Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mina surgery, Celeste class

Miss Mina, of the pit bull clan, is going in for a few procedures on Monday. A long, long time ago, Mina saw fit to get a raw marrow bone stuck around her lower jaw. A vet had to sedate her for its removal. In her attempt at removing the bone, she damaged her lower canine. It would be a couple years before half of it would fall off. And at every vet visit, I would ask the same question - is it time to get that tooth removed? No, they said, I could keep putting it off a bit.

Well, "a bit" has arrived. In addition to the tooth extraction, Mina has a cyst she needs removed. A happy, friendly, benign cyst is what we're hoping.

Then there is her right shoulder, which has decided to rebel every 10-15 days and throw Mina off her game. Being a stoic dog, Mina refuses to acknowledge that this pains her. Mina has a structurally unsound right shoulder/leg, so I guess, at the age of 10+, time is catching up with her. So in addition to the tooth extraction and cyst removal, she'll be getting radiographed. Fun times.

And yes, I'm far more worried than Mina will be at the vet. My biggest fear is that, after spending a $1,000 for all these procedures, she's going to need some freakishly expensive surgery to repair her leg. This is silly, of course. More likely, we'll just have to mitigate the pain and deal with what I assume is the side effect of poor breeding and "old" age.

Think good thoughts for my spunky little pit bull of doom. :)

In other dog news, my other dog, Celeste will be starting her first obedience class next week. I've been putting this off for two years, primarily because I was focused on Mina's classes and also because Celeste had some health issues early on that prevented her from enrolling in any class. Unfortunately, Celeste discovered she is quite petrified of other dogs and lets them know how she feels through what she calls Better Living Through Snarling.

She wasn't always that way, she used to be a puppy who loved interacting with other dogs. She had two bad experiences - one involving an overzealous humper and the other a miniature Dachshund who decided to eat Celeste's face. Anyway, this class should be a good experience for her, as she will get to be around dogs with nothing but good things happening. At the very least, she will learn she can be near dogs without fear that they will greet her or interact with her. She's such a people-focused, semi-intense dog who I think will enjoy obedience classes.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Prison dog programs

No, not dogs in prison but prisons who incorporate dogs as a method of rehabilitating qualified inmates. I love these programs. LOVE. Here's an example.

I cannot tackle the current prison system in the United States. I don't want to, really. I can say that the prison dog program provides inmates with useful job skills, creating opportunities to become working members of society.

More than that, they teach these inmates responsibility, empathy/sympathy, compassion and allow them to form a bond with another living being without any strings attached. The dogs win too, given a chance to stretch their legs, bond with a person and prepare for their new life in a permanent home.

Can you imagine if every single prison in the country implemented this program?

As of 2008, there were 2.3 million prisoners in the United States (the most of any country in the world). 47% were considered non-violent offenders or 1 million inmates. Even if only 20-30% of the nonviolent offenders qualified for this dog program, that would mean 200,000-300,000 fewer dogs potentially euthanized. The recidivism rate of men and women who leave these programs is really low as well.

Courthouse Dogs maintains a great site with a list of programs across the country.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Correlation does not mean causation

This is the mantra of statistics professors everywhere. Here's an example: City populations with 100' wood telephone poles have a higher rate of heart attacks, therefore 100' wood telephone poles cause heart attacks. This is a causality fallacy - I don't have any evidence that height or material or telephone poles actually CAUSE heart attacks, I just have a correlation. Events that are correlated can certainly be caused by one another. But this is only fairly established (except for the most obvious things, like how stepping in front of a 18-wheeler will cause you to go splat) when confounded variables are eliminated and more research is performed. For a nice discussion on correlation and causation, check out George Mason University's

What does this have to do with dogs or pit bulls? I've found that the media is very good at engaging in causality fallacies. (I'm not innocent of falling prey to this logical fallacy, it's hard not to sometimes). For example, when media reports on the results of studies that show a high correlation of something, often reporters claim a causation when there isn't any evidence to suggest that. It's a lot easier to say "x causes y" than "x is correlated to y and, without a preponderance of more evidence, we cannot say that x causes y". Reporters don't always do this, as there are plenty of studies that establish very strong correlations between two things, enough to suggest a causality in lieu of pure coincidence or another relationship.

