June 10, 2006


One Dog's Opinion

Before I embark on what is basically a dog's op-ed piece, I just wanted to say thanks very much for all those birthday and post-attack well wishes. As so many of you know, we dogs love attention. More to the point, though, we're also deeply grateful and loyal beasts. And so I am very grateful to all of you.

As for what I think about the attack, well, I've been chewing it over for a while now. It's tough as rawhide. The trouble, of course, is that dogs just aren't very political. While I've naturally been called a Yellow-Dog Democrat, the truth is that I, like most dogs, have a strong libertarian streak. I jealously guard my own backyard and family but otherwise take a laissez faire attitude to things. If I were the Alpha of whole human world, I'd probably compose a bit of doggerel called "The Tao of Hank" and just try to encourage folks to live by it.

So, it's just not in my nature to propose any grand bans on the pit-bull breeds. Remember that French woman who was mauled so badly that she had to get a face transplant? Well, I'm sorry to say that was a Labrador retriever that hurt her. I don't want to be held responsible for that particular Lab's actions, and I'm sure there are pits who feel the same way when their fellow pits attack.

That’s not to say that I don’t hold individual dogs responsible for their actions. Contrary to what many humans think, we dogs have wills and spirits of our own. The pit that attacked me is a damnably dangerous animal. It should, frankly, be either trained to act differently or destroyed…else it will hurt others in the future.

But I tend to put most of the blame on people. Humans have shaped our natures with their constant interference in our mating habits. And they have bred pits to be quite undoggish in many ways. As Malcolm Gladwell said in a New Yorker piece, “Pit bulls…have been bred for ‘gameness,’ and thus a lowered inhibition to aggression. Most dogs fight as a last resort, when staring and growling fail. A pit bull is willing to fight with little or no provocation.” I will personally attest to this.

Most of the writers about pit bulls – both the defenders and detractors – dwell on pit attacks on humans. Well, humans are my favorite subject, but we dogs should count for something as well, and I wish the writers on both sides would deal a little more with the dog’s perspective. Gladwell almost seems to discount the well-being of other dogs when he notes, “The supposedly troublesome characteristics of the pit-bull type – its gameness, its determination, its insensitivity to pain – are chiefly directed toward other dogs.” Um, could I ask why this is only “supposedly” troublesome?

According to Gladwell, a scientific review notes “that dogs not bred for fighting usually display defeat in combat by rolling over and exposing a light underside” whereas “on several occasions, pit bulls have been reported to disembowel dogs offering this signal of submission.” In other words, pits have literally had part of their dog nature bred out of them. From a human point of view, it’s as if Hitler had succeeded in his eugenics ambitions and was able to create some terrible form of human, mighty warriors without an ounce of natural human compassion. Pit bulls are the super soldiers of the dog world.

This is, of course, not the fault of the dogs. They are what they are – what they’re bred to be and what they’re trained to be. In many ways, they are the victims, especially those raised to engage in the despicable dog-fighting business. Those dog-fighting animals are essentially the blood-thirsty flesh-and-blood avatars of blood-thirsty humans, who don’t have the good excuse of having had their genes manipulated by some purportedly “master species.” In my opinion, humanity should be should be more concerned with this unholy side of itself than with the canine representatives of that unholiness.

We dogs are not angels, but we do tend to be innocents. I’m sure there are many fine pits in the world. Among dogs on the Web, Storm seems like a lovely pit bull. I even, you’ll notice, have a link to Defend-a-Bull on my blog because I think it’s important for pit bull defenders to have a voice. My own view is that unless human society carefully tracks dog attacks and diligently deals with the owners of dangerous dogs of all breeds, these problems won’t go away. And, for the sake of us all, dog and human alike, I think any person who pits dogs against one another – or breeds them for fighting – should be locked away in a human pound. After all, they’re giving the homo sapien breed a very bad reputation.

