Thursday, August 09, 2007

Dog Fight: Rights vs. Responsibilities

Prairie Mary writes in her blog:

"When it comes to domestic pets, a terrible thing has happened which I should have foreseen and which has unforeseeable consequences itself. The extreme end of the humane movement has been matched by the development of growing organization at the other extreme which has no name yet but an equally militant and intransigent nature. Similar to the gun-owner’s lobby and often overlapping, these people defend their right to own large, possibly aggressive, unregistered and intact dogs. . . ."

". . . . The worst part of this present polarization is that both ends of the spectrum increasingly take out their feelings in hatred of the government, humane folks feeling that they are not doing enough and dog-defenders feeling that they are doing far too much. If there’s anything we don’t need now, it’s further erosion of our civic trust and integrity. In fact, our only hope of resolving this development is through governmental and non-governmental democratic consideration and action, sometimes called “animal control.” But both ends of the spectrum habitually attack animal control."

Bingo! Read the whole post. She is (sadly) right.

I have posted on the need to deal with dangerous dogs and the millions of strays that are euthanized every year, and I have proposed a few ideas that would, I think, take the steam out of the "Breed Ban" and "Mandatory Spay and Neuter" debates.

I have gone on to ask if anyone else has better ideas or suggestions? Not much response to that question, but quite a lot of heat from some regarding the idea that we should do anything at all. No problems here -- full steam ahead!

Now I for one, think there are a LOT of major problems in the world, and that too many dogs being euthanized and too many serious dog bites makes the short list on the importance scale. That said, this is my dog blog and not my public policy blog. And within the world of dogs, I think that scores of thousands of Americans being mauled every year, and millions of perfectly good dogs are being killed ever year, counts as a real problem. But maybe that's just me.

Fundamentally,the dog debate is a collision between rights and responsibilities.

The dog-owning community screams that they have RIGHTS. And YES, they do.

But do they have responsibilities as well?

Well sure, but . . . well . . . we don't need to articulate those too well right now, do we? After all, weren't we talking about RIGHTS?

This kind of dance occurs in a lot of debates, and folks on both the Far Right and the Far Left are equally guilty.

People claim (sometime simultaneously) that they have a right to guns, and a right to be free from gun violence.

People claim they have a right to shoot heroin, and a right to free drug treatment.

People claim they have a right to smoke, and a right to be free of cigarette smoke.

And now these same "rights rhetoric" people have come to the issue of dogs.

What an odd thing this nation is! It took 169 years -- from Jamestown to Philadelphia -- to develop America's greatest product, the Bill of Rights, but it seems that today Americans are discovering a new set of rights every 15 minutes.

We have grandparents rights, computer rights, and animal rights. We have the right to know the sex of a fetus, the right to own AK-47s, the right not to be tested for AIDS, the right to die, and (if we are a damaged fetus) the "right not to be born."

Airline pilots have a right not to be tested randomly for alcohol or drugs. Mentally ill persons have the right to treatment, and when they are dumped on the streets, they have the right to no treatment and, therefore, the right to die unhelped in alleys.

What too few people seem to be asking is whether a society as crowded and diverse as ours can work if every personal desire is elevated to the status of an inflexible, unyielding right?

Can America work if our defense of individual rights is unmatched by our commitment to individual and social responsibility?

And if we give a small nod to that idea, what does it really mean? How do we encourage, enable and, if need be, force the shouldering of personal responsibility?

Of course, good people will come up with different answers. Right now one side denies there is a problem. The other side, perhaps too easily, marches in with authoritarian answers like Breed Bans and Mandatory Spay-Neuter laws.

But is there a Third Way? Can we encourage responsibility and/or mandate it?

Dogs live a long time -- 15 years is common. How big a deal is it to require that every dog owner take a Canine Safety and Responsibility course, once in their life, as a condition of owning a dog?

We require a once-per-lifetime hunter safety course for a hunting license, and we require an up-to-date driver's license to drive a car.

Swimming pool owners are required to fence their yards in order to own a pool, and falconers are required to take an intensive and extensive apprenticeship program in order to own and fly a bird.