As to dogs, here are a couple of recent examples of published causality fallacies.

Code Compliance Director Brandon Bennett told Fort Worth city council officials that the growing number of aggressive dogs on the street didn't translate into all pit bulls are aggressive (there also was no data on what "growing number" meant).

In response to this statement Star-Telegram reporter writes "But the number of pit bulls and pit-bull mixes brought into the shelter grew to 4,631 in 2008 from 2,154 in 2004."

The Star-Telegram seems to be suggesting a lot of things with that statement, including that the increased intake of pit bulls at a shelter is a) causing an increase in aggressive dogs and b) indicating, well no Code Director Bennett, all pit bulls are aggressive - see how they are flooding the shelter with their aggressiveness? There isn't any evidence that increased intake of pit bulls causes anything but an increased intake of pit bulls.

Another causality fallacy comes from the IndyStar reporting on the decision made to start adopting out pit bulls from the shelter.

"Critics feared the policy change would increase attacks, but so far that does not seem to have happened.Animal Care and Control has responded to 34 pit bull bites since the shelter started adopting out the breed. During the same period last year, the agency responded to 46 pit bull bites."

I like the sentiment but it's off-base. There is no evidence presented that the act of adopting a dog from a shelter causes an increase in dog bites. I don't have data to support this, but I imagine shelters would be hard-pressed to continue adoption programs if there was a causal relationship between adoption and dog aggression towards humans (lawsuits and medical costs alone would be enough of a deterrent).

So while it's nice that a case is made that pit bull bites have decreased, there is no logic in claiming that had bites from pit bulls increased, that increase would have been caused by Indy Animal Care and Control adopting some pit bulls out (excepting in the very unlikely event that ALL the pit bulls adopted out were responsible for the increased bites).

I'll try my best not to fall prey to this logical fallacy, though it seems like reporters and government officials might want to work even harder. :)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

In March, I wrote an entry about a dog who stayed right by the side of his small owner as a fire raged on. Both died.

It also happened in January when two little girls died in a trailer fire. Their pit bull mix, Zoe, stayed with the girls, dying along with them. Three months later, in the same town, three more children died in a fire. In the span of three months, in a town of 3,000, five children have died by fire. I can't even imagine, really.

My heart goes out to these families.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The dynamic duo

I haven't really talked much about my dogs, but I didn't want to create another journal just to opine on them. And I have many opinions about my dogs, one of whom is a pit bull, so I figured I could squeeze some of that in here.

In case you don't peruse the Mina and Celeste Chronicles, Mina is a 10 year old pit bull who has taken over the last 8 years of my life. Two years ago, on a spay camp in Mexico, I ruined the perfect Mina-Me dynamic and brought home a bedraggled 8-wk-old puppy of dubious lineage. Mina was not amused. To be frank, *I* was not amused. Celeste was very amused. She still is, really.

Mina and Celeste are night and day. Physically, they weigh the same, yet Mina can easily walk under Celeste's tall frame. Mina is elegantly proportioned (or so I tell myself) and muscular. She has a pink nose of doom which she uses to her advantage. She always looks serious or woeful. Celeste is tall and lanky with vivid, crazed blue eyes. Her ears have yet to decide whether they want to be erect or pointed left or right or something else. People always tell me Mina is pretty and, every now and then, gorgeous. Celeste? "Why, she has very long legs." or "Wow! Look at those eyes." Celeste always looks happy and at ease. Mina is always concerned.

Mina obsesses over other dogs - she likes them but is a total dunce when it comes to interacting with multiple dogs. One-on-one, she's brilliant. And little dogs? Mina firmly believes they are Divine Ones who need to be adored. She's frustrated by leashes, so acts like an idiot when restrained by one (yes, she has had training; no, it has not improved her irascible nature on leash). Mina is always on a mission during walks and generally that does not involve paying much attention to me.

