Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Owner Accountability

I was walking my dog this evening, listening to my headphones, when I heard shouting and the sound of feet pounding pavement behind me. I turned around to see a boy racing down the hill toward me. Then I saw the dog running in front of him, right before it attacked my dog.

My headphone cord and the leash got tangled up and I dropped everything in shock as the headphones were ripped off my head. My dog was bowled onto her back by the larger attacker, which went for her throat. The boy immediately grabbed his dog and began to pull it off mine. I was shouting at the other dog but I didn't move for it.

My hesitation was partly due to shock. It was also partly due to the fact that my instinct when faced with an aggressive dog like this one is to do my best to kick the shit out of it. Growing up in southern New Mexico, I had a number of run-ins with mean dogs whose owners refused to take any responsibility for them. Fortunately none of these encounters went beyond throwing rocks or a swift kick to the ribs. My best friend's father didn't fare so well--a pit bull attacked his two spaniels while he was walking them, killing one on the spot. When he tried to pry it off, it bit through his hand. He had to stab the dog with a pocket knife held in the other hand to drive it away. We drove him to the hospital. The owners of the dog hid their animal when Animal Control came by looking for it.

Anyway, when a dog's owner is nearby, you instinctively wait for that person to intervene, which in this case happened. I had to restrain myself from hitting this kid's dog as he struggled to hold it back and calm it down, because for a moment I thought it was going to get loose.

My dog is 11 years old. She's a beagle mix. I won't lie and say she has the friendliest temperament. But she's never gone after another dog or a person. She barks at them. This attack was completely unprovoked. Fortunately the other dog was pulled off before his bite could break the skin, so my dog was just frightened with a big string of slobber across her throat.

I was stunned when I realized that this dog had run from its house, crossed the street, and charged easily 50 yards down a hill to where we were walking to attack my dog. We were nowhere close to his territory--we had never even been on his side of the street. An animal that goes that far out of its way to attack another animal is just plain vicious.

The father came out of the house a few moments later with a leash to retrieve the dog. Like every other person I've ever met who owns a dangerous dog, he acted as though his dog's actions were completely unexpected and inexplicable. I didn't get much in the way of an apology, and I was pretty pissed off. I said I would stomp his dog's head in if it attacked my dog or anyone in my family like that again.

After getting my dog home I cooled down and walked back to his house--he lives just a few houses away from me--and explained that while I was grateful that his son had gone to the effort to catch and restrain his dog, I was very disturbed by the incident given that we were nowhere near their yard. I got the standard "I guess your dog just smelled like the wrong dog" shrug, along the lines of "boys will be boys."

He even had the bright idea of telling me that his former dog had been attacked once along the irrigation canal that runs near our neighborhood, as if somehow we were commiserating with each other. Not really, pal. Your fucking dog ran down the block and attacked my dog. The fact that in the past some other asshole's dog attacked a different pet of yours really isn't an equivalent situation. It's shifting responsibility from you as an owner and implying that this is just something that happens to good people and nothing can be done about it. No one is to blame.

I accepted this lame response calmly, making it clear that I would protect my dog if something like this happened again and they weren't around to intervene. Now I was angry that I had made a gracious gesture of thanking the boy and gotten no equivalent expression of remorse, just the same tired responses that people who can't control dangerous animals always give.

It's utter bullshit for these people to say that they had no idea that their dog is capable of such an attack, just as it's disingenuous and irresponsible of them to brush off the harm that could easily have happened. Why would the boy be chasing his dog full speed and yelling warnings at me if he had no idea his dog was violent? He was scared that something was going to happen. That sort of response doesn't just come out of nowhere. If he hadn't been there, it's a sure bet that one or both of the dogs would have been injured, and possibly me as well when I tried to break it up.

But I've never in my life met the owner of a vicious dog who was willing to accept any responsibility for the violence of their animal, much less acknowledge that the animal was a threat to others or should be put down after an attack. I don't know if this is a specific blindspot for such people or if it reflects an overall lack of accountability and inability to take responsibility for their actions. It's probably the former, but it sure comes across as the latter.

I'm just glad my dog was just roughed up and limping afterwards rather than bleeding, so that it wasn't necessary to go to the next legal stage and deal with all the denials. But my opinion of these neighbors, whom I rarely have dealings with, has dropped. And for the next week I'm sure I'll be a little anxious and extra watchful as I go for a dog or walk on my own along my own street, until this incident fades away in my memory because it pisses me off too much to think about it. Because if these people are lying to themselves as well as to me about the kind of dog they own, it doesn't fill me with confidence.

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