Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dangerous Dog Laws

This is a difficult topic for me, as for many dog lovers and owners, as we do not always accept that there are dogs that should be labeled ‘dangerous’.  I fully believe that naming a dangerous dog should on an individual basis, and that breed-specific legislation, or ‘breedism’ is wrong wrong wrong.  I see different breeds of dogs all day long, and I know how to read the individual body language that keeps me from being bitten multiple times a day.  And I have owned a dog that is one of the most recognized biters in veterinary medicine - a chihuahua.  (I have also owned a pit bull, who was terrified of said chihuahua).  But I don’t want this post to get into breedism, because that is not what I’m addressing at this time.  I would like to talk about the laws that exist to help humans, in the case of a dangerous dog.

First, many people don’t really think about dangerous dog laws as existing, or at least as existing as relates to their every day life.  They think of some terrible situation that they see on the news, generally of catastrophic proportion.  And they are right - those instances are absolutely cases where these laws are important.  But it is also important to use these laws to protect the every day situation.  Many of my clients tell me of neighborhood dogs or dog park dogs that ‘everyone knows’ they need to avoid.   But no one has reported this dog.  And because there is no report, each incident of aggression goes un-noted in the public record, and thus there is no action that can be taken with repeat occurrences. 

Let me back up a second.  Dogs play; they roughhouse, they growl and grab skin with their teeth as a normal occurrence during interaction.  That is not what I’m talk about.  I’m talking about the dog that causes a fight, and when the fight is broken up it turns on the humans breaking up the fight.  I’m talking about the unprovoked attacks through a storm door when you are walking your dog down the street.  I’m talking about the dog that comes out of nowhere and knocks down a skateboarder or a biker.

In most of these situations, there is a human involved in the mix.  (While a true stray dog is rare, if no owner can be identified and they are causing a problem, Animal Control should already be brought in to address them.)  So who is responsible, in the majority of cases of repeat incidents of dog bites?  The owner of the dog.  Which is where the dangerous dog laws come in to play - the owner receives a citation or warning, which can then lead to a fine, which can eventually lead to the dog being taken away from the owner.  A legal, documented trail can lead to the prevention of these dogs from causing harm to other dogs, to people, and to themselves.

I have many clients that own dogs who are considered ‘dog aggressive’, ‘fear aggressive’, ‘approach slowly’, etc.  And there are steps that can be taken to address all of these categories and more - there are behaviorists and trainers, there are over the counter treatments for anxiety as well as prescription medications.  But the biggest thing that my clients who own these dogs have in their favor?  Awareness.  They don’t bring their ‘dog aggressive’ dog to the park, or if they do it’s at a low traffic time and they are aware of any other dog that approaches.  Owners of ‘fear aggressive’ dogs don’t take them for a walk when school is letting out (kids can be *terrifying*!), and they know that these dogs will be more on edge on garbage day.  And they don’t leave the front door open, with just a screen between their dog and the neighborhood.  These owners are not the people that dangerous dog laws are targeting, because these owners are aware of their dog, working with their dog, and they keep them away from situations that would get them into trouble.  

So, what do we do when a one-sided dog fight occurs? Or a person is bitten or attacked by a dog?  Call 911.  I know it may sound extreme, but the police are the first line of the record keeping process.  You *have* to file a police report.  If it is a first time offense, it is possible that the only thing that will happen is that the report will be filed.  But if it is a known dangerous dog, the fines and citations will begin, and hopefully the owner of the dog will take measures to prevent further incidents from happening.  Even if you do not have a person or address attached to the dog, file the report.  And, while I hate to say this, not every police officer believes that this is their responsibility; they may brush you off, or say there really isn’t anything they can do, or to call Animal Control.  They are wrong, and you should insist on having the police report filed.  

I realize that the last thing anyone wants to do after going through a traumatic experience, either for their dog or for themselves, is to sit around to wait for a cop and then fill out paperwork.  But it is so important to have documentation, so that repeat offenses will stop happening.  What you or your dog are going through at that moment could have happened a dozen times before - if everyone had reported it, you might not be in that situation, and you have the chance to help prevent it from happening again.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Natural Disasters: Making a Bad Situation Worse

Hurricane Isaac just made himself felt in the Gulf region, another hit to an area that has already sustained so much weather-related tragedy.  I want to tell you a story of an unfortunate and not atypical situation, that just happened with Isaac...

My husband's friend Jessie lives in New Orleans, and during Isaac she rescued two sweet little female pitties wandering the streets.  It turns out that they had been left outside in a medium sized crate to ride out the storm, and broke out of the crate (either from complete panic or with some help from the brutal winds is unknown).  When she found the home and suggested returning the dogs, she was told that they would be put back in the crate, so she decided to foster them and try to re-home them.  After eating a hearty meal, they slept for 12 hours straight!

While that is heartbreaking in and of itself, what happened after the initial rescue was also frustrating.  Jessie has her own dog, and these two new girls (named Thelma and Louise, as the crate woman didn't even know their names) weren't used to being indoors or being with a new dog; there was no way that Jessie could keep them in her place for very long.  So she started to look into rescue situations.  She sent emails, made phone calls, tried to contact people through twitter and facebook, and received almost no response.  Zeus' Place, a grooming and boarding facility that does a lot of rescue work, did try to help her and offer her advice. They were unable to take the dogs because their building had structural damage that needed repair before they could open again - they had already crammed all of their rescues into various foster situations even more crowded than Jessie's apartment!  But even with dealing with all of their issues, they took the time to talk to her.

When organizations such as the Humane Society and SPCA were overwhelmed and unable to respond, a small-time rescue did. CPH is trying to organize donations of pet food, blankets, and cat carriers to send down to Zeus' Place, to say thank you for what they are doing and to help them rebuild.  In the aftermath of a hurricane, with power outages and building damage, it's not a surprise that Jessie had a hard time finding help!

The HSUS and SPCA weren't able to respond because they're underfunded, understaffed and undersupplied.  Donation, financial or otherwise, to any rescue or organization is a great way to make a difference for the many homeless pets that are taken in.  While disasters such as Hurricane Isaac make things more immediate, every town has animal rescue organizations that are struggling to feed their wards.  We have one employee who, in lieu of other gifts for her young nieces, buys them gift cards to pet stores - they go in together, the girls pick out toys and treats, and then they deliver them to an animal shelter.  It's such a simple concept, but such an amazing thing to do, and to teach the next generation.  I encourage everyone to take a second to think about donating.  Thank you, from me and all the shelter fuzzballs waiting for a home.