Monday, March 30, 2009

On dog shootings

I maintain another blog where I keep track of publicized cases where police officer shoot dogs. Someone asked me why I monitor such events.

Part of the reason is this recent case of two dogs being killed by Buffalo narcotics officers. The officers had a warrant for vicodin pills. After entering the home, officers told the homeowner to sit down in a chair. He did so. At that point, one of the two dogs, jumped off the chair she was sitting in. No attempt was made to have the owner call the dog; instead, the officer pumped three shotgun shells into the dog, killing her. When the other dog ran away from the officer, he was shot from behind and killed as well.

No vicodin pills were found.

Another reason is my own personal experience with the drug enforcement agency. Growing up, I lived in a duplex in a nice neighborhood in Sunnyvale, California. By happenstance, our newest neighbors happened to be drug runners with a loooong rapsheet. If they had found bodies in their backyard, I would not have been the neighbor saying "Oh, they seemed so nice" but the neighbor who said "Unsurprising."

One day, coming home from high school, two scary looking men accosted my mom and me. They were trying to weed out information. When we finally said that we didn't live in the same house, that this was a duplex, the men got nice and started asking us questions about the neighbors. We were lucky - our home would have been the one raided two weeks later instead of the correct house, all because the DEA seemed to have a problem with comprehending what a duplex is.

So I'm just not all that thrilled with the way narcotics officers deal with raids, especially raids involving no-knock warrants. Even less so having two dogs who would most likely be curious enough to approach heavily armed men invading my home and get shot for it. It doesn't matter that I'm an upstanding citizen with no interest in illicit drugs, too many mistakes have happened for me to just pretend that it can't happen to me.

I keep track of these shootings as evidence of our shoot first, ask questions never, SWAT-paramilitary police society. I keep track as a reminder that there are a lot of things wrong that need fixing. And I keep track because many of these victims are poor, disenfranchised people who do not have the money or community support to fight back. (Contrast with Berwyn Heights mayor who's two dogs were shot to death as they ran from SWAT officers during a no-knock botched raid. You can also see a map of botched raids here.)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pawtucket RI Serious News: Dog near baby

Seriously huge news out of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, people. WPI has this to report - Police remove a pit bull from a home

The subheading tells us why: Couple in Pawtucket had dog near baby

Now, if I wanted to lampoon a silly law (like banning dogs who look a certain way), I might very well title my article this and use a subheading as inane as "Dog panted near baby" or "Dog walked by baby" or "Couple had dog near baby".

I can't laugh too much, because the truth is pretty sad. Pawtucket banned pit bulls and set up regulations for Rottweiler owners in 2003. If you are caught with a pit bull, your dog can be summarily executed (unless you appeal and prove you will move your dog out of Pawtucket permanently) and you can be fined $250 or possibly be imprisoned for no more than 30 days. Existing dogs were grandfathered in, but that has obviously not deterred people from owning or "harboring" dogs who look like pit bulls. It probably hasn't reduced dog bites, either.

The dog in question is obviously scared, you can see the whites of her eyes and she's doing everything in her power to avoid the camera while also saying "GO away, please, I'm scared". I don't know how she is around her own people or around children, and no way should any dog be at the same level or unattended with any infant, let alone one a few days old. I'd wager these are not the classiest of folks owning this dog, but that doesn't necessarily make them horrible people, bad parents or bad dog owners.

I don't have my hands on any of Pawtucket's dog bite statistics, but I'll make an educated guess: Less than 0.05% of people in Pawtucket are bitten by dogs yearly and probably less than that (or I'll even go up to a whopping 1%) of the total number of dogs in Pawtucket bite. I'd even guess that 99% of the pit bulls in Pawtucket don't bite and didn't bite before the ban went into effect. Those aren't just made-up numbers but the percentage points you commonly see when computing how many people get bitten by dogs in a given region and how many dogs actually bite.

Take home point: Most dogs don't bite. When they do, bites are generally minor. Millions of pit bulls live out their lives without biting anyone. Banning a look does not solve a fundamentally human behavioral problem.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Most likely the pit bull?

It's 2 am on a Saturday in Denton, TX. You're a police officer on a "disturbance" call when two dogs approach. One is maybe, possibly a pit bull, the other is unknown. Both are running towards you. What do you do?

