital after they were attacked by two dogs. Not just any two dogs, but two who were mating and tied. I love how the article describes the dogs - they became "irritated". Seriously, they were probably more than irritated. It's dangerous and painful to try and separate two dogs who are in the midst of a tie. These two are almost darwin award winners.

That's my short post of the day. Happy Mother's Day, eh!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

My dog failed her temp test

I was reading my blogroll yesterday and came across KC Dog's post on temperament testing at shelters. Please read it.

This subject of temperament testing as a solidifying determinant of Good Dogginess has fascinated me. Mostly because my 10 year old pit bull, Mina, failed her temp test . I say this proudly because I think this so-called temp test is a lose-lose sham of an evaluation.

I was a volunteer at the shelter where she was awaiting death. She was this somber little dog who I thought had given up on life. Every visit, she'd be curled up in the back of her kennel, looking forlorn. I like to think she was waiting to make sure I was a consistent visitor, that I would keep coming and not leave her. And after a week, she would wedge her short body between the Rottweiler and Lab who shared her space. As she was bashed back and forth, she'd just stare at me, deep, questing, looking. It was a gaze I could not ignore.

So when she was attacked by one of her kennelmates, I asked a pit bull friendly officer to temp test her. It wasn't just the attack, it was the fact that 7 business days had passed, her chance at a spot in the adoption kennel was now.

And so we went into the "temp testing" room. Which was also the room for incoming dogs. And cats. And sometimes farmed animals. It was small with only one dingy window. This is where dogs were vaccinated, microchipped, weighed, and it served as a meager evaluation room. It was next to the cat room and adjacent to the overwhelmingly sad "dangerous dog" kennel. Only the strongest of the strong could thrive in this room - most dogs felt uneasy and taken aback by its strange smells and sounds and sense of confinement. I was too.

This is the temp test:
- Dog is touched all over. He is expected to tolerate his ears being tugged, his tail being yanked, the scruff of his neck being grabbed. She must endure hugging and must not withdraw her paws from being handled. He must not ever growl or give warning signals or shy away from touch. She must want to be with people, bask in their company.
- Dog is "sound tested" for "recovery period". When a metal bowl is flung near him, he must recover within 1-3 seconds and approach the bowl. She must not run for cover. He must now growl or bark or exhibit any sign that says, holy crap! a fricking loud bowl nearly killed me!
- Dog is "food tested". A bowl filled with canned food is placed in front of the dog. He must not hog the bowl, even if he has not eaten properly in weeks. She must not tense or growl or snap or nip or bite at the plastic hand.

Ten minutes. That's it. That is all every dog at this shelter was given. And when I think about the joy and wonder Mina has brought to my life, I cannot help but shudder that this life, HER life was reduced to ten minutes.

In Mina's case, the officer liked pit bulls, loved dogs. He spent an hour with her. She was (is) stoic and unsure of the world. It took 20 minutes for her to crawl into his lap, but once she did, she was his. She wanted nothing more than to be in his company. Everything about her said she was scared but, true to her inner-solidness, she wanted to be a part of the world and with the people in it.

This officer did not bother with the sound test, it was silly. She wouldn't take food and her behavior indicated she probably wouldn't resource guard it, either - she either respected or feared people too much to think something could belong to her.

There was so much more to her than we would see in this hour long evaluation, let alone a 10-minute one.

After the evaluation, the officer looked at me and we talked about her options. This was a dog who would make a good pet, a great companion. He thought she'd be good with kids. Thing was she would not come close to ever thriving in a kennel. She was scared of the other dogs, frightened by the noise, petrified by the steel and cement enclosures. Even if he passed her - and he was willing to give it a go - I had the sickening realization she'd never get adopted at this shelter, that she'd shut down.

And she is not alone. She is the face of dogs everywhere who are failed by a system that is supposed to save them. She was failed by her breeder who didn't care about health checks or breeding for sound structure. She was failed by her owner, who bred her at a year of age, abandoned her to the streets with a 4' long, 3" thick belt looped tightly around her neck. She was failed by the animal control officer she crawled up to. She was failed by the shelter who thought a 60% death rate and a 10-minute evaluation were stuff to be proud of. She was failed by our public officials who provide few resources to their government-run shelters. She was failed by a society that deemed pit bulls and dogs like her to be unworthy of a companion home.

So by the end of the hour evaluation, I would be damned if another person was going to fail this dog. I promised to foster her, to help her true personality shine. Seven and a half years later, I'm still learning, ergo she's still my foster dog. :)

I don't write this to slam shelters or rescues who can't pull them all. I spent six years volunteering with shelters, three years intimitely with the county shelter where Mina came from. I know the challenges and the difficulties and the heartaches. But things have to change. Dogs like Mina should not be dying because of a test that, at its VERY core, sets the dog up for failure. Unfair does not even begin to describe it.

