Thursday, November 12, 2009

"Dangerous Dog" is a misnomer - it's ALWAYS the Human

A lot of our problems with dog legislation - whether or not to ban certain breeds, the tragedy of keeping dogs locked up for months and years at a time while their owners let their court cases drag on through the judicial system - as we're currently witnessing here in Halifax, (I would love to add several adjectives to that sentence, but I'll control myself), watching sitting time-bombs chained in back yards get loose time after time and picked up by Animal Control - and then returned to their owners because they have adequate shelter and water - but no life otherwise - could be so easily dealt with if we only changed the spotlight of where we've been focusing our legislation and energy until now.

Until now we've always focused on the dog - and banning the dog, or killing the dog - but what we need to do - is focus on the dog owner - because they are the CAUSE of the problem EVERY TIME. Without exception.

They may deny it - but it is true. Without exception.

A dog is not dangerous until they have a dangerous owner.

And how does an owner become dangerous? When they don't pay heed to laws that are already on the books - leash laws, muzzle laws that they've been mandated to follow - failing to train their dogs, contain their dogs - and most of all - failing to keep their dog SAFE. And by failing to keep their own dog safe - they are not keeping their community SAFE. And therefore they become dangerous dog OWNERS.

And that's what the government should be dealing with when they are writing legislation - not with the dogs.

There are some municipal governments who have figured it out - I have written about a couple on this blog previously - 2 of them are Los Angeles California, and San Antonio Texas.

In Los Angeles, one of the criteria for getting your dog back if it's been deemed dangerous is that the judge has to believe that you will not put your dog and the community in the same situations that you put them in before your dog was seized - and if the judge does not feel confident about that - YOU DO NOT GET YOUR DOG BACK.

I learned about that in the case of Jeff de la Rosa and his dog Stu. If any of you are wondering about what happened to Stu the dog - he is still alive, and living his life out at a place called "K9's Only" - as mandated by the City of Los Angeles. And NOT as mandated by Jeff de la Rosa.

In a post I wrote back in July I laid out how Los Angeles' legislation keeps dangerous dog owners from getting their dogs back - it's pretty good writing as far as I'm concerned - I hope our new dog laws get some of this written in here.

A post I wrote back in June talked about the case in San Antonio - it's at the bottom of the post, and it's about an article called "Holding ourselves accountable: Confinement" - it's also very good.

My Dad worked in the prison system for many years and he said that he never met one person who was incarcerated who was guilty of a crime - every person in there was innocent and had been convicted unjustly. A dangerous dog owner may tell you that their problems are caused by "lack of due process", "no appeal process", "fraud", "irregular/uneven enforcement of the law" - but I can tell you that I am 100% sure of one thing - there is not one Animal Control department in all of North America that caused a dog owner to let their dog attack another dog or a human without provocation - either on the dog owners property line or off of their property, who let their dog run at large, or failed to licence their dog. There is no animal control officer in North America who caused a dog to do any of those things.

There is only one human who caused that - and that is the DOG'S OWNER. If none of those precipitating things would have happened - none of these problems would have been happening to these long suffering and much maligned individuals.

With legislation that focuses on the dog owners - the dogs themselves don't have to suffer - they don't have to sit in a cage for 2 to 5 years waiting for the outcome of court actions. The owner can simply be declared unfit because the judge determines that the owner - because of their past actions - can't be trusted to make sane and reasonable decisions in the future - so they are not allowed to own dogs in the future.

In Los Angeles for example - once you own a dog who's been declared dangerous - you are personally BANNED from owning dogs. Isn't that fabulous? I think that's super. Of course - the next thing is enforcement - but that's another topic.

The dogs can be tested, rehabilitated - whatever is best for the dog - and get on with their very short lives. And society is all the better for it.

And we all sleep better at night. I like the sound of that.


  1. BRAVO Joan!!!!!!!!!!

    The onus of a dogs behavior in a human environment should be on the human who has brought that dog into human environments!

    People who shirk their responsibility should be held accountable.

