Saturday, July 24, 2010

These Were Not Pets

A companion dog lives in your home or at least spends a good portion of his time with you, when you are home. They sleep in your house, sometimes in your room (on or off the bed). A companion dog is a treasured member of the family and pack. They are not relegated to the backyard or garage. You do not have five of them, only to spend a minimal amount of time with them individually. If you have five of them, you do not keep three in the garage, two out in the backyard, and then bring one at a time out in the front yard unleashed.

A companion dog can manage to get along with the family. If that is not possible, a companion dog is taken to obedience training or a behaviorist and the whole family is involved in the dog's training and modification. If a companion dog's behavior is so dangerous that he or she poses a risk to the family's smallest residents, then a serious discussion should take place on whether that home is the right place for that particular companion dog.

A companion dog is not merely a dog who is given a roof over his head or food in her belly. It requires more effort to create an environment in which a dog goes from resident to companion. A companion dog can be one who is showered with ridiculous expenses, and a companion dog can live in the most impoverished of places. What makes a dog a companion is how they are perceived by the humans around them and how they are treated.

The dog(s) responsible for the death of a child in the SF Bay Area were not companion dogs. And no matter how much the owners of the dogs wish to foist blame on the non-humans in the equation, no one is more at fault than he. When you take five dogs, four of them intact males, and sequester them in garages and backyards, and when you have at least one dog who is aggressive towards children, you are doing nothing but a disservice to both dogs and humans. And even though the owner "adopted" the female dog, who was pregnant, that does not make that dog a companion dog...not when she is confined to the garage for the better part of her day.

Four of the dogs are less than 2 years of age. They are the puppies of the only truly adult dog. At six months of age, one of the dogs aggressed against another dog in the household, a Chihuahua. He killed the dog. The same dog, since he was young, was never allowed to be around children. He wasn't to be trusted. That is a red flag, not a case of hindsight. Around the same time this dog started showing aggressive behaviors, the owner of the dogs allowed his family to move in, bringing with them their two children (his grandsons).

Nothing was done to mitigate the clear fear and aggression issues at least one of the dogs exhibited.

Nothing was done to mitigate the aggression towards children at least one of the dogs exhibited.

And now. Now the owner blames my dog. He foists all of this heartbreaking tragedy onto dogs. DOGS. I give him this - amidst his pain and suffering, he is trying to cope with his own irresponsible behavior. He is creating a shell of denial, blaming my dog and other nonviolent dogs, for his inability to manage four adolescent, intact male dogs and one spayed female. I do not begrudge him this.

It will not bring back his grandson. It will not rectify his own mistakes, so grievous that a child will never become an adult.

The euthanasia of the five dogs is not helpful, either. We know nothing about their true personalities or behavior. We do not know if only one dog, the one who never really liked kids, was the only one who participated. We do not know if, in his final moments, another dog tried to intervene or just looked on. We only know that two innocent dogs and three potentially guilty dogs were subsequently killed. Their owners will, at the very least, receive a trial.

I don't know how to rectify these problems. They are not the result of a dog's inability to deal with the world. They are not because a dog looks a certain way. They exist because people choose to bring in dogs but then neglect to treat them as companions with all the significant responsibility that entails. You can't put two intact companion, adolescent, male dogs out in the backyard 24/7. You can't stick two intact male, adolescent companion dogs and one spayed female in a garage 24/7. You can't ignore the aggressive behavior of a companion dog, because that companion dog is in your home, around your friends/family/children.

But you can do that with a resident dog. You can deny them normal social interactions. You can put them in situations where they are cornered and feel as if they must bite, bite, bite to deal with the matter how mundane that threat is. You can chain them, keep them in garages and backyards. You can ignore their training, because a resident dog requires none. You just need to put out the dish every day and hope that, like millions of other resident dogs, they won't react in deadly ways to what should be a fun interaction between a dog and a child.

What a sad, sad, preventable story.

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