Friday, March 04, 2005

No bad dogs; bad handlers

Today there was another incident at the dog park, the second one in perhaps three weeks, involving the same professional dog walker allowing the same unleashed pit bull to attack my 4-1/2 month old puppy.

In both incidents, my dog was intimidated by a dog twice her age and size that was grabbing on and biting. The first time we encountered this dog, my puppy rolled over submissively on her back and showed her throat, at which the bigger dog grabbed her by the neck and started shaking her around. I watched for a moment to see if they were playing, but it was clearly one sided, and my dog was NOT having fun. When I asked the dog walker to please take control of her dog, she began giving me a lecture about how this was how dogs learn bite inhibition. Excuse me? My dog is not an experiment for her charge to practice upon! I replied that my dog didn’t seem to be the one having to learn bite inhibition, as she was in the other dogs grasp. She finally called her dog over, acting all exasperated. What a favor she was doing ...

For the past few weeks I’d been carefully avoiding this person, going in opposite direction when seeing her. There are no other large dog parks anywhere in the area, so my choices are limited, and frankly, I have as much right to take my dogs there as she does to walk other people’s dogs. I try to go to the park when I’m less likely to run into her, but since she has packs of up to six dogs three times a day, she’s there a lot.

Today as I entered the park, she was right there, washing off several of her other dogs. As soon as I recognized she had the gray and white pit bull, I called my dog away. Now I don’t have anything against pit bulls as a breed, and many of them are sweet. In fact, my puppy plays with other pit bulls at this same park regularly. They can be aggressive towards other dogs, but I’ve owned Malamutes in the past so I know that you have to be responsible for monitoring your dog’s behavior. Interesting concept, very unclear here.

As we were walking away, her dog came after us. Once again, he began by exhibiting over-excited behavior; my dog plays with many, many dogs wherever we go, so I watched to see if they’d be ok together. Within perhaps 30 seconds, I was once again concerned over the behaviors. The other dog was getting more and more aggressive, grabbing my puppy by the ears and scruff of the neck and pulling, hard. My dog was trying to turn away, her tail was down and her lips were pulled back, teeth bared. This is something I have never before seen her do, but I recognize fear and stress behavior in dogs.

At this point, I called to the dog walker, who was perhaps 60 feet away, to call her dog. Immediately she begins lecturing me again that this is normal behavior, without making a move to rein in the animal. If it is so normal, why don’t I see other dogs doing this to my pup, or my dog exhibiting fear only of this one? As the woman prattles on about dogs “learning bite inhibition” I started getting pretty mad. “It’s YOUR dog biting mine! Call it off NOW!” She keeps blabbering about how I don’t know what I’m seeing up close with my own eyes, but I know my dog is scared. Normally she runs, jumps, rolls over, does all kinds of puppy play behavior with other dogs, and this isn’t it, so I decide to corral her to have some control over this situation. As I step in to take hold of her harness, the pit bull grabs her by the back of the neck and literally drags her away from my grasp. At this point, I’m not going to just watch this escalate, so I step in and shove the other dog away. Surprised, he lets go and jumps back.

Now this woman is REALLY mad, starts SCREAMING at me to “NEVER TOUCH ANOTHER PERSON’S DOG!” I yell back “Well, then CONTROL YOUR DOG when asked!” Here she starts doing the predictable thing, blathering to anyone around that I don’t know a thing about dogs. Now I’m not claiming to be a big expert, but I’ve been around dogs for 50 years. My sister has been an AKC handler for 40 years, even became a judge. She’s raised Malamutes, as many as two dozen at a time, and trained and handled just about every breed you can name, so I’ve been around a LOT of big and potentially aggressive animals. At one point I lived with two Malamutes and a Doberman, each of which weighed 80+ pounds, so I know how to control a lot of muscle on leash, and I’ve broken up my share of dog fights. Yeah, I’ve even been bit a time or two.

Hmm, why is it the person whose dog is being aggressive always blames the other handler? So here I am, leading a scared puppy away on leash, her dog is still running back and forth off leash, and she’s screaming at me about how ignorant I am. Yeah. If anything happens between us again, I’ll just call the cops. I have their number in my cell phone now. What will they do? Er ...

Two years ago, this same woman had two very big, healthy looking Rottweilers on a nearby beach, and they started bullying a sweet older Golden Retriever that I saw there regularly. It got so ugly, people were backing away. I had that sick feeling that this was going down, right here and now. I told the Retriever’s owner “this looks bad” and she looked scared to step in. She and I both began saying to the handler “could you please get your dogs?” She was in a conversation with someone else, had her back to her animals, and just glanced over and breezily said “Oh, they’re ok.” SHEESH! They're not the ones at risk! I’ve seen dogs get ripped apart. It’s fast and it’s nasty. Either of those Rotts were bigger and tougher than the Golden, and they were egging each other on. After a couple more forceful complaints, the dog walker got exasperated that we were interrupting her conversation, so she went and leashed the animals, at which point the shaking Golden ran back to his owner. The Rottweilers just looked hungry and annoyed at losing their fun.

A couple of weeks later I stopped taking my old Labrador, who was about 13 at the time, to this beach because of an incident. She was lying on her back on the sand, just rolling and scratching her back, and an unleashed pit bull ran up and grabbed the top of her skull and started shaking her like a martini. I ran up and threw a kick at the dog; didn’t even connect, but again it let go and backed off to look at the situation. The owner, far down the beach, starts yelling “Oh, you want to kick my dog? Why don’t you try again!” I said “Your dog attacked mine. She’s old, doesn’t fight.” The lady says “Oh, well then she’s going to die soon anyway, so why does it matter?” Unbelievable …. I called the Albany cops, they said I had to contact animal control from Berkeley. Berkeley animal control said, no, we don’t go out there. It’s their problem!” I called back and the dispatcher said “Oops, I gave you wrong advice. Where are you?” Three hours later, after finally going home, some beat officer calls me and says “I’m at the beach and I don’t see this dog!” Whoa, kinda hard to figure THAT one out!

So, back to today, I call the park police to get advice, gave a full description of the woman (twice - and she’s licensed with them) and they said “Call us next time, and no, you can’t touch someone else’s dog.” Once again, the bureaucratic mentality at work – Do nothing, leave it to the (absent) professionals. I simply said “It’s the other persons responsibility to control their animal when requested, and I’m not going to stand there idly and watch my dog get shredded.”

It looks like I’ve been given a simple scenario. If my dog is attacked, I can call for backup that might be hours away. The dog handler has no obligation to control their animal, and if I try to save mine, I’ll be liable for whatever happens. Every several months a small dog gets killed at this park by big dogs running loose, and the owners then round them up and disappear into the city. Nobody has ever been caught or prosecuted around here after such a clean getaway, but the system seems more interested in the rights of the negligent owner than the life of the innocent dog.

Ain’t it sweeeeeet?

No, not really ….. Few things get me madder than blatant abuse covered up by willful delusion. This really pushed my buttons, in case you can’t tell …..

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