Thursday, September 17, 2015

The "R" Word No One Wants to Talk About

Reposted from Feb 2009

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 (sometimes 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 undertake 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 the State mandates as part of the course. However, let me see if I can offer up a few quick answers to some obvious question off the top of my head . . .

  1. No, the course is not for the dog, but for the owner. This is the course you take before you get a dog.
  2. The course might involve three hours of classroom instruction and a multiple-guess test at the end, with perhaps a short video in the middle about the consequences of selecting dogs for exaggeration and the problems associated with inbreeding and puppy mills. A small booklet about dog training, feeding, and health would be the "take away," along with a prospective cost sheet detailing life-time costs of dog ownership.  Maybe discount coupons could be a sweetener.
  3. Folks who already own a registered and/or licensed dog would probably be "grand-fathered" in.
  4. The course would stress the need for socialization, training, and proper communication.
  5. Lesson One would be that a dog is not a child, nor is it a potted plant, and that about half of all dog problems are due to a confusion on these simple points. Because dogs cannot speak for themselves, and are too often hidden for most of their lives in backyards and basements, they are often subject to long term serious abuse, which is why this course has been mandated by the State. By the same token, dogs are not children, and the failure of humans to communicate with dogs as dogs is a primary cause of most dog-human conflict.

In short, this course would not be a big deal in terms of time and money, and would be designed to get people to think about costs, breeds, acquisition, training, communication, and lifespan.

A simple Canine Safety and Responsibility Course could also be a significant job-creator and money-maker for sponsoring groups such as the ASPCA, American Kennel Club, pet supply stores, and breed and dog-activity clubs.

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.



Doug said...


I would love to see a course on rearing children - before you are allowed to breed. I would like to make marriage (common decency) classes mandatory. As a teacher, I see all kinds of messed up situations, but you are definitely right - people quickly shirk the Responsibility word, in favor of "it's my right" to ruin my life, my kids life, my dogs life - as long as I get what I am entitled too.
Unfortunately, you can't legislate away stupidity.

Kathleen said...

Shelters could require a course as you describe. After all, they sometimes do home visits to check the future dwelling of pets.

kabbage said...

Thanks, Patrick. I think your article may be the last straw to get me off my rear. For a few years I've thought about teaching a class through the local Parks and Rec department on what it means to own a dog in terms of responsibilities -- to both the dog and the humans around us -- so we can avoid losing the right to own. Because I believe there is no such thing as a completely objective observer, yes, it will be colored by my views and experiences. Because I rarely see things in black and white, it won't be pegged to one position or another, I hope.

Caveat said...

We talk about responsibility all the time, it's our goal - to make people understand what pet ownership - and especially dog ownership - entails.

The rights we are talking about with respect to breed bans, mandatory neutering and the rest of the animal liberation kit bag don't have much to do with dogs, actually.

Here in Ontario, dog owners have lost the following rights, among others:

1. The right to be presumed innocent.
2. The right to a fair hearing.
3. The right to move and live anywhere in the country.
4. The right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure
5. The right to equal treatment under the law
6. The right to understand a law and know whether you are affected by it.

If you own a short-haired mutt that an untrained ACO 'has reason to believe' is a 'pit bull' (3 purebreds, any dog that looks like those dogs) the full power of the State comes down upon you and the law is completely rigged against you. Most of this is random and subjective and has nothing to do with behaviour - just looks.

That's what we're fighting about.

I have some ideas, including what you suggest. I'd like to see proper dog handling and bite prevention taught in schools and to utility workers - as they do in Calgary.

I've even thought of a dog ownership licence, much like a driver's licence, where you accumulate points for infractions and have to take a course if you get a certain number. That way, it is the owner that is followed, not the innocent dog. You'd have to write a short test to get the licence, which could be issued by the Transport office - they have the technology.

Since the animal liberation crew is bent on eliminating dogs (and all domestic animals) from our lives, they are not concerned with animal welfare at all.

I want every dog to have the best home possible. I want everyone to like dogs. I don't want people to be bitten by dogs.

Until media start using their platform to educate, until legislators realize that all these intrusive regulations are counter-productive if you want to build a culture of responsibility and until people start thinking before jumping into dog ownership with neither the means nor the ability to properly care for one, things won't change.

Ark Lady said...

Before I came down ill this last year I was working on a course for potential (and new) pet owners. It is still in the works--just delayed.

Personally, I think that every municipality should include pet education in the classroom or through their local animal services department.