Celeste is afraid of other dogs and will be enduring training to hopefully rectify her disastrous behavior. She is incredibly people-focused and a doll-pie to walk. Her recall is the stuff of dreams and she has a knack at learning new behaviors quickly. Celeste is the quintessential first-time dog-owner/guardian kind of dog.

Mina is very serious about giving affection to people. I don't mean that she is overly enthusiastic about meeting people, she isn't, but the second you are in her good graces, she knows you and only you. There is something disconcerting about being the Center of the Universe to a dog, a big responsibility. I've found many pit bulls like making eye contact and Mina is no exception. There is nothing domineering about her quests for a visual connection, it's just who she is and how she reaches out. I love staring into her eyes and love that she stares right back. This makes her, in my opinion, a Very Good Dog. I'm not sure what it makes me to her; most likely, I'm missing a very important request in these gazes, something along the lines of "Treat now, you idiot human."

Celeste hates eye contact. Sometimes this makes me want to label her a Not So Very Good Dog. I forget that most dogs don't perceive staring deeply into their eyes as a fun task, but rather rude. I didn't have to teach Mina a "watch me", I just had to attach those words to a behavior she exhibits so naturally. But Celeste? I worked hard convincing her eye contact brought good things. Still, she refuses to make eye contact for more than a couple seconds. Her eyes will shift every so slightly to the right - it's just too much for her. A 30-minute sit-stay? A breeze. A 15-minute down-stay? No problem. Ignoring that tasty goose shit for praise instead? Voila, done! But a four-second "watch me"? Egad, that is asking her too much.

I feel guilty that my love for Celeste isn't the same as my love for Mina. Celeste is that fun friend you hang out with for a laugh, a temporary high. Mina is that best friend who you feel an irreversible bond with. Both are wonderful and necessary.

I will be able to do fun things with Celeste that I cannot do with Mina. She can go off leash because of her super awesome recall. She can go places with a lot of people, because she is a people whore. Celeste will probably like agility or rally or lure coursing. I'm excited about that, as I've always wanted a dog I could run safely off-leash, who could do some kind of dog sport and be out there in the world. Mina can't be off leash. Mina is unimpressed by the energy of a crowd (me too). Mina thinks agility is for sissies and rally for losers and who the hell wastes their time chasing a plastic bag for fun? And yet.

Mina and Celeste do have a few things in common. They love kids. I'm talking crazy love, here. Celeste is an effervescent and incredibly gentle puppy around kids, trailing them everywhere, giving them kisses, letting them know she cares. Mina is the calm one, stoically enduring tail tugs and ear pulls and politely disengaging herself when they get too grabby. Mina and Celeste love bitey-face like it's going out of style. They love butt scratches and both tolerate nail clipping with moderate levels of grace. They like to try new foods and are especially fond of tofu and carrots. Both look at you like you matter, that you have some worth in this big world.

They are both special, awesome dogs. I love them differently, and I never regret having added either of them to my life.

That is all. For now. :)

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bay City Times, another newspaper bringing back the stupid!

Michigan based "news agency", The Bay City Times, thinks Michigan should ban pit bulls. This is because The Bay City Times is unable to do basic fact-checks but is capable of using fear-mongering and inflammatory language.

According to the article:

Dogs have mauled four people to death in Michigan since September. Just last week, sheriff's deputies killed on the spot three vicious dogs - described as a Australian shepherd-blue heelers mix - suspected in the death of a 41-year-old Huron County man. In September, a Rottweiler killed a 4-month-old girl in Warren. A day later, two American bulldogs attacked and killed two people in Livingston County. In 2006, a Hamtramck couple's two pit bulls killed their 6-year-old daughter.
Whoa, way to mislead readers! There have not been four fatalities in Michigan since September, unless they meant September 2007. There has been one dog bite related fatality in Michigan this year. One. In 2007, there were three (two from the same dogs). And you have to go back to 2005, NOT 2006, for that Hamtramck fatality where pit bulls were involved.