We need to be creative with kennel enrichment. We need a large, vast pool of volunteers to keep these dogs active, their minds stimulated. We need kennels that cater to the needs of individual dogs. We need behavior evaluations performed by qualified trainers or behaviorists. We need tests done in a few different environments to guage where modifications need to be made. We need to realize these tests, except in the cases of extraordinarily off-the-richter-scale aggression or ill-health, are not pass/fail, not live/die scenarios. And these things can be done, they're being done in some shelters, including some awesome government run facilities. Our paradigm shift needs to include city and county shelters who desperately need the infrastructure, funds and resources to implement these types of programs.

Because every day, dogs like the one you see below are being killed. And that is a travesty.
Seriously. Travesty. I mean, really. She's a dog dressed up like a cow NEXT to an actual cow. The world would be a much sadder place without a dog like this in it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Man uses weed eater to break up dog fight

A Florida man thought it best to poke a dog in the thigh with a weed eater to break up a fight between that dog and his own dog. The dog had suffered serious injuries from the weed eater and was euthanized.

And how on earth did this dog get access to the man's dog?

Well, it took two people to make it happen. First, we have the loose dog's owner who, for whatever reason, did not properly confine their dog. Then we have the other dog's owner who a) let his gate open with his dog in the backyard and b) allowed his dog and the loose dog to play a bit before, clearly, the loose dog became highly aroused and engaged in a fight.

I'm sorry, but no matter how much I love dogs, I'm not letting a loose, stray dog into my backyard with my dogs. That's just stupid. I'm certainly not going to let a loose, stray dog play for a bit with my own dogs in the backyard. That's stupider. And killing a dog because you set them both up for failure? That's stupidest.

This shouldn't have happened. It wouldn't have had both owners done a better job at protecting their dogs. I know stuff happens and I'm sympathetic to that, really I am. It's just utterly sad and frustrating to read this when it could have been prevented by something as easy as a) safely confining/monitoring your dog and b) closing your open gate to your backyard/not letting your dog play with stray dogs.

Monday, May 4, 2009

An Award Fan plus positive pit bull press

Pit bulls make the world go 'round (and it's true) gave me this award. Thanks! I've already given this award out before (at the Mina and Celeste Chronicles) so I think I will just hoard it all for myself. I'm incredibly selfish that way. I will suggest you visit Pit Bull Patriarchy, it will massage your neurons and increase brain mass. According to Mina, anyways (and she wouldn't lie to you).

Okay, onto some positive pit bull press, which we sorely need (always, it seems).

Disenfranchised dog owners gathered at an event put on by the Kent County humane society in Michigan. Nothing boosts the ego of a Pit Bull, Rottweiler or Doberman owner/guardian like having people tell them their dog is cool or awesome or, even better, "can they pet your dog?" Seriously, it makes us swoon with joy - try it out on the next pit bull owner you meet. Dog owners were also given rebates for obedience classes. It's great seeing a shelter be pro-active and positive about these dogs.

A press release from the American Humane Association talks about the winners of the Be Kind to Animals Kid Contest. The grand prize winner in the age 6-12 contest? A 6-yr-old New Yorker (with help from her family) took it upon herself to ask for gently-used blanket donations for Out of the Pits pit bull rescue. She's continuing the trend by asking folks to donate a blanket for her birthday.

A pit bull who had been abandoned, chained to a stop sign has been rescued. I will certainly hope the fearful dog will find a new home. This may not be the happiest story but it highlights the compassion of everyday folks who helped this dog. They monitored her, gave her food and water, kept checking on her hoping for an owner to arrive. When that failed, they called police who were quick to arrive on scene, quick to leave when, I dunno, the dog was just a dog chained to a pole? Who knows. The good samaritans called animal control and helped the officer corral the frightened dog.

As I've learned, caring isn't enough. It doesn't do any amount of good for people or animals. Putting your compassion in action is what counts. That's what these folks did for this bedraggled, sad dog. It can be as easy as donating money or in-kind goods to your local shelter, giving your neighbor's outdoor-only dog a treat or toy, saying something nice to the owner of a Rottweiler or Chow, or contacting animal control/police when you see an animal being hurt or abused. These things matter and they make our world a bit nicer, kinder.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

On charging the clicker and red nose pit bulls

First, the clicker. Celeste will be starting the much-anticipated OBEDIENCE class next Tuesday. The teacher likes clickers. I'm ambivalent about the devices; they *are* great for marking wanted behaviors, but they're also one extra thing that I don't need to be toting around.

I have a few lying around the apartment from my days of clicker training rats and dogs and making a valiant attempt at clicker training a mouse. Mina, the pit bull, is firm in her belief that clickers are for losers, hence why she feels the clicker is perfectly acceptable for Celeste.

