Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Doggy Jailer

Another thing I hear all the time when I'm out and about at work (are you sick of hearing about this, yet?) is something along the lines about how I must be out "picking up bad dogs." Or when people come into the shelter, how they're there to get their dogs out of "jail." Along the same lines of the lines of the comment about not being able to do my job that makes me bristle, is another: something about how my job is so dangerous because of all the horrible, vicious animals I must have to deal with. I've started to just tell people that actually, my job isn't really about dealing with nasty, bad, or even very dangerous animals. For the most part, it's about dealing with owners, and their poor decisions.

Here's a scenario: A dog bites someone (or another dog) while loose, severely enough to cause the person (or dog) stitches. Animal control gets a report of the bite, and a day or two later figures out where the dog lives. The dog (if the dog bit a person) must be quarantined for 10 days. If the dog bit another dog, or has a history of being at large, or if he is not securely confined, must be impounded for public safety. I show up at the address, speak to the owner, impound the dog. The owner, and the nosy neighbors, see me "jailing a bad dag."

Here's another take on the same situation. Not all of these factors may have happened, but they are factors I see every day, and for the sake of argument, I'm going to chain them all together to show that ownership is the main factor in the majority of cases I deal with, and to demonstrate that I'm more of a bad-owner-social-worker than a "doggy jailer."

Let's start two years before the date of the bite: An imaginary person (not the dog owner) gets some dogs. In this instance, I'm going to say they're pit bulls. If you've been paying attention to my blog, you know I'm not trying to malign pit bulls. I'm using them as an example because of the law of large numbers, and because I'm familiar with this particular ownership problem. So, Joe Jones gets two pit bulls. He gets one, and a couple months later, he gets another, this time a female. They're awesome, and he's sure he has homes lined up for them. So he breeds them, at about 8 and 9 months of age. He doesn't really know much about the two dogs, except that they are from "Champion" lines. They look healthy, and they have all of their shots. They stay in the yard, but they are nice dogs. They've never really left the back yard, but his kids play with them, and they've never gotten into a fight. The litter comes out pretty healthy- one seems kind of small, and one seems kind of growly, and the mom develops some hairloss during the litter and won't let people get too close, but other than that, the breeding experience is pretty smooth. Joe sells the first 5 puppies for 500 dollars each, which is some good money. By the time he gets to the last 5 puppies, they are 6 weeks old and the female's hairloss is getting worse. Joe's ready to be done with this whole thing, so he sells our dog owner his dog for $100.

Back to our dog owner. Our dog owner, John Smith, is a friend of a friend of Joe. He lives in a decent neighborhood in a city that is struggling with crime, bad schools, the usual. Basically, his neighborhood is going to shit. He is 21, and has a kid, and really, just needs a dog because he's always had one (his last one ran away, but it was just a dog he found anyway) and because there's some crime in his neighborhood. So a friend of his tells him that Joe has a few puppies left that he's selling at a discount. He picks up the puppy from Joe who says the dog has had a shot, but doesn't have any paperwork to prove it. The mutual friend says you can trust Joe, so the new puppy, Pirate, goes in the yard. John doesn't really have a doghouse set up for Pirate, but his tool shed is open to the yard, so John clears some space and puts down a nice blanket for him and buys a huge bag of food at the grocery store. He and his kid play with the dog every day. The puppy is super cute. The neighbors love him, so they leave the wrought iron gate open like they always do. They have to move their car in and out, anyway, and this way Pirate can go chill with Jr's friends.

Then Pirate gets a little bigger and starts knocking Jr's friends over, and the parents start getting annoyed. One of the neighbors who doesn't have kids calls animal control one time because of the "vicious pit bull" that's out in the street. Animal control comes out a couple days later but John is at work and the wrought iron gate is actually closed. Pirate barks and growls and sticks his head through the gate. Animal Control leaves a notice on the door that tells John in order to comply the dog must be confined and licensed. John comes home and is pissed off about his grumpy neighbors. He considers buying a chain for Pirate, but decides he'll just tell Jr to stop leaving the gate open, but Jr is only 5, and John forgets after about a week. Yeah right, animal control will take Pirate over his dead body.

Pirate becomes big and rather obnoxious. John doesn't walk him because even though he got him a choke chain and tried to walk him once or twice with that, Pirate is just really strong and pulls on the leash a lot. He barks when he's on the leash, and though he's just trying to greet people, dogs, and other animals that he sees, he's now 80 pounds of intact pit bull, and scares everyone, including John, though he'd never admit it. Pirate gets used to some behavior that most people consider rude, or disobedient: because he was separated from his mom and littermates at 6 weeks, he hasn't learned a whole lot of bite inhibition. When he jumps on people, he tends to do it with an open mouth, and he often combines his over-enthusiastic greeting by biting any available piece of clothing, and sometimes even humps a leg. When he gets pushed away, he feels like he's received an invitation to play and jumps and mouths even more. Sometimes he jumps on John and John yells at him or hits his but and Pirate hits the floor. But most of the time, Pirate tugs at people's clothing until he gets bored and walks away.