I will let others hash out who teaches the course and what is in it. A few quick answers off the top of my head . . .

  • No, the course is not for the dog, but for the owner.

  • The course might involve three hours of classroom instruction and a multiple-guess test at the end. A small booklet about dog training, feeding and health would be the "take away."

  • Folks who already own a registered and/or licensed dog would probably be "grand-fathered" in.

  • The course would stress the need for socialization, training and proper communication.

In short, this course is not a big deal in terms of time and money.

That said, it's a hell of a lot better than doing nothing, which is what we are doing now.

How many folks would rethink dog ownership if they were told what fencing their property would cost, how much fixing a dysplastic hip might cost, and how few landlords are OK with dog ownership?

As a result, how many fewer dogs would end up in shelters?

Would a Canine Safety and Responsibility course solve every dog problem in the world?

Of course not. The goal is progress, not perfection.

But if progress is going to occur, it will require more responsibility injected into the ownership equation.

Responsibility remains the "R-word" no one wants to talk about.



Gina Spadafori said...

Can we make people who want to have children take classes, too?

the wily marmot said...

The course might involve three hours of classroom instruction and a multiple-guess test at the end.

I wonder how many languages the course would have to given in to be both effective and appease the usual suspects. That could create staffing problems if you want the instructors to be persons who would be knowledgeable enough to answer questions.Would vary from State-to-State, of course.

prairie mary said...

Excellent! You DO get it! If there are two of us, there must be more!

Prairie Mary

Christopher Landauer said...

? I don't get the lovefest. I found the article seriously problematic. Perhaps I got stung by something and am not thinking well, but since I doubt PM will publish my critique, here it is:

Sailed in from the excellent Terrierman blog and I am both impressed and disturbed by your post. Perhaps that's a good thing, since the ultimate failure in persuasive speech is apathy, no?

But let me get to the finger waving. You're playing fast and loose with your continuum of dog ownership. I don't buy your logic and I think your glasses are tinted too much by your politics.

I would put money down that you're a big tent Democrat (echoes of "It Takes A Village," several appeals to "democracy," hope for consensus, sneering at men and guns and machismo, disillusionment with Religion but enough kumbayah sentiment, cheap shot at the rich, belief that you're in the righteous moderate middle, etc.). And I think that Pat and Steve are willing to give you a pass on those minor points because your observations are keen, but those points irk me.

The way you phrase your continuum incorrectly implies that the extreme is the logical progression of the moderate, that to belong to the "entirely respectable hunter" group places you closer to the criminal thug group and that the ideals that put you in that group are just watered down from the ethics of the boogey man group.

I also sense that you feel that the tolerated hunter group is between you and the lunatic fringe, as if you'd have to wade through a little independence and libertarianism before you'd ever find yourself on the dark side of the problem you address.

That stance reminds me of the horrible and simplistic to a fault continuum that teachers who agree with your politics just love to foist on unsuspecting civics students. You know the one, where conservatism is one click away from Hitler and liberalism is one click away from Stalin, and those two men who share so much in common are supposedly as far away from each other as you can get!

The deficient high school continuum can be easily expanded with multi-dimensional charts like the Nolan Chart. But I don't know how to fix your continuum except to point out that the only real connection I can see between the groups is that they both do things with dogs that you do not do, nor do you think you will ever do. That's it.

Civic Trust? Integrity? BAH! These things don't exist and never have, at least in the form I think you are invoking. Call me a cynic, but I think the outgrowth of these ideals as you see them are brainwashed cults.

Integrity implies agreement, adoption, and conformity to an agreed upon set of values, and the more complicated and intricate those values, the greater need for peer pressure. Pledges, prayers, and uniformity. Doctrine and dogma. Indoctrination and propaganda. Forms to be approved. Papers!

I think the civic trust you opine for is a mythical product from a time when this country was more uniform, when neighbors looked like each other and thought like each other and elements that cause strife, namely deviance from the "norm" were kept hush hush and in closets. In other words, it was a pleasant fiction then and it's not so much that it's gone, but that we're now disillusioned that it ever really existed.