Here's the breakdown:
April 2009: Man killed by three Australian Shepherd-Blue Heeler Mixes
September 2007: Two people killed by as many as 10 dogs (American Bulldog, Boxer, Shepherd mixes)
September 2007: Infant killed by Rottweiler
April 2005: 6-yr-old killed by two pit bulls

This is some egregiously BAD reporting, not to mention a poorly written editorial. One would think the editorial board would edit their own opinion pieces. Of course, if they can't figure out the difference between a 7 and 8 or a 5 and a 6, then I'm not surprised they can't write an effective editorial.

If this is the reasoning (three other attacks by different breeds) for Michigan to ban pit bulls, I can't help but wonder if the editorial board at Bay City Times skipped class when fact-checking and statistics and, I don't know, basic logic were being taught. Or if they even attended class. The lack of thought put into this article is astounding, really.

According to the Bay City Times, breed bans aren't a novel idea and, in fact:

That great nation of dog lovers, the United Kingdom, outlawed "bully" breeds in 1991. The Canadian province of Ontario, our neighbors, banned the breed in 2005.
The UK Dangerous Dog Act is a lesson on failure - dog bites are up, hospitalizations from them as well. Pit bulls are still found easily in the UK. Why would you emulate a country that has been unable to fulfill the purpose of the law (reduce dog bites, eliminate 4 breeds of dogs) in gee, 18 years? Ontario has successfully killed 4,000 dogs for resembling one of the 3 breeds banned after August of 2005 (pit bulls born before August 2005 were grandfathered in, with requirements). Copying the failed tactics of the UK and Ontario is silly and, bluntly put, stupid.

There is a lot more to this editorial, but I can't bear to get into it. Suffice it to say that it promotes paranoia, fear-mongering and discrimination. All of which is upsetting, frustrating and disappointing to see.

Anyway, take home point is such - Bay City Times: lacking merit, integrity and basic google-fu skills. Shame, shame, shame on you.

You can make comments on the article (you have to register, it's free).

Or, write a letter to the editor: Keep it short (less than 200 words), polite and respectful. Include your full name, address and contact number (for verification).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Write this article in 334 words or less!

I'll do it one better and write a haiku! Seventeen syllables and done!


Dog leaps free from home
rudely nips rat terrier
Back home sleeps on couch

Alternatively, you could take Sun Sentinal's approach and write a 334 word article on a dog-dog interaction that resulted in one minor wound. To make the article more sexy, please to be bringing up any other attack by a pit bull within the last millenia. Rinse and repeat!

Seattle pit bull bite

I was reading a story about a Seattle dog owner who was bitten by her own dog. The article paints the dog, a pit bull, as a Very Bad Dog. You don't have to read too much between the lines to figure out what happened and that the dog acted like a highly aroused animal might.

Here's the story. Two Labrador Retrievers are running loose. They approach a woman walking her leashed pit bull. It does not matter who starts this fight - the root cause is an irresponsible dog owner who let his two dogs run loose.

The dogs get into a fight. While the article claims the pit bull started the attack, it's moot - there would have be no attack had the other dogs not approached and been properly restrained. So, we have two large dogs engaged in an aggressive encounter with a medium sized terrier. The terrier is now highly aroused and frantic. As the woman reaches her hand into the middle of the fight, she is bitten by her own dog.

Now, I just want to interject here and say something about arousal. The majority of dogs, being a predatory species, have a threshold at which they become intense, aroused, excited, focused creatures. Humans have even gone so far as to select those traits that make some dogs better at certain things than others. Terriers are known for their intensity, prey drive and ability to get hyped up rather quickly. A knowledgeable guardian/owner works to assess arousal level in their dog and creates a game plan of training to teach impulse control such that their dog can go from 0-60-0 quickly. Guardians/owners who do not do this may find themselves with a dog who goes from 0-60 and won't go back to zero.

I think that was the case with this pit bull terrier. He was put - through no fault of the owner - in a situation where he was guaranteed to become extremely agitated and focused without any training or knowledge on how to become calm again. The dog did not know that it was his owner grabbing him by the neck and he was already in a zone of extreme arousal that he didn't know what to do when he did bite her.

