Friday, April 25, 2008

Following up on the Edgecombe Incident

Back at the beginning of April, you may recall I reported on a female pit bull named Sophie being bitten by a much larger male pit bull, over by 150th St. & Edgecombe. Jenny, Sophie's person, wanted to get back in touch with the attacking dog's owner, and had placed a craigslist ad towards that end. I emailed Jenny a few days ago, to see if any progress had been made, and how Sophie was doing--in the end, it wasn't the craigslist ad or the blog article that got results, but good old fashioned legwork.

I am delighted to report that she has healed well from the attack. The wound closed up completely after about two weeks, and she lost the scab a few days ago. There now remains a bit of a swell from the crush wound, which may or may not diminish over time, but she's not in any discomfort—full-body rubs and scratches are welcomed once again. One funny development is that I was using one of my old bandanas to protect the wound, and Sophie would perk up when it was time to put it on. It seems to suit her, so the look has stuck!

We ran into the other dog, whose name is Buddy, last week on our regular walk. I was disappointed to see him walking OFF the leash, and also to learn from his owner that he has had some aggression issues in the past. (Gee, thanks for giving us the go-ahead to greet him that day!) It really is a shame that this dog's owner was so unconcerned about the incident with Sophie, let alone the safety of other dogs. But hey, we're not spending any energy worrying about his karma

And neither am I, frankly. It's a shame for Buddy's sake, though--he obviously needs some work, and he's probably not getting any. Sooner or later, he might hurt another dog more seriously. Sooner or later, he might pick a fight with a dog who can hurt him as badly (or worse) than he hurt Sophie. It's also possible he might step even further over the line, and start biting people. If he goes far enough over that line--well, we all know the end of that story.

Sharing a home with a dog, you often see the good much more clearly than the bad, because the dog has figured out how to live with the people and animals in his house just fine--it's outside, where his status is less well-defined, that the problems start, and the worst problem is aggression. Aggression doesn't just go away--it escalates, when left unchecked. Dogs need guidance, boundaries, rules to follow. They not only need this, they want it. They're actively looking for it, and God help us all when they don't find it.

In the world we used to live in, where dogs just wandered around on their own much of the day, they learned these hard lessons from each other, established dominance hierarchies, mastered the fine art of canine diplomacy--dogs that couldn't hack it in that society tended to be eliminated from the breeding population--unless humans seeking to create more aggressive dogs decreed otherwise.

While some dogs may be born with a greater potential for committing general acts of mayhem, in the end it comes down to four things--kind treatment, exercise, socialization (with humans and dogs), and training. If we made sure every dog was exposed to those four influences, serious attacks would be rare, even if every dog on earth was a pit bull. And without those influences, it wouldn't matter if we banned every breed with a reputation for aggressiveness. There is a wolf inside every dog. We can never forget that. And we shouldn't want to--the wolf is the source of everything good in dogs; their social genius, their capacity to learn and adapt, their protectiveness, their courage, their zest for life, their love of family. It's the wolf in them that we love. It's the wolf in them that loves us back.

In New York City, though, our wolves can't just wander around freely and socialize every day, and they must meet and deal with strange dogs and humans every week, making a true pack hierarchy impossible. A few hours a week at the dog run, the park, or on a sidewalk just don't give them enough experience to figure out the complex reality of city life on their own. They need our help. And we need theirs. So let's work it out, shall we?

Oh, and nice bandana, Sophie. Green is definitely your color.

No comments: