Thursday, October 23, 2014

City of Ottawa’s ordinance should focus on owners, not dogs

3/7/2014

An ordinance outlawing certain breeds of dogs because they are perceived as dangerous? If doing that, outlaw certain cars because they go faster, have poor braking systems or use too much gas. Or outlaw larger trucks because they do more damage if they hit something. Rather than outlawing Mustangs or Camaros or 18 wheelers, we have training and licensing. Why not the same for dogs?

A poor analogy? Maybe; maybe not.

An ordinance outlawing certain breeds of dogs because they are perceived as dangerous? If doing that, outlaw certain cars because they go faster, have poor braking systems or use too much gas. Or outlaw larger trucks because they do more damage if they hit something. Rather than outlawing Mustangs or Camaros or 18 wheelers, we have training and licensing. Why not the same for dogs?

A poor analogy? Maybe; maybe not.

This thing about the dogs raises lots of questions. I was bitten once as a child, and it was by the neighbor’s little mutt that was fighting with my dog, a German Shepherd mix. Because the mutt was smaller, I thought he would be easier to pull off the fight. He used the only defense he knew ... he bit me, maybe instinctively sensing that I was going to help my dog.

The point here is instincts and behavior. Wikipedia defines it: “Instinct or innate behavior is the inherent inclination of a living organism towards a particular complex behavior. The simplest example of an instinctive behavior is a fixed action pattern, in which a ... sequence of actions ... are carried out in response to a ... stimulus.”

OK, some pretty fancy wording. Sum it up by agreeing that all animals behave according to their instincts. Next, what imprints those instincts?

In searching for an answer, I was led to articles, among others, by the ASPCA and the Centers for Disease Control. Even though my purpose was to learn more about pit bulls, I learned about other breeds.

The pit bull does not have a monopoly in the dangerous category. According to the CDC, it is among the top 10 breeds that, after an attack, result in serious injury and death. It is joined by the Rottweiler, German Shepherd, Doberman Pinscher, and others, bred specifically to be fighters. This technique of breeding for specific purposes has been used for hundreds of years. The better milk producer, the stronger plow horse, the faster racer, the more abundant wool producer, etc. This was the genetically modifying procedures of that day. This was Darwinian evolution accelerated and chosen.

Take, for example, the pit bull. Know why it has that name? Through selective breeding and training, arose an animal likely to win when put in a pit to fight to the death. Dog fights in pits was a sport of the day, now outlawed. Handlers were in the pit during the fight and were not attacked by the dogs, and in fact, if one did attack the trainers, it was put down. That particular breed had the strength, instincts, and training, when faced with a particular stimulus, to kill. Please, please note that I used the past tense, “had.” Much of this has been bred out of them; but they remain very muscular and strong and still possess the instinct to win if involved in a fight. Training is the variable. These dogs need lots of exercise, love, attention, and socialization to override the fighting instinct.

The other breeds in the top ten have similar stories. The German Shepherd and Doberman, for example, were bred, and/or genetically altered, to attack and protect. If properly loved, and trained, they make wonderful pets.

These instinctively inherent behaviors are with all of us. If attacked, or if one or our children is attacked, what is our first reaction? To attack back, right? It happens in war. What happened after Pearl Harbor? What happened after 9/11? It is the instinct of all animals.

If an animal, a dog, is harassed to the point that it feels attacked, what is likely to be its response? Case in point, we read about a child attacked by a neighborhood dog and then learn that child had for weeks been throwing stones at the dog. Well, get it?

So, our city commissioners are faced with the task of deciding about an ordinance to prohibit having certain breeds of dog in Ottawa. The literature is replete with other instances of town councils passing such restrictions; they all failed in the long term. Virginia has a registry, not unlike the registry for child predators, to chronicle problem animals, where they live and who owns them. This is their approach to the problem. Should we adopt such a thing? It is worth considering.

An alternative could be education. Educate the dog owners. A registry could be used to identify and follow them as they go though the program.

Require them to attend classes on animal behavior to own and license any dog because, face it, any dog can be a danger. Educate the owners and potential owners about instinctive behavior which is within all animals.

The literature reports that the urge for these animals to finish off any opponent, instinctive to the pit bull, can be mitigated; the pit bull has been reported as a strong, muscular, affectionate, loving and loyal pet. My own experience as a child with German Shepherds validates this. And, I promise you, there wasn’t anybody gonna mess with me or my brothers when that dog was with us.

Any animal can be trained, not unlike ourselves. Take, for example, the bulls and bucking horses seen in rodeos. Do you really think that is just a wild animal brought to the ring? They are specifically trained (and worth a lot of money).

To sum it up, dogs are wonderful beings. The love and affection they impart is incomparable. It is notable that their name spelled backwards is God. I am totally against discriminating against any animal without first learning about them. The same goes for humans. We fight daily against discriminating at the level of the human being. Why not the same for dogs?

If you have ever owned a dog, you have experienced the feeling, the love that they impart. It is the owner who should have an ordinance, not the animal.

— Richard Warren,

Ottawa

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