Think of Police Officers. The rich see them as annoyances because the usual interaction is either speeding tickets or noise violations. The poor see them as predators because they witness the iron fist. No one likes a cop until they NEED someone who is willing to take a bullet or shoot a bullet to protect their interests. That's why everyone likes firefighters. They're all upside and no downside, unless you're an arsonist.

The same can be said of every arm of the government. Whether you're on the giving end or receiving end, all can agree that the bureaucracy feeds itself first and is lazy, sloppy, and inefficient.

I don't really understand what "governmental and non-governmental democratic consideration" really amounts to. The nasty things are already illegal. There's just spotty enforcement. As for non-governmental democratic consideration... that sounds like PeTA/HSUS to me, since the alternative is essentially the status quo: independent people already vote with their dollars.

That's really the only democracy in this country, economic freedom. And that's really the best kind. I'd rather keep the tyranny of the mob out of government since the mob thinks that the government should enforce the totality of their culture, not simply the fundamental elements that are necessary and sufficient for a civilized society.

So let me get your list of "terrible" things straight: gun owners. large dogs. possibly aggressive dogs. unregistered dogs. intact dogs. the unsophisticated brute who doesn't fawn over cats. more men than women. anti-cop criminals. dog fighters. And spoiled purse riders with ear jobs.

The only noun in that list that can harm me are anti-cop criminals, and I avoid them by living in the burbs. The only other one I see as "terrible" are the dog fighters.

You lump gun owners with gang bangers and claim that it's simply a shade of grey. You lump hunters and herders with pit fighters and claim that it's simply a shade of grey. Let me break you of your misconception.

The gun owner lobby has nothing to do with gang bangers, and it certainly isn't a stop along the express track heading in that direction. Just because you have some issue with guns, you mistake two groups who have a specific interest in them as being alike or two sides of the same coin. They are not. The gun lobby pushes against the government because they respect laws and wish to maintain the rights of free and responsible men. Gang bangers have no interest in rights, no interest in freedom, and no interest in responsibility. A gun is simply a tool to extend their corruption. Gang bangers don't waste time paying dues to pro-gun organizations or lobbying congress for looser laws. They don't respect or follow the law in the first place and their purview is decidedly lower than the halls of congress.

Gang bangers don't even respect the power of the weapon. They don't learn, they don't train, they aren't marksmen, they are simply hacks. Gang bangers are to marksmenship what a woodchipper is to banzai. Sure, both involve guns, but they are worlds apart.

I'll bet if you looked into it, you'd find that the gun lobby hunters who you smear with association are probably, as a group, less violent, more model citizens in every metric than the norm, especially in every area that the gang banger group you'd like to smear them with is deficient.

And I don't own a gun more powerful than a one pump bb gun, nor do I hunt, nor do I send checks to the NRA, in case you think you've offended my team.

SO too do dog fighters have NOTHING to do with dog workers. You might find both working against BSL, but that does not make them brothers. You might find them both spending a lot of money on specific lines of purebred or crossbred dogs. That does not make them kin. You might even say that they are both very passionate about dogs. But they are in no way on the same line of dog ownership, simply different shades of grey.

As long as you're on the interconnected unity train, why not simply observe that all life on earth shares a significant amount of DNA, arguably more so than not, and thus all life is simply a continuum and shade of grey and any further distinctions are pointless, and cavemen-like hunter men being genetically deficient are clearly closer to the lowlife end of the scale than you are.

And what of animal hoarders and a tenuous link with a supposed deficiency in governmental hand outs? You want to solve that problem by giving the old even MORE money and services? Psh. Cradle to grave socialism will solve animal hoarding, news at 11. I wonder why the mob is seemingly satisfied with euthanasia as a decent response to a plethora of unwanted animals, but not unwanted crazy old people. The mob is fickle indeed. Perhaps we should flip that situation and have more retirement homes where ditzy old dogs can live off the dole and stew in their disease. Oh wait, we already have no-kill shelters.

