by Audrey Thomasson
When good dogs go bad.---
Toby spent his life at the end of a six-foot logging chain, day after day, year after year. His owner claims he was well cared for--he had a dog house and was fed once a day.
For entertainment the dog dug holes in the12-foot circle of his world. When rain turned that world into mud and matted his fur, his house privileges were permanently revoked. According to the owner, Toby preferred being outside. Even in winter the dog would curl up on the ground against a wind that blew sleet and snow inside his shelter.
At first, Toby was an indoor puppy and the children fought over who got to feed him. When he grew up and became a chore, the dog was chained to his house outside. Bored and lonely, he barked incessantly until the owner would throw open a window and yell at him to stop.
Toby was never aggressive or vicious. So when the owner's youngest child wandered into the dog's area and the dog attacked and severely injured him, people were shocked.
Today's media is filled with sensational headlines of dog attacks. What is going on? Why are dogs suddenly attacking people in record numbers? And why are owners of pit bulls, rottweilers and German shepherds defending the very breeds reported to be the culprits in the attacks?
The truth is, over the past 30 years the number of fatal dog attacks on humans has remained constant, 10-20 a year (.0000004% of the dog population). Children under 12 are the victims of a majority of dog bites and are also three times more likely than adults to sustain a severe injury. Another important fact that must not be overlooked is that every single breed of dog has been implicated in a human fatality. The only exception was the Bassett Hound--until last year when a Bassett was responsible for a fatal attack in Hawaii.
In her book "Fatal Dog Attacks: The Stories Behind the Statistics," author Karen Delise details the only investigative study ever done into the circumstances surrounding each fatal dog attack since 1965. The study's conclusion: There is no single factor involved.
While many circumstances may contribute to a fatal dog attack, three were found to play a critical role: 1) the dog's function--breeds acquired for fighting, guarding or image enhancement; 2) owner responsibility--dogs allowed to roam loose, chained dogs, dogs and children left unsupervised, dogs permitted to behave aggressively, animal neglect/abuse; and 3) reproductive status--unaltered male dogs, bitches with puppies, children coming between a male and a female dog in season.
For centuries dogs have served as protectors of people and property or to track and hunt game. Now these natural canine behaviors seem to elicit fear, shock and a sense of distrust among many people who view them as aggressive or dangerous behavior. Records from the 1950's and 1960's reveal the same types of severe and fatal attacks occurred only the offenders were not rottweilers and pit bulls, but rather the popular breeds of that time.
With literally millions of rottweilers, pit bulls and German shepherds in the U.S. today, if breed was the primary determining factor in fatal attacks there would have to be countless more than 20 human fatalities each year. Since only an infinitesimal number of any breed is involved, it is not only unreasonable to judge an entire breed as dangerous, it is unproductive to preventing attacks. The problem, Delise explains, does not exist within the breed--it is with owners who fail to control, supervise, maintain or train their dogs. She contends that severe and fatal attacks will continue until people come to the realization that allowing a toddler to wander off to a chained dog is more of a critical factor in a fatal dog attack than which breed of dog is at the end of the chain.
Dogs are social creatures who thrive on interaction with humans and other animals. A chained dog is forced into a dismal life of isolation, boredom and frustration as they sit and watch the world go by. They are helpless to the elements as well as the dangers posed by other animals, humans, and becoming entangled in their own chain. They become territorial as well as anxious, neurotic and often aggressive, further deterring human contact and kindness. It is a fate considered to be both cruel and inhumane by the enforcers of the Animal Welfare Act, the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Dogs will always be a part of our society as companions, helpers and protectors. Only when lawmakers and the public become more knowledgeable, responsible and humane in protecting the innocent, both humans and dogs, can we hope to prevent future tragedies.
The Humane Society of the United States believes that 100 percent of dog bites are preventable. That's right--all dog bites can be prevented. They offer materials and strategies for teaching safe behaviors around dogs and what to do to prevent an attack. Organizations and educators can obtain teaching tools through the HSUS education outreach department at www.nahee.org. Helpful information is also available to the public online at www.hsus.org. Contact Animal Tails at www.animaltails.org.