Thursday, October 11, 2007
Okay, did everyone think about it?
Last I heard, Javier still hasn't made contact with the owner of the Airedale that attacked Ralphie, though he's still hoping he can. It's unfortunate that after the attack, when the apologetic owner offered his personal information, nobody had any means of writing it down--and honestly, in the aftermath of such a horrifying incident, it's understandable that people let it go (as an afterthought, it might also have worked to tell him what vet clinic Ralphie was going to, so he could contact Javier through them, or just pay the bill directly). The owner hasn't returned to the run, as far as anyone knows. He and the Airedale were not regulars, and after this, it's unlikely they'll become regulars. Apparently, they don't live all that near the run, anyway.
However overwrought people can be after such an attack, the best possible course of action to follow is to
1)Keep tempers under control, what's done is done.
2)Avoid saying anything bad about anybody's dog, because we all KNOW that is the one button on a dog owner you NEVER want to push, and
3)3)EXCHANGE CONTACT INFORMATION IMMEDIATELY, IMMEDIATELY, IMMEDIATELY!!!
Most of us have all kinds of high-tech equipment on us; cellphones, pagers, notebook and laptop computers, palm pilots, etc. And yet, it seems like almost every story I hear about one dog hurting another at a run ends with "And we didn't get the owner's information, so we had to pay the vet bill ourselves." Variations on that theme abound.
To be sure, sometimes the people in question just aren't going to want to pay, and won't give their information. Here's an idea--if anybody has a digital camera, or cameraphone, take photos, video--if they're going to be assholes about it, tell them we'll post images of them and their dogs at the run, and on this blog. If you can't take a picture, try to remember as much as you can about the offending parties, and email firstname.lastname@example.org--I'll put it up. We can forgive mistakes, but not an unwillingness to atone for them.
As my own poor contribution to solving this problem, I went out and purchased a 99 cent CD case, and put a pen and some post-it pads in it. Hung it on the tree in the center of the run, inside the benches, a few days back. Hopefully it'll stay there a while. I'm sure there has got to be a better system, and anyone who thinks they can improve on it should feel free to do so--or you can simply replenish the supplies if you notice them getting low, and happen to have a spare pen and/or pad. And of course, the pen & paper can be used for more pleasant things, like writing down contact info for people and dogs you DO want to see again sometime.
While we don't want to turn The Rocky Run into some kind of private club, and we don't want the kind of Run Nazis who sometimes plague more established runs elsewhere in the city ("My dog doesn't like your dog, so wait until we leave to come in"--yes, this actually happens), we do want anyone who isn't willing to be responsible for their dogs' behavior to go elsewhere (preferably obedience class), and I can't think of a better way to deter them than to make it clear that ALL of us are going to insist they pay any vet bills their dog's behavior incurs.
We shouldn't yell, we shouldn't threaten, but we should firmly and collectively insist that restitution be made, and no excuses should be accepted. Sometimes both parties are at fault, of course. But in the worst cases--such as Ralphie's--it's no great task to assign blame. So it shouldn't be any great task to exchange information, in what is supposedly The Information Age.
One thing we are all going to have to consider at some point is whether we want part of The Rocky Run set aside for a small dog run. It isn't going to happen right away, and maybe we don't want it to happen, but after what happened to Ralphie, we'd be pretty insensitive not to at least consider it. Ideally, we could keep the run as it is, and add on a bit of space adjacent to it--with a separate entrance, otherwise what's the point? But that may not be an option. We all know the little dogs often love nothing more than to play with the big dogs, and most of the time they can do so without anyone getting hurt. Ralphie is going to be just fine--but suppose he hadn't been? Food for thought.
There will now follow a sermon--please forgive me, must be the influence of getting Max blessed at the cathedral last weekend--
Dog runs, once unknown in New York, now springing up all over the city, are one of the best things that have happened to our fair town in decades. Offleash hours, which have been informally and inconsistently available for 20-odd years, and only recently became a formal reality as their efficacy became something parks dept. officials wanted to take credit for, are another. As the number of dogs in the city has climbed, the incidents of dog bites have dropped. Most attacks that do occur don't happen at dog runs, or involve offleash dogs in parks either.
When you read the accounts of serious dog attacks, they nearly always involve dogs who have been abused, dogs who are protecting (as they see it) their people or property, dogs who have been deliberately conditioned to be hostile to people and/or other animals, including their own kind, frustrated unstable dogs who end up biting members of their own families at home, dogs who become dangerous because of little or no training, and little or no exercise and socialization. None of these attacks would be prevented by bringing back the old leash laws, and shutting down dog runs--quite the contrary.
Max just recently sustained the first wounds he has ever gotten from another dog--happily so minor as to be scarcely worth mentioning--both dogs were on the leash when they were introduced. Leashes can sometimes prevent an attack from happening, but they can just as easily provoke an attack that would otherwise never have happened.