And what the hell is up with your jab at the rich, the AKC, and ear surgery? I don't really understand what you're trying to say. The mob doesn't use dogs as status symbols? PSH. Name one dog owner who isn't feeding a selfish need with their dogs, the RESCUE and SHELTER flag wavers MOST OF ALL! Are you trying to equate cosmetic dog surgery with cage fighting? Or is this some kind of "boo hoo, the poor dogs starve and die while the rich dogs get pedicures!" argument? Do you want us to walk down that garden path continuum again with this? I think you're confusing your exquisite taste with policy and ethics.

And why are you looking to a Church for answers? They're really good at selling a product that they'll never have to produce or give a refund for. They're not in the business of practical advice about dogs. Unless you're in New Skete, and they charge just like PetCo and BarkBusters.

And I'm all for pulling off into forts of like minded people and weathering the storm and attacking back from the safety of your high walls. It worked against the plague, it worked against Socialism and Fascism, it worked against slavery, it works every day in families of home schooled kids and charter schools, in community centers for at risk kids, in boyscout clubs, krump/step dancing troupes, in AIDS/abortion clinics, gated communities, and every club, special interest group, and family.

In college, there was a house run by the far out hippie types, vegans, and progressives and such. They were very into this come together and form a consensus crap. While the rest of us took 45 minutes to assign rooms based upon those antiquated and decidedly non-democratic means like seniority or meritocracy, the "Synergy" house required consensus on every room assignment. This process took days and days and was ultimately a test in stubbornness and holding out against the weak minded who quit in disgust. Now these people aren't known for bathing or for wearing clothes or shaving or any of those other pleasantries that you come to appreciate when you have to stay in the same room with dozens of people for long periods of time.

There is no consensus. And democracy is over rated. This country was started by special interest groups, specifically rich white men who didn't want to pay a pittance to a distant government and religious fringe groups. We weren't a democracy then, and we've never been a democracy since. Don't fool yourself with the hype. We started off really well telling the old guard off, figured out we needed some individual rights a few years later, and then we've spent the next two centuries having the mob try as hard as they can to make those rights meaningless and qualified and grabbing as much for themselves as possible. But thankfully, the mob is fickle and the pendulum keeps good time by swinging back and forth.

There will never be a community consensus on dogs for all the reasons you point out. They are with us, of us, and woven into every level of our culture. And that means that the "sensible" center is as much of a myth in dogdom as it is in politics.

Anonymous said...

Given the incidence of child abuse, I think Gina's (possibly) snarky remark is well taken.

Rather than some huge mandate for a pre-ownership class which will never happen in this universe, let's start with encouraging every school to have classes for kids in how to behave around dogs. Such classes already exist and there are already great resources to teach them. Such education could end a high percentage of dog bites. If we add in some message about how to TREAT family dogs, we might have kids asking their parents why the family dog is left alone out in the backyard, never trained, bored and badly behaved. Dogs that are integrated into their families generally don't bite (or don't bite seriously).. and are less likely to be abandoned to a shelter. So this is more likely to solve 2 of the problems you raise (too many dogs killed and too many people bitten)

But PLEASE let's get away from the "big aggressive dog" boogeyman. There are plenty of existing laws and dangerous dog laws should be strengthened. There should be few excuses for dogs that are aggressive towards people, or for their owners.

Both "big" and "aggressive" are ill defined and can mean just about anything. In some locations, a dog that kills a cat is declared "dangerous" because "everyone knows" a dog that kills a cat will kill a kid next. Perhaps small dogs that kill groundhogs will be a future target for this biologically illiterate concept.

If dog ownership is a right at all, then it should be a right to own any kind of dog. There are no bad breeds, just bad individual dogs. And size has nothing to do with it. Address the individual people and the individual dogs and THEIR actions. Anything else is just a different form of prejudice.


Christopher Landauer said...

Again EmilyS and I don't agree.

Turning to our schools is the last resort and might I say an ineffective solution even if you manage to ram through a national curriculum (on dogs none-the-less!). NO WAY! Presidents have taken on the teachers' union and failed, the dog lobby certainly doesn't have the teeth for that fight.