Well, if you this officer, you grab your pepper spray, rethink that plan, and then bust out your handgun and shoot at the dogs.

I can only you hope you don't do what this officer did (in a residential area with at least one person nearby trying to call the dogs). And I can only hope you don't describe the shooting in this way: "the officer fired his weapon at the closest dog, most likely the pit bull, he said."

Imagine, for one moment, if this language was used to describe other police shootings. "Oh, well, I just shot at the guy running closest to me, most likely the criminal."

I know, silly right?

I guess I just expect police officers to, at the very least, know who they are aiming at. I'll hope that the officer's statements were taken out of context and he didn't just randomly shoot at dogs, then pin the blame on the stereotypical scapegoat breed.

I'll also hope the owner of these dogs, who animal control had been called about earlier in the day, either has his dogs removed or becomes enlightened with Common Sense and properly restrains his dogs. It isn't hard to do and it will help avoid situations like this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Staying by his side

This isn't exactly a nice story. Actually, it's tragic. A little boy died during a fire as did four dogs.

An excerpt struck my heartstrings:Investigators found Aidan's body in the garage, his brindle pit bull Missy by his side.

It isn't just because the dog is a pit bull, either.

For me, it hits my heart hard because this dying dog chose to stay by the side of her human. She, like so many dogs, was probably this child's shadow, keeping him company (even knowing dogs and kids shouldn't be left alone together, I can't help but feel mildly grateful they were together).

I can't say she didn't have her behavioral quirks or that she was the perfect dog. I can say that, in those final moments, this dog made a choice - out of instinct or reason - to stay by this child's side. She did not run away to die in the corner nor did she redirect her fear onto the small human next to her. And I hope that, at the very least, this child found comfort in the warmth and solidness of his dog and she in the clutching of his small hands on her fur. This isn't a happy story, there is no happy ending, and I wish with all my heart that I could have read about Aiden and Missy alive and happy.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Teddy bear cause of attack?

A 2-yr-old girl was bitten once on the head by an 80-lb dog in Florida.

Now, before I even get to the part about the teddy bear, check out the headlines and breed identifications.

The dog is pictured here. Clearly a mixed breed. Clearly not an American Pit Bull Terrier.

Articles from March 11, 2009:
1) Hunter, a male mastiff mix
2) St. Bernard-mastiff mix
3) a Mastiff mix breed
4) (my favorite): a 2-yr-old pitbull mix, named Hunter, that may have been part bullmastiff.

Articles from March 12, 2009
5) Hunter, the pit bull mastiff mix.
6) 2-yr-old mastiff-pit bull mixed breed
7) The sheriff's office described the animal as a male mixed-breed St. Bernard and bull mastiff. Animal services said the dog appears to be an American bulldog.

The most recent article?
Girl attacked by pitbull mix

Now, being unable to report the dog as a mutt aside (pit bulls are just so sexy, yo), all the articles do manage to keep the "cause" of the attack consistent: The Teddy Bear did it. Sort of. A Sgt. for Hillsborough animal services is claiming that because the dog played tug of war with a large teddy bear, he was incapable of discerning the difference between a teddy bear and a child.

I'm not going to tackle the breed issue (the dog's a mutt), but I will say this: A responsible game of tug of war is not going to make your dog eat your child. By responsible, I mean that your dog has learned how to drop a tug toy on command and tugs on command. Even being irresponsible with playing tug games does not mean a dog is going to magically decide your niece would make for a nice steak. We'd have a lot of dead kids if that were the case (tug is also used as a reward for some dogs in search and rescue work, yet you don't generally hear of SAR dogs eating the people/kids they rescue).

I don't know if we'll learn more about this dog. He looks like a dog who, overcome with stress, reverts to a very frightened animal. In the video, he is literally frozen into place in the back of his kennel, forced to endure the unfair stress of a bunch of mediots filming him (irresponsible of the shelter to let that happen, imo). I don't know if he was an easily aroused, unsocialized dog outside of the shelter or if he exhibited aggression prior to this incident. What I do know is that he was failed by his owner and is now dead because of it and a little girl is in the hospital. A game of tug did not cause this bite; an irresponsible person did.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

On dog trainers and them fighting Chow Chows

News agencies are always reaching for a local spin and dog bites are no exception.

Recently, a 2-week old baby was fatally mauled by the family dog after she was alone in a bassinet with the free-roaming dog. The dog is a mutt; a Golden Retriever-Chow mutt. That did not stop the 250+ news agencies who reported the mauling to use Chow exclusively in the title. The dog has been euthanized, though he showed no aggression at the shelter.

Inaccurate "breed" labeling aside, a local news agency decided to "ask the experts" on the matter and called up some guy from a training center that I refuse to even name (you can click and read the article for yourself).

But instead of an expert opinion, we get flagrantly inaccurate information and fear-mongering.

A chow is actually a fighting breed, like Rottweilers and Dobermans
Well, no, a Chow Chow is not a fighting breed, they were bred for hunting, guarding, food and companionship. Rottweilers and Dobermans were not bred originally for fighting, either. I guess I should be happy he didn't mention the breed generally brought up when it comes to "fighting". I'm not, because any smearing of breeds means individual dogs may be killed for, you know, maybe, possibly "turning".

It gets better:

Certain breeds have a very high risk of this type of behavior
If that were true, should we not be wading waist-deep in the bodies of infants massacred by those high-risk breeds? There is no breed of dog at a high-risk of eating children. None. There are only individual dogs with low-arousal, low-bite thresholds, lack of socialization and training who have a greater likelihood of using teeth to convey a point. There are dogs who get put into situations where they are 100% guaranteed to fail. This dog was friendly with strange adults in a stressful environment, the dog shelter. This dog sounds like he may very well have had a nice, temperament but zero experience with tiny, squishy infants and how to interact properly with them. This dog is also a mutt. Did he mean Golden Retrievers are at the top of list with Chow Chows too?

Well no:

The more domesticated a dog, the better they are around children. Breeds such as Siberian Huskies, the chows, the Akitas, dogs of that nature -- all of which I happen to love, so it's not a personal opinion -- but those dogs are just generally a little bit wilder, a little bit aloof and more independent, and so therefore they're just not as responsive toward a child
Whoa - what? First, all dogs are domesticated. I don't care how aloof that Chow Chow or Peruvian Inca dog is - they are domesticated. Second, dogs of that nature? What on earth does that even mean? Fluffy dogs? Sled dogs? Dogs with erect ears and curly tails? And finally, if a breed is supposedly less responsive toward a child, then should they not be masters of being with children? I can't think of a dog I'd rather want than one who didn't give an iota about grabby, grubby, obnoxious toddlers.

That isn't what trainer-man meant, of course. He seems to mean that certain breeds (Huskies, Chows, Akitas, dogs of that nature) are so aloof and so independent and so very wild that they cannot possibly cohabitate with children without killing them. Which is silly, even more silly coming from a dog trainer (who doesn't want "personal opinion" of supposedly liking these dogs to get in the way of baseless "fact").

I can only conclude that this man is masquerading as an expert on something he seems to know very little about.

It depends on how you define success

These are the words of Denver Animal Control director Doug Kelley on whether Denver's pit bull ban has been effective.

The logic behind a breed ban is, in theory, to reduce dog bites and improve public safety. Or, as Kory Nelson, the attorney who championed the Denver pit bull ban, says, it is to eliminate/reduce pit bull deaths and maulings (he also claims that opponents of BSL are actually dog fighters). Denver has not had a serious pit bull mauling since they implemented a ban nearly 20 years ago. Before the ban, there wasn't a huge spike in pit bull maulings and the same held true after the ban. It's a logical fallacy to claim that the unenforced ban had something to do with the non-change.

Besides, a recent survey has shown that dog bites still occur and that pit bulls are 2nd as far as breed is concerned. Labrador Retriever were the most reported breed for bites.

So what has been the winning successes of the breed ban?

Between 2005-2007, the breed ban did cost the lives of nearly 2,000 dogs; dogs who may or may not have been pit bulls. It has increased litigation costs associated with the few willing to challenge authorities on the veracity of their dog's breed. It costs the city more to enforce a breed ban, meaning valuable resources - like animal control officers - are being used to track down suspect, non-threatening dogs while possibly ignoring valid threats from loose, aggressive non pit bull dogs.