These past few days I've been charging the clicker. I click, drop a treat for Celeste. Click, hand her a treat. Rinse, wash, repeat. Now I click and she comes a running, her stomach telling her brain TREATS NOW! We're already at the point where she does a watch before I click and treat. She's very food motivated, which makes clicker training easier....at the same time, she's a little TOO in to the food. Her movements are more reminiscent of a chicken being clicker-trained, all jerky and instantaneous. I can only hope I'm clicking for the right thing. Celeste doesn't care so long as something she does garners her a cookie. That's why I love her alright. :)

Okay, now on to dem red-nose pit bulls. I call the apartments where I live the halfway house. It's a big 'old victorian house separated into individual apartments. To be honest, I love the place; it's across from the park and downtown, it's affordable for the area, and it gets a lot of light, staying extra warm during the winter (I hate cold). Plus it allows dogs, including pit bulls. That it also seems to attract some sketchy characters is, I suppose, to be tolerated.

Anyway, I had the dogs out for a potty break. One of my neighbor's approached me and this conversation ensued.

Neighbor (N): Is that a red nose?!?
Me (Me): Huh?
N: A red nose.
Me: Oh, she's a pit bull, if that's what you mean.
N: No, no, no, I mean a red nose. You know, RED nose. I have one, with a red nose.
Me: *gazes fondly at Mina* Well, to be honest, it's actually pink.
N: What?
Me: Her nose. It's pink.
N: I haven't heard of a pink nose.
Me: *shrug*

I used to just say yes to the "is she a red nose" question, because I get it so frequently and "yes" is less taxing on my nerves than a discourse on nose coloration not being an indicator of a separate breed. I feel like I should have Mina wear a sign, "Why yes, my nose *IS* red, do you want a cookie for that observation?" Mina is a pit bull. With a rose-pigmented nose.

It's pink, really.

On leaving dogs alone together

I have two dogs. When I'm not around, one is always crated. A couple times a month, I visit my parents who initially reacted uncomfortably to the idea of crating my younger dog when no human was around to supervise her with my older dog.

At first, I thought of spouting the rhetoric that many pit bull owners and rescues share - never trust a pit bull not to fight, pit bulls are bred to fight, pit bulls may not start it but they'll finish it. All these words seemed only to reinforce the notion that pit bulls are really another species masquerading as domestic dogs. I convinced myself these experts were right, but I was ill at ease with their logic.

My answer now has nothing to do with the silly notion that breed determines all but rather on knowing my dogs, of knowing all variables in the equation. My older dog, a pit bull, is kept separate when unsupervised not because of her breed or because of some ancient, innate tendency to eat her companions but because of who she is.

So who is she? Mina is easily aroused by certain stimuli - unknown noises outside the apartment, the mailperson, other dogs, cats, jackrabbits, knocking/ringing door/bell. She is not aroused by children screaming, pigeons, squirrels, pigs, cattle, horses, people she knows outside making noises, car alarms or the sound of fire trucks/sirens. (Those are short lists, of course). I know all this because I watch her, because after 8 years of living with her, I'm pretty familiar with her behaviors.

Mina can go from sleeping-seriously aroused-sleeping quickly and efficiently with the right cues from me. Left to her own devices, she can also work herself up into a frenzy of barking, hackles, shivering and tense alertness. Her method of dealing with overstimulation usually involves grabbing a stuffed animal and toting it around the apartment. If a human touches her during her excitement, she calms down immediately.

But she does not feel the same way about another dog touching her during excitement. If my other dog body slams her while over-stimulated, she snarls or barks her annoyance. I believe firmly that if both of my dogs became overstimulated, they would redirect onto each other, in absense of anything else to distract them. It has never come to this, of course - my younger dog is a bit more laidback (she's more intense in other ways) and my older dog often relies on the cues of my younger dog on how to proceed. More than that, I'm always there to calm both of them down if things escalate (I try to avoid having them escalate).

So now my explanation is not that one of my dogs is a pit bull (my younger very non pit bull dog would redirect onto my older dog under the right circumstances) but that one of my dogs acts stupid when over stimulated. She gets herself into trouble. I acknowledge fully that part of her arousal threshold has to do with her terrier nature - it would be silly of me not to honor all those other pit bull terriers who came before her. But that is not all of it, that is not the WHY of it, it is just part of the equation. The why is knowing my dogs, knowing what sets them off, what calms them down, what makes them happy, angry, afraid. That is more important than the red herring of "well, she's a pit bull, so there".

As I was finishing this post, I read about the sad death of a 21-yr-old man in England who attempted to break up a fight between two German Shepherds who had been left alone in their yard. The two dogs were so aroused and so over stimulated that they redirected onto him, eventually leading to his death. The man was not the owner of the dogs, but the owner's roommate. At some point, the owner was able to calm the dogs enough to stop the attack...but by that point, it was too late. I'm not saying that, had these dogs been supervised or kept separate, that this attack would have never, ever, in a million years happened...shit happens, really bad awful crap that even the most responsible of folks are unable to prevent. Yet the likelihood would have been a lot lower had a) the dogs been supervised and b) they had been supervised by their owner (if it was clear they did not have a strong relationship with the roommate).