When we first got Max, he was very uncertain with other dogs, and after some unfortunate encounters provoked by the insecurity and defensiveness created when poorly socialized dogs meet on the leash, he started becoming increasingly aggressive and territorial.
It was The Rocky Run, and the offleash hours crowd that meets down in Ft. Washington Park in the mornings, that helped him more than anything else--combined with some much-needed obedience training, and a lot of love, he quickly became the calm and confident (and endearingly klutzy) urban socialite he is now. He was always a great dog, but for those who have complimented his good behavior, and his tolerance, I must tell you--he didn't come in a box that way.
For so many of us, the ability to let our dogs offleash has been a blessing. But there has never been any such thing as an unmixed blessing.
It's great that we have these resources available to us now, but if we don't use them, or use them in the wrong way, we're planting the seeds that can lead to our losing them--not to mention some of our dogs. When somebody gets a dog for the first time, or brings their dog with them when they move to the city, or simply comes to realize that there are places they can take the dog they already have, it's unreasonable to expect that person and his or her dog to figure everything out at once. Mistakes can happen, and learning takes time, for humans and dogs alike. We are social animals both, but sociability is still largely a learned behavior, however inherent it may be to both our species. So we have to be patient with newbies--and we also have to consider the possibility that we may also still have a lot to learn about how to prevent fights and attacks before they happen, and how to behave on the rare occasions they occur.
It's the rarity of dogfights in runs that makes it hard to prepare for them--we tend to be relaxed and at ease most of the time, and we should be that way. After all, we don't want to go around in a constant state of nervousness, blunting our own enjoyment of our dogs' recreation, and conveying that tension to our dogs, whose ability to pick up on our emotions is well known. Fear is never the answer. Fear creates the very problems it anticipates. Fear prevents us from reacting properly, and in time. And our dogs pick up on fear, which make them fearful in turn, which makes our fears reality. So I'm not suggesting that we panic every time a dog we don't know enters the run, and approaches our dog.
But the fact is that the social dynamic in any dog run, or offleash recreation area changes, every time a new dog arrives--when our dogs are interacting, they aren't simply a collection of individually nice dogs; they become a collective organism, a sort of proto-pack.
Certain dogs love to play rough with each other, others are offended or frightened by such behavior--their very shyness can be provocative to more playful dogs, trigger a prey response, particularly when the shy dog is also much smaller. Play is basically channelled aggression, and dogs chasing and tussling with each other should be watched carefully--and joyfully, because as long as it doesn't get out of control, this is the very kind of behavior that teaches our dogs how not to go too far. But sometimes we need to tell them when they go too far.
If the same dogs played together every day, they'd learn all they needed to learn from each other, and develop a strong sense of hierarchy, which would make fights nonexistent--this is one thing that makes planned 'playdates' so desirable. But the numbers of people and dogs in our area, combined with the unpredictability of our schedules, make this an imperfectly realized ideal at the best of times, so we have to provide structure, set limits--and watch out for the dog who doesn't know where to draw the line, and (even worse) the owner who doesn't know there IS a line.
We aren't as good at reading our dogs' body language at they are at reading each other (and us), but we can watch for the more obvious warning signs--a tail curled high over the back when sniffing another dog, fur bristling at the ridge of the spine, stiffened posture, etc--but none of these are 100% reliable. And because such an amazing genetic variety of dogs live here, you will often see a dog whose tail is normally held high, or simply doesn't change position in response to the dog's emotional state. A dog with a wiry coat, or a very short coat, may not bristle the way other dogs do, even if he or she is feeling the same anger or defensiveness.
If two dogs are going to fight, it may happen within seconds of the first sniff, or half an hour later. But in my experience, the worst incidents tend to happen very shortly after two dogs meet for the first time. And if two dogs like each other from the first, it's very unlikely there'll ever be a serious problem between them, though that doesn't mean there can't be the odd tiff. Point is, the first meeting is always the most important, and should be closely observed. And just because all parties hope it goes well, doesn't mean they shouldn't be poised to act if it doesn't. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
Perfection isn't possible. A 100% safety record is an unreasonable goal to expect, for a children's playground, a high school athletics team, a bike-riding club, or a yoga class--nobody should place a higher safety standard on us and our dogs. To put it crudely, no matter how careful you are, sometimes **** just happens. But we should place the very highest standards on ourselves--teach ourselves to look for potential trouble, and prepare ourselves to deal with it. And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, GET THE OTHER PERSON'S INFORMATION. Or, even less happily, provide yours if it was your dog doing the damage.
But you know, if you actually read all of this, I really doubt it will be.
Posted by Chris at 8:02 PM