Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Follow and click!


--I've added a "Follow this blog" feature. (If you sign up, please let me know if it works.)


--Every time someone clicks on one of the little blue ads in the very bottom left column, Google will send me a few cents. You'll be helping Brindi, so please, click away! Thanks!

And now back to our regularly scheduled program...

30 Million Dangerous Dogs?

Here's an excerpt from a recent paper that came my way, published by the Animals and Society Institute:*

"Dog Bites: Problems and Solutions - a Policy Paper"
Existing and Proposed Legal Remedies - Attempts to Identify and Remove high risk animals: Dangerous Dog Laws"

The second common legislative approach (the first is breed bans) to remove dangerous dogs from the population targets the behaviour of the individual dog, designating dogs with labels such as "potentially dangerous", "dangerous", or in some cases "vicious" based on actual incidents, and then either eliminating the dogs or limiting the conditions under which they may be kept (such as requiring sterilization, micro-chipping, training, behavioural consultation, muzzling, etc.) Such laws increasingly also specify civil and criminal liability incurred by people whose dogs injure someone after receiving such a designation.

There is some evidence that a "prior behaviour" approach to the "dangerous dog" designation may decrease injurious bite incidence. This has only been demonstrated, however, where the dangerous dog label is limited to dogs who have already bitten and injured someone. A program in Oregon showed a decrease from 25 percent to 7 percent in repeat injurious bites
(of people) after the implementation of a program restricting conditions of ownership of dogs who had injuries.

Many dangerous dog laws try not only to control dogs who have already injured people, but to predict which ones will do so in the future and attempt to prevent this. Typical legal descriptions of "dangerous" dog behaviour include "approaches in a vicious or terrorizing manner", "in a menacing fashion", having a "known disposition, tendency, or propensity", or "engages in any behaviour that requires a defensive action by any person to prevent bodily injury".

Aside from the subjectivity of these descriptions, the main difficulty with such an approach is that the best research to date indicates the likelihood that a majority of dogs engage in such behaviour without hurting anyone.

One groundbreaking study found that 41 percent of the dogs studied had growled, snarled or snapped at a familiar person at some time, but only 15 percent of those dogs actually bit anyone. Of those who bit someone, only 10 percent of the bites were considered injurious, making the total incidents of injurious dog bites only 1.5 percent of the total dogs studied.

This means that a hypothetical net cast to identify the 1.5 percent of dogs actually captures at least 41 percent of the dog population. And since this study only included behaviour toward family members and other people well known to the dog, and only included guardians responsible and caring enough to provide veterinary care for their companions, the percentage of potential problems within the entire dog population must certainly be considerably higher.
A history of threatening behaviour has not been shown to predict that a dog will bite, much less that she will injure if she bites.


Other Outcomes

With regard to dangerous dog laws based on behaviour, as discussed above,
definitions of dangerous are so varied and subject to interpretation that most dogs' behaviour could be interpreted to qualify.

A conservative estimate would be about 30 million dogs would likely meet the criteria (this estimate is based on a study that found 41 percent of dogs growl, snarl, or snap at a familiar person, and thus does not include dogs that only threaten strangers, so the real percentage is almost certainly considerably greater).

Some statutes require only that the dog "endangered" a person in some way, leaving the way open for complaints by anyone who simply felt (but was not really) endangered.

All this creates a serious danger of abuse in any system that attempts to weed out "potentially dangerous" animals who have not bitten anyone. It casts a net far too wide to be enforceable.

When laws exist without the practical means to widely enforce them, the result is selective enforcement based on grudge complaints, and widespread non-compliance.

*Boldfacing, underlining, a few parenthesized notes, and paragraph separations, added by me).

Do You Feel Lucky?

Pump going again, did two loads of laundry. I owe the flow to a kind man named Sheldon who lives up the road from me and came to fix the second leak, and redo the first. It was a pretty gusty afternoon to be standing on a ladder cutting copper tubing, with the risk of getting drenched when it was time to test the system.

I have an obscene amount of dishes to do now. No rush...

Okay, I've been looking at this deal with my dog from all sorts of angles for almost four months now - the next badiversary is the 24th - and the more I learn, the more I see, the more absolutely incredulous I become. (Hint: see the poll in the left column). Animal control officials from the US and Canada write to me or comment on the petitions expressing their dismay and disapproval for what is going on. When the pros do that, something's got to be off somewhere. And it is not merely the system; that's a fundamental factor, but one of many. Even with the various bureaucratic limitations, there were and still are a number of ways out of it that do not require me to spend practically a year's salary to go to court.

Essentially Brindi is being held without charges. The charges should go to me of course, and I'd have the option to challenge them in court. But they didn't, and I don't. So the result is either sign her over, or take on some sort of court process, and the question becomes, which kind? There are so many ways to shape injunctions, applications, and suits, with a spectrum of risk vs. timing. I'm no lawyer - though at times I may seem as argumentative as one - but from what I gather, it's like this: you cannot appeal an injunction, but you can get one within a matter of days. You might reverse the kill order and even win damages in a lawsuit, and you can appeal the outcome, but takes a year to schedule the first day; an interim application takes a few weeks, and I have no idea actually if it can be appealed; we've filed another kind that takes two months to go before a judge. And we could base them on a number of different factors, from the lack of charge to the by-law itself. How much more confusing can it get? And the way things are going, I'll probably wind up with whichever judge ruled twice against the poor dog that roughed up a greyhound last year. As if he never heard of training, or a fence, or anything.

It pains me deeply that so many dog owners out there in HRM seem to fail to grasp the danger, never mind the injustice. Maybe it's easier to label the owner irresponsible, rather than the authorities, if only to be able to sleep at night. I really don't know. But I doubt my lone struggle will tone down the zeal of animal control. The truth is, an order to destroy can happen to any dog at any time. If nobody from the city deemed it appropriate to apologize to Jean Hanlon for the loss of her family cat, anything is possible, it seems to me. If I happened to own some other dog and not Brindi - and there's lots of big strong dogs out there, bigger than her - could I quietly watch this struggle? It's a troubling thought. Like everybody else, I'm distracted by the animal abuse cases popping up on a regular basis; they deserve all the attention and action they can get. But the threat of a seizure and kill of our own dogs is still there. You don't always get a 14-day grace period, either; it can be as few as three days. I know of no local group actively working to change that.

So, if you have a dog in HRM, I guess what it all comes down to is, are you feeling lucky?
Just how lucky?