  2. Well, to your thinly veiled attack, Joan, I will say as I've said many times before: if I'm guilty of an offense, CHARGE AND FINE ME. IN A TIMELY MANNER. Not after I win against the city, who delayed getting to court that time by three months.
    Apply the law as it is meant to be applied. Don't jump to kill a dog that has never caused a serious injury when you allow others who kill to go free.
    I never said I didn't take responsibility for my dog.
    But the responsibility for the current case, and the dragging on, is NOT MINE.
    Nobody forced the AC officer to decide on euthanizing Brindi.
    Nobody forced HRM to avoid creating an appeal process; or to pass an unconstitutional law.

    Enough of your holier than though attitude. Nobody is a perfect owner, and nobody is ever in 100% control of an animal. Ask trainers! If they're honest, they'll admit this. Mine did.

    And I notice you have no problems with the man whose dog killed a kitten being fined $500, no muzzle, no fence, no seizure, nothing. WHy is that okay? A proven killer, and HRM is not keeping anybody safe from it.

    I will be surprised if you post this.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Anonymous8:10 AM

    Ms. Sinden: Brava, Brava, Brava.

    What a breath of fresh air to finally see evidence of restrained clear-thinking especially in regards to the Halifax issue, the accompanying online dysfunction (of which right thinking individuals including this anonymous one work hard to ignore), and assorted legal proceedings – clearly the responsibility and creation of the owner involved.

    It is a fundamental truth. As an adult dog owner, taking personal responsibility for an animal is paramount. (Heck, as an adult, taking personal responsibility for all our actions in the larger community is paramount!)

    It is worth repeating from your post:

    “If none of those precipitating things would have happened - none of these problems would have been happening to these long suffering and much maligned individuals.”

    In the current Cause Celebrite circus, the owner’s inability to step outside herself and tune into what she has created -- nor accept any semblance of personal responsibility – is the underlying issue, coloured by the accompanying owner-generated conflict, adversarial attitude, public attacks, and more that frankly MUST be ignored. What a shocking display of erroneous perception.

    The combative and explosive nature of the fight obscures the real issue: personal irresponsibility and faulty perception.

    And now a little logic, folks.
    The more erroneous the perception, the more incorrect the thinking.
    It follows that this wrong thinking causes unnecessary suffering.

    And I’m afraid, sitting in a cage for months and months, it is the poor dog that is suffering the most.

    Might I end my anonymous comment on this note: I visit your blog to read informative and inspiring information focused on animal issues. I hope you are able to keep your efforts above the Fray, so to speak.

    Thank you for the chance to remain anonymous. I'm not willingly available for the online dysfunction that has been unleashed (excuse the unintended pun) over the World (Wide Web) surrounding this matter.

  5. I don't know about you, Francesca - but I go to bed at around 10pm - 10:30pm - so that I can get up in the morning to go to this thing I call WORK - where I have to make my living - and while I'm SLEEPING - I don't moderate comments for this blog. Sorry about that. I'm sorry to have inconvenienced you. I know my crazy lifestyle is very different from you and you may not quite understand how other people may live their lives - but that's how I live my life.


  6. Although I 100 percent agree that every problem dog can be traced to a problem owner who failed their canine companion in one way or another, I must also say that I met, heard about and witnessed over-zealous animal control officers - and other executors of the law.

    In my opinion, unless society at large knows a whole lot more about dogs than it does now, the problem won't disappear. The onus to keep dogs safe, and the public, lies with people - all people.