The wound was minor and he did not pursue an attack against his owner, though he remained in an extremely agitated state aftewards. People were able to physically hold on to the dog before authorities arrived and asked that he be tied to a fence post. I feel that we are missing something from the point that people were able to handle this dog to when he supposedly needed to be tasered to "calm" him. But it could just be the dog was agitated and confused, I don't know.

This is news only because the media wants it to be. Certainly there are plenty of dog bites and dog-dog attacks that go unreported (I think most dog bites go unreported, regardless of breed).

Hopefully, the dog isn't killed. If he isn't and is returned to his owner (who I hope does not blame the dog for his dog-like behavior, however inappropriate *we* deem it) that she works diligently to teach this dog how to calm down in stressful situations. We should all judge how excited our dogs get and, if they can't calm down relatively quickly, we need to teach them how. I think many dog bites happen because dogs get excited and redirect that excitement into a doggie behavior that has been deemed dangerous in a human society. Further, we as responsible owners must have a protocol in place when we see off-leash dogs. If we aren't familiar with dog behavior or don't know how our own dogs will react, then the best course of action is to simply remove ourselves from the situation.

Telling the toy who's bossHere are some good articles on teaching dogs impulse control:
Lowering Arousal - Dee Ganley, CPDT, CABC
Tug of War Rules (tug of war is a great way to teach impulse control)
Relaxation Protocol

4Paws University has a compendium of articles on everything to do with dogs and dog training here. There are some good article on leash aggression as well.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pit Bull dragged behind car, treated with alcohol

A pit bull in Tennessee suffered serious injuries when he was dragged for more than a mile behind his owner's vehicle.

The dog was adopted from a pit bull rescue group in March. The new owners were reticent to maintain communication with the rescue group. When the rescue agency finally got in touch with the owners, they were told the dog had suffered minor injuries when he leaped out of the window of the vehicle. Through some investigation, the truth emerged.

Apparently, the owner was washing his car when a family emergency came up. He "forgot" that he had tied his dog up to the bumper of the car. After being run over, the dog was dragged for more than a mile. Instead of taking the dog to a vet, the owners used rubbing alcohol to clean the wounds - big, gaping, serious wounds. For 18 days, this dog received no treatment, except alcohol.

After being reclaimed by the rescue, the dog is now at a vet clinic where he may need skin grafts. The picture shows a dog with some serious wounds...some of that scarring could so easily have been prevented had the dog gone to the vet.

I understand not being able to afford things. I am, by no means, rich. I work for a nonprofit and do my best to be fiscally responsible. I always have between 500-1,000 for veterinary expenses. No, I don't have kids or a mortgage - I have rent, food, car payments and two dogs to worry about. It is unfathomable to think of leaving my dogs in that condition (I would not have run them over to begin with, of course). Maybe I would have taken out a loan, or tried care credit, or asked a vet for a payment plan or signed up for a low-interest credit card...but I would have done something. That's just the right thing to do for a creature who relies solely on our beneficence to get along in this world.

The kicker is that, after the dog was taken to a vet, after spending 18 days without medical treatment, the owners paid $500 to help offset the costs. Why didn't they do that in the beginning? Even $500 would have gone a long way in the beginning to prevent what looks like a painful recovery process. Poor dog. I certainly wish him a full recovery and a more ideal home.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Three dogs confiscated after "pack attack"

This is what I classify as semi-strange story out of Nebraska. It's not a rarity, by any means, but the degree of Common Sense Fail is rather astounding.

A woman is upset that her $600 dog she was just about to send off to new owners is now less one ear after one of the neighbor's dogs bit it off. These dogs, according to the woman, are dangerous. In fact, the $600 dog has not been the only victim. Three other dogs have been attacked. One died from an (untreated?) infection. The other died when he stuck his head under the fence and was attacked.

These three dogs may very well be dangerous. The owner admits to having them as guard dogs. Now my problem is this: All the dogs were on their own property separated by a chain link fence. No dogs were running loose and all the owners of the ear-less (and sadly dead) dogs knew that these three Lab mixes were dangerous, aggressive, prone to removing the silky, soft ears of other dogs...yet they allowed them to be within biting distance of dog aggressive animals.