So yes, I suppose it does depend on how you define success. Killing dogs based on looks, increased costs of enforcement, lack of reducing dog bites, inability to eliminate pit bulls or pit bull does not sound like an animal control model I would want to emulate. So why does Denver stick to their guns when they are so clearly in the wrong? They keep repeating the same rhetoric, enforcing the same, ineffective law and keep hoping for a different result - repeating the same thing over and over again, hoping for something different to happen, is the definition of insanity. And that is exactly what Denver's pit bull ban is, insane.

Note: I removed a portion of this post regarding the efficacy of enforcing or not enforcing the ban. You can see some of the reasons why in the comment section.

Friday, March 6, 2009

It's time to ban logic!

There was a bit of doggie-Dallas furor when Jacquielynn Floyd opined on the issue of pit bulls in one of her columns. She follows up with another column: Balancing the loves and fears....

Floyd has met pit bulls. So far as I can tell, all the ones she's met have been friendly, nice dogs.

Yet because of the inactions of a few, she's willing to reverse her position on BSL - even though all those pit bulls she's met are quite alright, it's time to ban the sale and breeding of pit bulls for "the greater good". It will improve public safety and animal welfare, so Floyd's argument sorta goes (there's also something about being able to go down to the river and not get eaten by tigers in Floyd's civilized society).

The reality of dog bites bear out the truth: Most dogs don't bite and when they do, they generally cause little harm. That linked Colorado survey is based on personal anecdata but put together makes for something a lot more provocative than a simple story or opinion. And the CDC puts hospital visits from dog bites at around 330,000 a year with hospitalization of about 6,000. Out of 300+ million people and 80+ million dogs, that ain't a bad statistic. Between 15-30 people die each year from dog bites. Each death is tragic, but they should not be used as tools of fear against dogs of any kind. An infinitisemally small number of people are killed by dogs, while the overwhelming (I mean it's about 99.999%) majority of us will not be felled by a dog.

As to pit bulls - we know they don't all bite. We know that they are a very popular breed, and in many urban areas, are THE most popular breed. The Colorado survey linked above shows that pit bulls are the 2nd most reported biters while labs were the most reported. No one should find it surprising that two of the most popular breeds would comprise the largest percentage of bites. As a portion of their entire breed's population, though, it's not noteworthy. Most Labs and Pit Bulls don't bite or maul people - millions of them just go about living their lives.

People have a right to pick the best dog for their family and lifestyle. Dogs have a right to be judged based on their basic temperament, not on their breed. While I may be an advocate of spaying/neutering (not mandated), choosing to single out a type of dog sends a negative message, something pit bulls and their guardian/owners don't need. More importantly, it does not stop animal abuse nor does it increase public safety. It's a little like putting a cast on a leg that's not broken.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

450 Puppy mill dogs being put up for adoption

In January, Washington officials confiscated 450 dogs from a puppy mill who were living in unacceptable conditions, stuffed in cages, covered in feces - a horrible existence.

Officials now have the go-ahead to adopt these dogs out. I'm not one to decry adoption of animals, no. These dogs are as deserving of a new, loving home as any dog.

At the same time, I cannot help but think of the 145 dogs and puppies killed in Wilkes County or the hundreds of pit bulls confiscated from fight busts every year who are never given the benefit of the doubt...or, at the very least, a temperament test before they're injected and killed.

While I can appreciate that smaller dogs are more adoptable (and puppy mill dogs all the more so), there is a strange schizophrenic relationship we have with puppy mill dogs and fight bust dogs. Both have suffered at the hands of humans. Puppy mill dogs often come with a lot of baggage that include hefty medical costs and behavioral problems. Fight bust dogs can often be frightened as well, unused to normal interactions with people - excepting physical problems from fighting, they tend not to have large veterinary bills. Both can be socially awkward around other dogs, having had such unnatural interactions (be it in the fight pit or socially isolated in cages). Dogs can be incredibly resilient, though, and we know former fighting pit bulls can be dog social or dog tolerant as much as we know that former puppy mill dogs can be dog intolerant or outwardly dog aggressive.