    Owners need to be able to distinguish between superficial command obedience they might have in certain circumstances and reliable good behavior in all circumstances. They need to understand their dog's psyche and limitations.
    Human societies and rescue organizations need to stop adopting their most difficult cases out to rookie dog owners, who are simply not able to deal with the baggage some dogs come with, even if they want to.
    There should be legislation that an independent government body inspects all breeders periodically so that eventually we will have less messed-up dogs.
    The mass breeding and distribution of dogs should be against the law.
    Animal control officers need to be educated to know the difference between normal, ritualized dog behavior (and I am not referring to a specific case here) and a dangerous dog. Just because their job description deals with animals, doesn't necessarily mean that they know much about them. Some do, and some don't. And I also don't think that one can assume that every executor of the law is automatically a good person.
    And the non-dog-owning public needs to learn about dog behavior as well, cause like it or not, dogs are part of our society. Kids running up to dog wanting to kiss and hug them, joggers and cyclists coming too close from behind without making themselves known, and adults that think they have the right to pat without asking. I witnessed all of the above, and more, again and again. From a dog's point of view, an attack never happens without a reason and provocation, and sometimes an owner has to deal with pretty dumb people who don't listen to a "my dog isn't friendly - or in training".

    In addition, we have no laws in place that clearly outline what an attack is; what level of bite a dog could get away with; how many times a dog can attack without being seized or euthanized. The public perception of some dog breeds and media hype that caused it, means that some dogs are labeled aggressive, while others are labeled rough players, for the same behavior.

    "A dangerous dog" label leaves way too much room for interpretation. So yes, I concur that the "dangerous owner" law in LA and San Antonio makes total sense. How can we get one here?

  7. Add more 'bravas' Joan. Found yr comments like a breath of fresh air on this endless subject. Yeah, just saw this morning...most of us do go to bed early enough to get up in the morning & go to work. Good work--good perspective. Hoope everyone reads.

  8. Anonymous11:56 AM

    I am also like the above poster a bit concerned about overzealous, uneducated animal control people.
    The judge makes the final decision however, as we all know, that takes so much time, much to the detriment of our pets.

    I also worry about the willingness of people (adopters and rescuers) to take on dogs with issues and if this is the penalty.

    A lot has to change in education and program set up before this would help animals.

    I do agree that humans are responsible for their animals mistakes.

  9. To Anonymous,
    My dog would be dead long ago if I hadn't gone public with the story. That was the only goal. Believe whatever you like.
    Second, I have taken responsibility, over and over. I did not "shirk" it at all and I deeply resent the implication from anybody.
    Third, the callousness of this post tempts fate. Joan doesn't know for a fact that she will never make a mistake. Heather can't be sure something won't ever go wrong, and then what??
    And Joan, you have been known to stay up late on occasion. Big deal.

  10. Awesome post Silvia and thank you for your wisdom.

  11. Hi Fran,

    Please dont think my comment was pointed directly at you. It wasn't.

    Not everyone is perfect all the time including me. I do think there is an accountability level though. I usually learn after my first error if not before I have had a chance to make it - thank goodness.

    I will say this. I have had dogs all my life. I didnt start out knowing everything and I sure dont know it all now either. I learned along the way and used commonsense too.

    I believe one of my responsibilities has always been to keep my animals safe in whatever measure that my take - by training them, appropriate housing etc., and by abiding by laws...even if I disagree with them.

    I will be direct. My issue with you has always been the amount of times that brindi was able to find herself in reported incidents. The ones documented in court. It makes it very difficult for me personally to feel that Brindi will be safe and protected in your care. That's the bottom line for me.

    I do think AC did a crappy job. They should be held accountable too.

    Why does this have to be about you and Brindi? Joan made a very good post about where responsibility should lay.

    Silvia made the best comments here as far as I am concerned. Silvia is a great resource and I learn so much from her.

    Its pretty and I disagree. It wouldnt matter if it was you and Brindi or someone else and another dog in the same circumstance. It is the number of incidents that were able to happen as reported in the court document that I have difficulty with.

    So lets focus on the big picture and not just yours - responsible ownership for all dogs.

  12. Ah, Dangerous Owners are indeed the problem. Silvia has some great points as well. Society in general hasn't a clue. I have been told recently by an adoption personel that sometimes its better if an adopter isn't well informed about "bully breeds" and how they are judged. No one should own a dog unless they understand the breed and dog behavior , regardless if its pitbull or a poodle.