I'm not arguing that the lab mixes should be free to bite off ears. At the same time, if my dog fence fought with another dog and got bit in the process, I can only lay the blame on my own shoulders for allowing that behavior. It is unlikely that all these ear-less dogs are innocent, submissive canines who did nothing more than approach three snarling dogs in appeasement. More likely is that all the dogs engaged in some form of agonistic behavior and the one facing the three lost.

Common sense dictates that if a chain link fence is not enough to protect the ears of your dog from the aggressive behavior of your neighbor's dogs - get a better fence. While that will not address the highly territorial and frustrated behavior of the three dogs next door, it may save your dog's life.

Friday, April 10, 2009

HSUS and fight bust dogs

It sounds like there may be a glimmer of hope for dogs confiscated from fight busts, especially if HSUS is involved. Best Friends is reporting that a summit of animal protection organizations has resulted in the HSUS modifying it's policy on what should happen to fight bust dogs, including a change on opionion from killing all fight bust dogs (including puppies) to individually evaluating them.

For many years, HSUS has supported a kill-all policy in regard to pit bulls from fight busts. It is an attitude that has been promoted by many animal control and humane societies as well. I remember volunteering at a county animal control for three years - the single most people-focused, temperamentally sound dog I met was a dog from a fight bust. I was told a whole host of reasons as to why, when the court case was over, she had to die. I bought it too, even though my heart was screaming at me that I was being stupid, that it was wrong to kill this beautiful, healthy, people-loving dog. That dog deserved so much better, she deserved a chance at life. Thousands of perfectly sound dogs have died because the animal welfare culture, specifically HSUS, said so, that because they were pit bulls and "victims" of fighting that they had no other worth than the landfill or incinerator. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Well, I hope that time has passed and we can now step forward into a present that treats all dogs as individuals, that offers the same chance at life to a puppy mill dog as much as a pit bull from a fight bust. I can only hope that things will start looking up for these dogs.

Hat tip to YesBiscuit!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

We've done studies!

According to San Antonio City Council member Justin Rodriguez, pit bulls are three times more likely to be aggressive and bite. I mean, they've done studies.

"Whether it's a breed specific ban on pit bulls... you know, my office has done studies and we've seen, by an almost three-to-one margin, the pit bull breed is one that's obviously more aggressive (and) has the most incidents of bites," he said.
I'm sorry, what? City council offices don't generally do studies - researchers with degrees and knowledge about statistics and confidence intervals and correlation crap do studies. People who spend years analyzing data do studies. Your local city council member is not doing studies, at least none that are scientific.

I don't even have to tackle the 3:1 or "obviously more aggressive", because both are based on faulty logic. Even better, I don't have to argue against them because arguing against magical studies and made-up numbers is an exercise on silliness. If I want to have an exercise on silliness, I will watch my two dogs play.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Texas HB 1982, bringing back the stupid

And I mean that in the nicest way possible. I actually don't.

If you live in Texas and you have a dog that weighs 40 lbs or more, you should be concerned about HB 1982. If you have a dog of any weight that you know would bark, snarl, growl or potentially bite an unknown person trespassing in your backyard, you should be concerned about HB 1982. If you care about opposing stupid legislation that doesn't improve public safety, you should be concerned about HB 1982.

The bill, introduced by Representative Fischer, would add "vicious dog" to the Health and Safety statues covering dangerous dogs. It's apparently supposed to prevent people leaving their infant on the ground with two dogs or not figuring out if the chained, nursing dog out back might feel a bit unhappy with a grabby child.

How does it do that?

It defines a "vicious dog" as one that has the physical ability and "vicious nature" to cause serious harm or death to humans or property. Who are these dogs with physical ability and "vicious nature" to cause serious harm or death?

Is it this husky who killed in an infant? The Doxie mix who mauled his owner's face? The Golden Retriever-Chow mix who killed an infant (the Chow made the Golden do it?)? The starving 2-month old Lab puppy who killed a baby?