Will it help?

Maybe or maybe not. I find it bizarre that there aren't any parenting courses for humans to take--sexuality yes--parenting no...or at least I don't know of any.

Here in California there were some breeders that did new pet owner screening and that dispensed literature to help those buying their pups. I am long out of touch or I'd use specific examples...but the nice thing was that when those dogs arrived for school--their owners were already on the right path.

Yes, get out there and teach but be prepared for the political BS if you do Park n' Recreation.

With your wit and opinions I think you would be better off going out on your own or aligning with some of the pet services who are already familiar with you.

Hoping you do step out...

PBurns said...

Doug's comment is one I have heard before, and I address it -- somewhat eliptically -- in bullet #5 which I have added after-the-fact.

Doug has the benefit of being a falconer, so he knows responsibility courses work to slow down those whose enthusiasm is greater than their capacity.

Not nearly as many hawks and falcons come to bad ends today as they once did.

The same is true for mandated gun safety courses which have resulted in a rapid decline in accidential shootings. Hunting is now safer than golf!

Would mandated parenting classes help parents and kids? Sure! Absolutely. But we do not require a parenting license now, while we do require a dog license in most states and communities. In short, a canine responsibility course is a small legal and intellectual step, not a big one.

In addition, most people recognize their responsibility to their children, however imperfectly they may be at meeting that responsibility.

Another point people may not have thought enough about is that children are vocal and out and about in society. As a consequence, there is far less abuse of children than there is of dogs, and there is more formal and informal social intervention too.

No matter where you live in America, however, someone is abandoning a dog within 20 miles of where you live right now, and they are killing a dog today and sliding it into an oven or landfill as well, and that has been going on day in and day out for decades without so much as a ripple in the social fabric of your community. Within 5 miles of you, a dog has been chained out in the yard for days, weeks, months. None of this is true for chilren. Child abuse is horrible, and children are far more important than dogs, but the relative scale of abuse is not even in the same time zone I would suggest. We do not have state-sponsored killing chambers and ovens for children. We do for dogs, and they exist in every community.

I have added another point that is not a small one: Canine Safety and Responsibility Courses would not only provide jobs, but they would also provide steady income to dog shetlers and rescues, breed clubs, pet-goods stores, the American Kennel Club, under-employed dog trainers, etc.

Remember: gun safety courses are supported by the NRA because they not only make money, but they create NRA membership. The NRA LOVES gun safety courses as a consequence!!


Leema said...

'Dog licensing' is a great way to hinder the adoption of animals for shelter environments.

Shelters are pretty good at killing pets.

Pet owners, though not perfect, generally don't kill their pets.

I think if you ask any pet, they'd rather go to a home with a numpty that probably will provide a level of food, water and love, than stay in a shelter and die.

Any licensing scheme makes it harder to acquire a pet, and making dog adoption harder would mean more dog deaths.

That being said, I very much enjoyed Lesson One. Gave me a chuckle.

PBurns said...

Leema, you are focusing on pulling dogs from the river and are not thinking about why they are there in the first place. The goal is not just to rehome every abandoned dogs -- it's preventing then from getting abandoned in the first place. See the parable below...

_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

One summer in the village, the people gathered for a picnic. As they shared food and conversation, someone noticed a Pit Bull in the river, struggling and yelling. The dog was going to drown!

Someone rushed to save the dog. Then, they noticed another yowling Pit Bull in the river, and they rushed in to pull that dog out. Soon, more dogs were seen drowning in the river, and the townspeople were pulling them out as fast as they could. It took great effort, and they began to organize their activities in order to save the Pit Bulls as they came down the river. As everyone else was busy in the rescue efforts to save the dogs, two of the townspeople started to run up the shore of the river.

“Where are you going?” shouted one of the rescuers. “We need you here to help us save these dogs!”

“We are going upstream to stop whoever is throwing them in!”

PBurns said...

For the rest of the story see >>

jdlvtrn said...

Not to beat this topic to death, but some years ago I had accumulated some videos made to prevent animal bites for children, assessing bite potential in other situations with adults, clipped (pre-internet) some articles on sensible stuff like this, and presented it to the local park rangers, offering to present the material for free. They said that it was "too tough". Fact is, the public frequently does not want to hear sense, facts, reality, and would rather be white hatted saviors or merciful donors to already ruined and in need of rehab animals. They love the drama, and avoid the truth like the plague.