Tuesday, January 15, 2013

'Mayhem' at a neighboring dog run.

You can read about it here.

Jay's Run, in nearby J. Hood Wright Park, is a rare instance of the city setting up a dog run without a preexisting community group both lobbying for it and agreeing to take responsibility for it.   It has a troubled past, with one dog escaping from it and being found dead later, though the fence and the run as a whole have been substantially improved since then.   A group of dog owners has been trying, with some success, to make it a better dog park, and it must be upsetting to them that this one incident is the first time the media has paid much attention to that run.  Upsetting, but predictable--dog bites are always news, even when it's another dog being bitten. 

I've gone there with Max a number of times, and have met some really nice dogs and people--never encountered anything remotely like this.   I hope the little Havanese is okay, but I must note that the woman who owns that dog is not above criticism--regardless of how big your dog is, if you see three dogs that all belong to the same people in a run--and no other dogs present--you should consider the possibility that they are in a pack mentality, and while most 'pit bulls' (a real catch-all term the way most people use it) are friendly playful animals who are an asset to any run, some of them possess an exceptionally high prey drive, that when they are excited may lead them to perceive small dogs they don't know the way the average dog perceives a rat or a squirrel. 

Something about the description of the people with the pit bulls rings a bell, and I think this same couple may also sometimes exercise their dogs at the Rocky Run.   There just aren't that many pits around that behave this way that are ever brought into a dog park or offleash area.   But whether it's the same people and dogs or not, the rule of thumb should always be, if you have any doubts at all, ASK before bringing your dog in, especially if it's a small dog.   It's not about getting permission to enter a public space; it's about taking sensible precautions.  Many of our local runs don't get the kind of heavy use the downtown runs get, and people with dogs that probably shouldn't be in any run may be tempted to use that temporarily empty space to exercise their powerful energetic pooches, hoping nothing bad happens, but tempting fate every single time. 

Most big dogs are exceptionally tolerant of smaller ones (and I've heard many stories of big intimidating-looking dogs being bossed around and terrorized at home by tiny housemates) , but even with a lot of experience, you can always misread the situation.  

The real problem, I've found, is not pit bulls (or any other breed), but packs--dogs that instead of seeing the run as neutral turf, start perceiving it as their personal territory, like a fenced-in yard that happens to be some distance from their home--and once that mindset is in place, anything that enters their 'yard' is going to be fair game.   When you repeatedly bring several high-energy dogs that live together (and never play with other dogs) into an empty run to exercise them, you run the risk of creating that pack perception in their minds, and of establishing the idea that the run belongs to them.   If you're going to do that,  trusting that nobody else will bring a dog into the run until you're finished, you are begging for trouble.    You combine the pack instinct with the territorial imperative, it's not a matter of if, but when. 

Some dog owners will know enough to ask first, others will not--and while we can make allowances for people who just want to give their imperfectly socialized buddies some fun time,  there are limits to tolerance.  Anything that puts a dog's life at risk is beyond the pale, and don't think we won't call the police if we have to.   There is no excuse for bringing several potentially aggressive dogs into a dog run at the same time.  Ever.   Even if nobody is there, even if nobody is anywhere nearby.  Trouble can start before you have time to react, and once it starts, there is little chance of containing it before serious damage is done.  If you want to call this a fight, and it really wasn't.   It's a fight the way your dog grabbing a rat and shaking it is a fight.  Only the Havanese survived, leading me to think that even these overexcited dogs may have begun to realize this wasn't a rat.  

I've heard of much worse incidents involving bigger dogs savaging smaller ones--and they mainly occurred out on the street, nowhere near a run.  They usually involved several larger dogs attacking one smaller dog.   They usually happened near where the attacking dogs lived.  Dog runs are safe, almost all of the time, precisely because most dogs going there don't think of the run as being their territory, and see all dogs who come in there as potential friends and playmates.  

As to the neighbors complaining in the story about dog poop on the sidewalks, and noise late at night--that, as several regulars at Jay's Run point out in the comments, has nothing whatsoever to do with the run being there.   Some people just don't like dogs, and don't want them around.   They will seize on any opportunity to complain.  We're fortunate in our location--The Rocky Run is too far from anybody's home for barking to be a problem.   There aren't enough locations like that to go around in Manhattan, so it is important for people to be considerate, and not exercise their dogs past the 11:00pm closing time.  And to pick up after their dogs, whether they go to a run or not.  And if every single dog person in New York did this, would people stop complaining about dogs?  Of course not. 

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