Monday, May 30, 2016

The Radical Notion of Responsibility for Dogs

Is it so crazy to require a "Hundef├╝hrerschein" -- a driver's license for dogs?

A true revolutionary does not talk of overthrowing the state; he talks of getting people to shoulder individual and collective responsibilities.

How often would we go to war if the financial bill for the war was presented at the front, and never mind the emotional and physical bill?

How many people would have children if the financial cost was presented at the front, and never mind the environmental and opportunity costs?

Isn't the entire health care debate about the need for individuals to shoulder responsibility for the fact that everyone, Republican or Democrat, rich or poor, rural or urban, thin or fat, will eventually get sick?

And what about dogs? As I wrote some years back:

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 . . .

No, the course is not for the dog, but for the owner. This is the course you take before you get a dog.

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.

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.

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.

Why do I repost this now?

Well, it seems folks in Germany have engaged in parallel intellectual evolution. From Tech Insider:

In Berlin policymakers have passed a law creating a driver's license for dogs. But despite how it may sound, the permit has nothing to do with cars — it's a license for dog owners who wish to let their pups run free without a leash.

As reported by Berlin Magazine, the draft of the law was approved by the Berlin House of Representatives on Wednesday. The permit will be called a Hundef├╝hrerschein — literally a dog driver's license — and like a driver's license, it'll have to be renewed (annually, in this case).

Here's the catch: The license costs €100 ($112), with an annual renewal fee of €40. That's roughly $45 Germans will have to spend every year for the privilege of walking their dogs untethered.

Atlantic's CityLab also reports that the canines will need to pass a training and management test.

Berlin's dog owners are already required to register their pets — the city currently has approximately 100,000 registered dogs — but the new law was introduced to address risks posed by potentially dangerous breeds. It outlaws breeding and requires muzzles for four kinds of dogs: the American Staffordshire terrier, pitbull, bull terrier, and Tosa. Dogs under 30 centimeters long are exempt (so corgis and chihuahuas can always run free).

So the law's not as silly as it sounds. In fact, compared to the United States, where leash laws vary from state to state, and even from county to county in some areas, Berlin has made its policy fairly easy (if somewhat expensive) to follow.

There are no quick answers here, but with a million dogs a year going to their death for no reason, dog bites as common as summer ticks, a crazy patchwork of breed bans and leash laws, and a great deal of misery both up and down the leash, is it so crazy to require a dog-owner license dependent on taking a canine responsibility course?  Can we be that radical?

1 comment:

dp said...

Absolutely! Most people need to learn about dog behavior and language.