June 03, 2006


Red in Tooth

Forgive me, friends, if this post is longer and more disturbing than my usual fare. I've wrestled with how - or indeed whether - to write this, and what images to post with it. So, let me just warn that you might need a stout heart to read the rest of this.

I'm going to describe what happened several weeks ago when Molly and I went for a stroll around the glorified retention pond where I've been going to swim and exercise since I was a pup. I should mention that we've never viewed this as a risk-free place. Once in a while, we've seen a small gator in the lake, but because there's no cover for gators in this area, they usually move quickly into other larger local lakes. Nonetheless, we try to keep a close lookout for them, especially during mating season when they start to migrate and become extra active.

On this particular afternoon, Molly thought she saw some bumps in the middle of the lake and trained her telephoto lens onto them. Sure enough, it turned out to be a two-to-three foot gator, maybe seeking a mate or maybe just trying to stay out of harm's way amid the many reptilian jousts that occur this time of year.

Once Molly had recognized it as a gator, she started worrying about a couple of dogs who were swimming on the other side of the lake. I should clarify that this lake isn't a dog park. It's just a place where people come to fish and amble and sometimes walk their dogs. The few dogs who go there generally know each other. In this case, however, Molly didn't know these dogs or the man they were with. So, instead of walking all the way over to them, she began shouting from around a bend in the lake, telling the man that there was a gator in the lake.

But it turns out that she caught the attention of the two swimming dogs, not just the man. And the dogs did what Molly never expected: they charged toward us from maybe 90 yards away, dragging two wet leashes behind them. Now, dogs sometimes know things humans don't. Molly tried to call me away, but I could easily tell there was no getting away from these two charging pit bulls (or, to be more specific, what we think were American pit bull terriers). Sometimes turning your back on a charging dog is the most dangerous thing you can do, and we dogs instinctivly know this. But I didn't assume a fighting or dominant pose, only braced myself for an attack that I could see was inevitable.

Even as the larger of the two dogs attacked me, the smaller one went after Molly, who tried to fend it off with her camera and lens. There was nothing she could do for me and little I could do for myself except try to keep the big pit away from my throat. The dog sunk his teeth deep into my left shoulder and clung with all the strength and ferocity for which the breed is known. I crumpled onto the ground even as the pitbull owner ran toward us. At the same time, another man drove toward us in a Go Kart as Molly screamed.

The pitbull owner worked to pry his dog off me as the other man in the Go Kart went to his truck for a large stick that he used for pummeling the pit pull. After what seemed an excruciatingly long time (to me, at least) the two men managed to force off the pit. But the moment he could, the owner of the pits ran away with his two dogs, calling over his shoulder to Molly, "You're dog's fine. You're dog's fine." Molly was weeping and saying it wasn't true. But the man never came back to find out. He got his dogs in his car and squealed his tires getting out of the parking lot before anyone could get a license plate number.

As for me, I wasn't feeling my best, but I was still ready to continue my walk and get a swim. We Labs, after all, can shake off almost anything if there's a swim and a walk involved (and a treat afterwards, of course).

But humans aren't quite as resilient. Molly was badly shaken, although - amazingly - unbitten. She thanked the man with the Go Kart, who helped save my life, and then called Mike on her cell phone. Somehow, Mike got there very quickly, Molly still crying when he arrived. Even as he held her, I decided to go for my dip in the lake, gator or no gator, before they called me back.

Mike tried to inspect me for wounds but my thick, wet fur made it too difficult. They got me home and Mike discovered multiple puncture wounds as he showered me off. That's when Mike decided that we needed to go the Emergency Animal Clinic. I'll spare you those details, but let's it wasn't much fun for me. They wound up shaving and stitching and drugging me. It took me a long time before I could stagger out of the recovery room. As it turns out, even Labs have a hard time maintaining their resiliency when people are shooting them full of pharmaceuticals.

Well, this is a bit long already, so I'll reserve my thoughts on these events for a separate post. Let's just say that my 9th birthday was all the sweeter for having come through this all relatively intact, if not unscathed.

June 02, 2006



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