So one day, John leaves the wrought iron gate open when he goes to work. Pirate tosses a plastic 2 liter soda bottle around for awhile, sleeps for awhile, then when patrolling the yard for a good place to pee, sees the open gate. An older person walks by slowly on the way to the store. Pirate runs up to the older person and jumps on him, grabbing his shirt. The older person flails his arms, trying to get Pirate off. Pirate gets more excited, and rips the old man's shirt, and punctures the old man's arm in 3 places in the process. A neighbor sees that something is wrong and hollers at Pirate (everyone knows Pirate from when he was a cute puppy) and Pirate gets distracted long enough for the old man to get away. Pirate goes back to his backyard and sunbathes. Life continues for John and Pirate.

After the old man goes to the hospital for his wounds, the hospital reports the bite to the local animal control, as they are required by law to do, as every state is concerned about rabies. The old man describes Pirate and tells the officers where he thinks the dog lives. Animal control comes out to John's house. John tells the officers that Pirate never gets out, and is not happy when they take Pirate for his mandatory quarantine. When he comes into the shelter to find out about reclaiming Pirate and they quote his fees and explain that the dog will be neutered by law, he tells them he wanted to breed Pirate, because he comes from championship lines (remember Joe?) and because Pirate is so good with Jr. He tells them that Pirate has all his shots and that he is part of the family. When he hears the total fees, he tells them he will go get the money. John never comes back. Pirate is put to sleep: he is a pit bull with a bite history. He probably also had hairloss as he was the product of a female pit bull with hairloss (probably demodex). He may have ended up in a shelter that didn't out pit bulls anyway, or had too many. Odds are, John will have another pit bull soon.

It's likely that John thinks animal control "stole" his dog, and "just wants money." He thinks his dog "had all his shots," even though he only "had" the one that Joe claimed he gave the puppy. It's likely that many of John's neighbors feel the same way, as they are used to Pirate being in the neighborhood and doing what Pirate does. They may have dogs in similar situations. There may be a few neighbors who are glad to see Pirate go, as he was always jumping on their fences, or chasing them with his over-exuberant mannerisms. Jr will grow up thinking that dogs are expendable, and that animal control is a place where dogs go to die. He will think that dogs just act like Pirate acted.

So many factors played into this dog "being bad" and "ending up in jail." Dude got 2 pit bulls just to breed them. He bred them without knowing what they were about, health or temperamentwise. He bred them before they were mature. He sold them to pretty much anyone, without knowing where they were going to live. Another dude bought a dog without researching the breed, or the breeder. He put him in the backyard, which may be fine (topic for another day) but essentially turned him into a resident dog. He did not care for his health or training. He allowed him to roam the neighborhood and turn into a bratty, rude teenage, intact dog with no manners. The dog had no exercise than what he could manufacture for himself. This was a dog-problem waiting to happen, created by a people-problem.

I'm not suggesting that this is what happens in all bite cases, or that all pit bulls are owned like this, or that all pit bull owners are irresponsible, or any sort of generalization at all. I am suggesting, however, that there is a lot more to any given scenario that animal control deals with than a "bad animal." There is the breeder (and the breeder before that, and the cultural issues that come with "breeding") and the buying (and the cultural issues of "buying" and "owning") of the dog, and then the manner of ownership. There are issues of confinement, of training, and of stewardship: shots, health, and dogs/children. It's not about a vicious or dangerous animal, although many of our laws are worded in such a way so as to make the dog sound dangerous, not to make the owner sound irresponsible (California has a Potentially Dangerous Dog Provision). It is about choices we make, whether by omission or commission, that make my job about humans, rather than animals.


Mick O said...

You could write books.

Joni said...

>You could write books.

I agree, very well written. Thanks for sharing this.

I am fostering two male puppies about the same age, 3 months old that were returned to our rescue for different reasons.

These puppies, even at this young age were on their way to being people trouble dogs for a number of reasons. Raising a puppy is not all that easy for some people even when they think that rearing a puppy is what they want to do. Or even when they have owned dogs before and think they know what to do.

Both of these puppies are Aussie mixes - smart, high energy puppies that need owners that don't blink when they are excited and know how to read dogs and are willing to give them positive training and socialization.

Many people would be better off adopting an older adult dog, but they are attracted to the playful puppies.