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Norwich Bulletin - 7/5/2009

Biting Dogs

Anyone can own a dog. That is an unfortunate fact. There is no test to see if the humans are fit to care, supervise or socialize a dog. They also get to choose their own dog – whether they are capable of controlling the breed they like, or not. The result is obvious. Every year our animal shelters still put to death approximately three million dogs. That’s 342 dogs being killed every hour, 24/7, 52 weeks a year.

And many of these dogs die because they had unfit owners. Many of these dogs were not able to be rehomed but doomed to die because of their behavior, which stemmed from owners who were not up to the task of raising and training a dog.

There are about five million people in American that are bitten by dogs every year. Almost a million people had injuries serious enough to require medical attention and about 5,000 were so bad, they had to be hospitalized. And the really scary part is that 20 to 25 people and/or children are actually mauled to death by dogs every year.

And, in many instances, the owners were present and unable to stop the inevitable. Dog bites are the leading cause of traumatic injury and it is children who are the most frequent victims of the dogs. Children are literally helpless when cornered by a vicious dog.

Remember the story of Diane Whipple, the thirty-three year old woman from San Francisco who was killed in the hallway of her apartment building, and actually just outside her apartment. At the time of the attack, one of the dogs was leashed and the other was standing in the doorway of his owner’s apartment. All of a sudden they dragged their owner behind them, ignored all of her feeble attempts to control them, and proceeded to kill Diane Whipple.

The dogs that killed Diane were Canary Island fighting dogs, an enormous breed (in fact the male was so big that they were barely able to get the noose on their come along over the dog’s head). They are said to be the most lethal of all the breeds and predisposed to attack, which is what they were bred to do.

Perhaps a good trainer with a strong hand might be able to keep one Presa Canarios in check, but no way could a woman with no dog training skills, possibly control two of these canines. The attack continued for almost five minutes! Diane’s body had deep wounds, with chunks of her body missing. The hall was blood soaked with bloody hand prints on the wall. And where was the owner – supposedly trying to contain these dogs and stop the vicious attack. Obviously she failed.

Right after the attack was publicized, neighbors came out of the woodwork to report how much they feared these two dogs. They were known to have killed sheep, chickens, cats and had even previously bitten Diane Whipple. Even a veterinarian came forward to report that he had warned the owners that the dogs were dangerous and it was just a matter of time before they exploded and someone was seriously hurt.

Did the owners feel bad about the attack? Well, if they did, it never showed. The day after the attack, the owners released a statement to the press implying that the dog attack might have been the victims own fault because of her perfume or taking steroids. They even went as far as to say Diane could have gotten into the apartment but didn’t. They basically said that she didn’t run away fast enough so it was her fault she was killed.

And these two lawyers, stuck to this story all through the investigation. They tried hard to paint themselves as innocent of the attack. The owners of the dogs never apologized to the victim’s family for the attack and they never took any responsibility for their inability to control these dogs. The male dog was put down by authorities immediately after Diane’s murder. The owners continued to call for the return of the other dog up to the time she, also, was euthanized. They wanted to “bring her home” to the same one bedroom apartment and keep her as their pet, taking her for walks, out in public.

What was their punishment? Well, let’s see – Diane Whipple lost her life. The two dogs who were untrained and unsocialized, lost their lives – and the owners? Well, they received the maximum sentence under California law, under the m “mischievous” dog law. They would not be able to own dogs for three years. That was it. Even though the police had compiled more than forty reports of threats or actual attacks by these two dogs, no action was ever taken to hold the dog owners’ accountable.

The dogs continually became bolder and more aggressive in their behavior and were actually shaped by their owners into lethal vicious behavior. Every time they attacked someone, there were no consequences to their actions, and so they got more and more aggressive. These two people are not required to learn how to train a dog – how to control a dog – nothing. They just need to wait three years and then they can have two more Canary Island Dogs, or whatever else they decide they want.

Many people feel that dogs are unpredictable, vicious creatures. But that’s not entirely true. Dog’s behavior reflects the behavior of their owners. Neurotic people raise neurotic dogs. Undisciplined people raise undisciplined dogs.

Vicious people tend to have dogs with vicious tendencies. Irresponsible people raise dogs that do anything they want with no consequences. Affectionate, social, fun-loving people, raise well-behaved, affectionate and social dogs. So it isn’t the dogs --- it’s the owners.

These vicious dogs are obviously dogs to fear – but there are also dogs we come to hate that live in our neighborhoods. They are called chronic barkers and rather than put our displeasure towards the real problem (the owners) we tend to blame the dogs, who are just being dogs and trying to get their owners to listen. But that’s the next column.

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