Yet time and time again, the "costs" of a puppy mill dog are worth it, while the "costs" of saving a temperamentally sound fight pit bull is just, you know, too much. We saw it with the dogs confiscated from Michael Vick's property (Read Why saving the vick dogs was worth it) as well as with the dogs from Wilkes County, where even the law says these dog should be killed, no questions asked, no equitable treatment doled out.

These dogs are victims and many can recover from the injustice inflicted upon them with basic training, socialization and care. Certainly not all can recover and those that cannot should be humanely killed. But the bottom line is that they should all be given that basic chance. Every dog, no matter their background, deserves that. It's hardly asking for the world.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Lucas County needs new dog warden

At least according to the Toledo Blade who came out blasting Lucas County dog warden Skeldon (or Dog-Killer Skeldon) for his inept handling of the February 10th death of a 15-lb dog as well as his archaic, discriminatory policy of killing all dogs who look like pit bulls.

Good editorial about a deadly man who has absolutely zero business running a shelter. He is a hardcore old-school animal control officer, relying on draconian tactics to keep things running, barely.

This is the guy who has reduced euthanasia rates by 11% in 30 years. Thirty years, people. That's like going from an F- to a plain 'old F after taking the same test 30 times. Well, maybe not, but it's a pretty pathetic statistic and nothing to be proud of.

Then there is the pit bull policy. Really, it's not the "pit bull" policy so much as the "kill the dog with short hair and an apple-square-round shaped head". In 2007, 1,354 dogs got pumped with the blue juice because they looked like a pit bull. That's nearly four dead pit bulls a day. That's not just pathetic it's abhorrent.

Things aren't going to change for Lucas County until the current regime is ousted and more progressive animal control officers and leaders are put in place. You know, maybe someone like Jim Crosby at Bay County shelter services in Florida who has in ONE year reduced kill rates by 11%. One year. Someone who will reconsider the adoption policy, like Indianapolis' new shelter director. Someone who cares about the welfare of the dogs as much as public safety. Because I have to admit that 403 reported bites out of a population of 450,000? Seems to me that dog bites are not the top safety priority in Lucas County.

Of course, not much can change if Lucas County residents don't stand up and demand change.

It's not hard to do.

1) Write a letter to the editor of the Toledo Blade with your avid support of ousting Dog Killer Skeldon. - keep em short (200 words or fewer), polite and include your name, address and phone number (for verification purposes).

2) Contact the Lucas County Commissioners and voice your concern about how the Lucas County dog warden is running things. Tell them you don't feel safer with a guy who kills 1,300 dogs a year for looking a certain way or who has to dart a 15lb dog on its own front doorsteps. Tell them you want change, a new era of public education and active efforts at improving the welfare of dogs and cats in Lucas County's care.

3) Spread the word to anyone who lives in Lucas County or surrounding areas. Encourage your friend, family, neighbors, whatever to do something about this man.

Change can only happen if you stand up and act.

Most dogs don't bite

I've been saying this for years: Most dogs don't bite and when they do it's generally not severe. Dog bites are just not a statistically significant safety hazard.

Well, now there's some statistical evidence supporting this claim. The Coalition for Living Safely with Dogs has produced data from a year-long survey on dog bites in Colorado. I've been eagerly awaiting the results of this survey and now it's finally available.

The survey included 17 regions of Colorado and covered 50% of the human and dog population in the state.

The results include:
- more than 100 breeds bit during the study period
- but only 1 out of 350 dogs bit (<1/3 of 1%) - most of the bites were minor - most victims are children, particularly young males, left alone with dogs - the dogs were often running loose, male and between the ages of 1-4. The survey includes breed information and, quite frankly, the results aren't surprising. Labs topped out as the number 1 biters followed by pit bulls, german shepherds and rottweilers. All four are very popular breeds of dogs.

Still the take home point is simple: Most dogs don't bite. Breed is irrelevant in dog bites - it's a red herring to the real problem of ignorance.

Reducing dog bites can be achieved through proper child-dog supervision, education on how to interrupt a dog fight (how most adults were bitten), and education on how to keep a dog properly contained (running loose increases the likelihood of an agonistic encounter between dog and human).

Dog bites will not disappear - that is the result of welcoming toothy predatory animals into our homes. But they can be reduced through common sense practices. Our dogs should be set up for success, not failure.