Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Tragedy of Inaction

Let's play the "imagine this" game.

You are a parent out with your children, all younger than seven. Maybe you're taking a leisurely stroll or walking your kids to or from school. It doesn't matter. Your peripheral vision picks up movement, fast motion but your mind huffs to catch up.

Clarity reaches you a couple seconds later - dogs, five of them. They're running to you? At you? No matter, they're coming fast. The primal part of your brain sends a message, you know these dogs are not eagerly about to greet you, they're determined and mean business. Adrenaline floods your body - move, run, stay, move, run, stay! Maybe your children scream, maybe they are unaware of what is about to happen.

Nothing much matters except what occurs next. The largest dog launches himself onto your 5-yr-old. You cannot see her any more and when you do, all you can see are crushing jaws and blood. You feel both enraged and helpless. As you gaze to the left, you see a dog latched onto the leg of your oldest child, feel your heart sink even further, down, hiding far away. To your right, a dog bites another child. Will it ever end?

You scream. You punch. You do not have time to be grateful to the neighbors, perfect strangers, who come to your aid and chase the dogs off. All you know is that death has come knocking and its asking for your child. Luck, fortune, a bite that punctures a lung but not too deeply, a leg with muscle and sinew exposed...all of it meaningless except that they're alive. Barely. But alive.

That is what happened to this woman.

Before I go any further, my heartfelt "speedy recovery" vibes for this family. I can only begin to comprehend the horror of this experience - I've had two dogs try to hurt my dog but never five and being childless, never my own kin playing victim.

The dogs are invariably described in one of two ways, all rather meaningless. Some news agencies choose to ascribe breeds to them, a few even go so far as to claim one was a full-blooded Pit Bull as if the others were half-bloods or that the blood of a Pit Bull is somehow intrinsically different. They are called Pit Bulls, Pit Bull Mixes and a lonely Mastiff is thrown into the mix. Never are they just dogs. The dogs are described as vicious and dangerous as if that is the state of their being, as if that is who they are as opposed to how they acted.

I am venturing forth into unknown but not unknowable territory here. These dogs probably lived outdoors. Their life may have existed in a state of us versus them, hyper-attuned to what went on within the confines of their yard and beyond that pathetic chain-link fence. Perhaps they were taunted or teased, perhaps they were left alone, the vision of five snarling dogs too much for even the most idiotic of teenagers to withstand.

They appear robust, perhaps even a little on the chunky side. Indicators of inactivity, inaction, a period of time in which their entire world was that backyard or, if it was not, they did not exert themselves greatly, did not release all that energy. Movement on the outside could only be yelled at, told to go away and never come back. A see-through, short chain-link fence is all that kept them from us. Frustration may have welled up, an insatiable, niggling drive to get out, out, out.

Years ago, I walked dogs at a shelter. There lived a dog who had spent six months in that shelter. Her existence narrowed down to three walls and a chain link fence and the ever present hope she would get out. Once a week. That is all she was exercised. Pitiful and cruel. Volunteers were afraid of her exuberance and the chaos that ensued when she was released. Explosion! Bam! Boom! Her body once tightly coiled sprung forth seeking a desperate escape from the frenzied energy spurring her on. She'd turn in circles, bite, leap, anything to release that pent up energy.

I can't help but wonder if these dogs are like her. Bored. Frustrated. They see this world around them and they are denied it. No one teaches them the rules so they create their own. In their made up world, dogs use teeth and they are wild and a little crazy and prone to biting anything that moves in an interesting fashion. They have no impulse control, no boundaries, no social contract to sign or moral quandary to face. Theirs is a world in which each dog feeds off the energy of the other and which everything is a go. Dogs do not face our moral dilemmas anyhow, but a dog who knows nothing of The Rules, namely how they should interact in our world (their world is far more damaging to our skin, sadly), is a dog who acts rashly, inappropriately, dangerously.

And when those five dogs with all their pent up energy and frustration and boredom suddenly achieve freedom? What do they do? Run! Run! Where do I go? Who do I seek? What should I do? Screaming? Chase? Play? Pounce? Not play, rip, tear, bite, follow the leader! It's a rush of energy that is frightening and primitive, so unlike how we expect dogs to be (and oh, how we expect so much of them!)

You can see video of the dogs here. They are afraid. Big eyes. Tense body language. Everything about them is discomfort and fear. These are not the dogs of our nightmares. They are not programmed to do us harm. They are what happens to healthy dogs in our world who are never taught anything else. I don't mean taught, like in a school-room. I mean taught as in shown how to redirect their energy into exercise, appropriate play, fun and safe interactions with humans. But it was not done. It should come as no surprise that these dogs attacked. This is a tragedy of inaction, of human beings not doing what they should be doing to create a world in which their dogs can be dogs without harming themselves or others. And so they will die. Alone. Scared. With no known human being by their side. What a sad ending for all involved in this story.

Here are some screen shots of the dogs:

Black dog. White chest. Pendulous ears draped down over a round head. Black nose, Scared, concerned amber eyes. About to elicit the most pathetic, most I AM SO AFRAID BUT I WILL BE TOUGH barrage of barking. Quiver in your boots.

Brindle colored, stressed, panting face almost like a clownish grin but deceiving you, nonetheless. Brown eyes, pinned back ears, trying ever so hard to be confident while displaying her utter fear and uncertainty of it all. Slightly chubby with a feathered tail that rises high and might above her rotund back.
Merle colored with vivid blue eyes, a sure sign this dog is not a Pit Bull. White chest, those same pinned back ears and that pathetic, uncertain gaze avoidance. Chubby, cowered in a corner, refusing to get up, huddled against this world.

Round, round, oblong shaped head! A serious, tense stare. His jaws are tight, his ears glued to his head, the furrows over his eyes starting to take form. Everything about him screams I AM SCARED but I WILL STARE AT YOU. In the next shot, he looks away and starts to pant, trying, trying to calm you, to keep you with that camera away.
The video tells it all. I know these dogs more than I think any of the commentators. They are afraid, scared and they're mostly trying hard to avoid any conflict with their body language. Go away, they say. Leave me alone. And why shouldn't they? In an unknown world, away from their pack - friends and family - separated by space and time and burdened with a belief that they are dangerous, they must die. How sad it is for them. For us all.

People, if you want a dog in your world - want that dog in your world. Do not create a world for them that is outside the scope of our own. Do not leave them alone and isolated, even with other dogs, in a backyard with a chain link fence as their only meaningful connection to humanity (and what a sad, pathetic one it is). Invite them in and out. Teach them control and allow them the full expression of all that dog-ness. You cannot be an inactive participant in a dog's life. It may not end horribly, as it did in this case for those children and dogs, but it can end in sadness nevertheless. You owe your dog so much more.


Liz said...

Gee, NONE of them look like Pit Bulls, or even Pit Bull mixes.

A very sad situation all around, both for the family, and the dogs.

Very frustrating for those of us who are fighting for the real APBT, and their tarnished reputation.

Jack and Livvy said...

So sad, so tragic, so avoidable! Just as you said, in so many words, people HAVE to do better for their dogs! Today our pit bull, Bella, turns 3! We are celebrating this day just as we do for our daughter's special day...except maybe not with a slumber party! The point is, she is a part of our family and we are lucky to have her!