It's much easier to get a law passed than new curriculum introduced. Politicians respond to pressure groups and hot topics, which is why many a dog group is using the recent press to find a means to push their agenda. Schools are much less responsive. Just consider that Ward Churchill was paid nearly as well as a US Senator and had better job security, and his qualifications were essentially defrauding affirmative action, defrauding the tenure process and academic integrity, defrauding a group of Native Americans, and defrauding the consumers of his artwork. He couldn't get voted out the next election, he couldn't be easily fired, and he really couldn't be told what to say (a la curriculum).

The school curriculum path is bunk and it targets the group least involved... kids older than the bite victim mean and certainly in no position to buy and keep and train a dog. If you want to reach kids, try a PBS "The More You Know" ad. You'll never get anywhere going to the schools.

And as long as we're talking laws, I think there's an accepted ethic in this country that is consistent with the Constitution and presidence. There are no ultimate, unmoderateable rights. Rights can be curtailed (love that word, its history is fascinating) in proportion to the extent that the free exercise of that right impinges on the rights of others. In other words, responsibilities can be attached to rights in proportion to the potential danger of the right. Mind you the ratio is pretty low (you can cause great damage with a car and it's pretty damn easy to get a license) but it is still there.

Heck, we already have plenty of fringe laws that curtail dog ownership. Most municipalities require a license. This is simply a tax and could easily be expanded into watching a video when you come to vote or pay for your license. We have mandatory vaccinations that cost money. It wouldn't be too hard to incorporate a video during the pet's mandatory vaccinations. Vets are already shills for the pet food industry, why not owner education?

Why not combine forces with the low-cost spay-neuter groups and require that pet owners watch the video during their pet's surgery?

PBurns said...


Actually, Gina, if you adopt children (as I did), they do home inspections, medical inspections, assign a social worker, and make sure you are financially OK too. Your employer has to fill out paperwork and so too does your doctor, and they want to see your taxes for at least three years. And yes, there are classes.

That's how it goes if you adopt children.

But dog issues are not about children, are they? They are about DOGS.

Yet, if you raise the issue of canine responsibility, it makes people so uncomfortable that someone always seems to try to change the topic to children or some other issue that is more difficult to solve. This is an old public policy rut. Sometimes this diversion into the tall grass is intentional, sometimes unintentional. The effect, however, is the same -- it is to move discussion from the solvable to the unsolvable.

Examples: If you raise the issue of heroin or cocaine use, someone will say there is nothing to be done until alcohol is made illegal -- it is so much worse. If you raise the issue of terrorism, someone will say there is no solution until Israel is wiped from the face of the earth -- they are the thorn in the side of the Middle East. If you raise the issue of illegal immigration, someone will say there is nothing to be done until everyone in the developing world has full employment, clean water, and all war is ended -- that's why people want to move.

In the end, people are diverted from the solveable to the unsolveable and nothing gets done.

To come back to a simple point: Children have nothing to do with the millions of DOGS that are being put to death every year in America's shelters.

Nothing. Nada.

And a lot of those dogs are Pit Bulls.

Does EmilyS have a solution there? I have not heard it. Does she have a solution about dog bites? I have not heard it. Instead, she wants us to ignore the hundreds of thousands of Pit Bills going to the gas chambers, even as we ingore the fact that Pit Bulls and Rottweilers are the dogs doing so much of the most serious savaging of humans in this country.

I have presented the hard evidence (with citations) which EmilyS continues to ignore because it does not fit her frame. That's the kind of "finger in the ear and chanting" behavior that Prairie Mary was talking about in her post, and why Breed Bans and Mandatory Spay-Neuter laws are going to win.

It's not that the animal rights lunatics have the best policy options -- it's that people like EmilyS apparently have no policy options at all. Something beats nothing 6 days of the week. And EmilyS, your "do nothing" policy options ARE being beat. A smart person will normally change a losing game.


BlueBerry Pick'n said...

your beasties are gorgeous!

BlueBerry Pick'n
can be found @
"Silent Freedom is Freedom Silenced"