Dogs don't pop out into the world with a "vicious nature" stamped on their forehead. And if a dog has teeth, he has the ability to cause serious harm and death.

It also adds that a vicious dog is also one who "habitually" bites or attacks while on its own property...but only if the owner knew about it. It goes even further by defining a vicious dog as one who a person thinks is going to *maybe* act aggressively while on their own property. Seriously, it says:

Vicious dog means a dog that: (c) commits unprovoked acts while within the enclosure in which the dog is kept, and those acts cause a person to reasonably believe that the dog will attack and cause bodily injury to that person...

So if I trespass on your property and your dog charges or lunged or gives me the stink eye and I feel my trespassing personhood might possibly be violated....well then, sir, you may have yourself a vicious dog! I mean, really, what the hell is an "unprovoked act" anyways? Rhetorical question, folks.

Read Section 5. If you are a sane, logic-minded person, it will make your head spin.

It gets better. So, by now, half of you have discovered that your dog is, in fact, vicious. Maybe your dog barks at people passing by and your fence is 5' instead of 6' tall. Perhaps you discovered that your dog engages in unprovoked and rampant acts of something or other that might leads to an attack if x, y, z occur. Anyway, it doesn't matter, your dog is vicious.

This means you cannot walk your dog in a public park or on the sidewalk or, really, anywhere. You can't have your responsible 20-yr-old college-aged, on-the-wrestling-team, son walk the dog either (no one under the age of 21 can walk a zomg! vicious dog, easily defined as any dog over 40 lbs...but only if you live somewhere with a population of 1 million or more). Your dog will have to be registered as vicious, wearing a vicious dog tag. You have to notify animal control when you move, so they can let the next town know that your 42 lb muttskie is vicious.

I mean, can Fischer be serious? Is this really going to improve public safety? Will it really reduce the likelihood of one of the least likely deaths for people, death by dog? It's a waste of time and, if in the hopefully very-off-chance it's enacted, it will be a waste of money to "enforce" (with its current language, I can't imagine it's at all enforceable).

According to the Texas legislature's website, the bill is still in committee. Contact information here. Martinez Fischer's information here.

Texas has a lot more things to worry about than defining a territorial dog who nips a burglar as "vicious". This isn't going to improve public safety but it will criminalize the average dog owner and cause the unnecessary deaths of perfectly happy, healthy, normal dogs.

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.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Baxter, Split Personality?

Baxter is a pit bull in Hillsboro, Oregon with an apparent split personality. His neighbors claim he is a menace to society, while his owner defends the dog's niceness.

The dog has bitten four people, never seriously. He's been caught running loose numerous times. So it seems that maybe the neighbors are right? Well, Baxter's veterinarian and groomer wrote "glowing reports" regarding Baxter's nice personality. The shelter staff said he was a nice and calm dog at the shelter.

Who's got the pulse on Baxter's true nature?

Maybe Baxter needs a trip to a trainer or behaviorist who could explain stuff like a lowered bite inhibition or higher arousal level or what happens when a frustrated dog suddenly gets free. Baxter is a dog, it seems, owned by a person ill-equipped to deal with the basics - proper exercise, common-sense confinement tactics, and training. He clearly lacks proper neighborhood conflict management skills. The dog needs more exercise. He needs to know how to properly use his teeth - not on people, for sure. Getting out once is a mistake, but escaping multiple times indicates a blatant disregard for the dog's safety and that of the public on the owner's part.

None of this has to do with being a pit bull. Lots of bored dogs react out of frustration by using teeth or exhibiting unseemly doggie behaviors. Yet I can't help but question whether this would be a story if the dog in question was a nondescript mutt. Of course it wouldn't.

I hope Baxter's owner figures this out quick - Baxter needs a trainer, he needs socialization, he needs training, and he needs to be run like a fiend until he drops from exhaustion. He doesn't need to be running loose and scaring neighbors (certainly shouldn't be biting them!) Baxter's life depends on it.