Monday, April 16, 2007

Killer Dogs vs. Wussified Humans

The infamous fatal mauling by two Presa Canarios in Pacific Heights, San Francisco is back in the news as the California Supreme Court decides whether it should set a new legal standard regarding culpability for "unintended" deaths. That's an interesting topic in itself, but today I'd like to point something out about dogs, their owners, and the general public.

Dogs are pack animals, and they behave as such. Dog owners need to understand this in order to control their animals. However, even conscientious dog owners have a tendency to disrespect people who don't "behave correctly" around their dogs, thus "triggering" undesirable behaviors - from uninhibited romping and sniffing to fatal maulings.

What dog owners need to understand is that humans have to obey laws that prevent them from acting aggressively toward dogs. Back in days of yore, if a large, aggressive dog got close enough that you felt threatened, you would kill that dog with your spear or whatever before it had a chance to do anything to you. There would never be any question of your right to do this. Nowadays, if you physically attacked a dog before it attacked and injured you, you would definitely be subject to criminal prosecution. In fact, if you killed or injured a small dog for biting you, in a situation where the dog would have no chance of seriously injuring you, you could also be jailed.

This is the fundamental problem: our entire culture is built around a covenant of responsibility and non-violence on the part of its members. We don't carry weapons any more, not just because we don't need to, but because we're not allowed to. When people bring large predators they can't physically control into this environment, you are guaranteed to have trouble - it's just a matter of time.

There are only two solutions to the problem of dangerous dogs, whether they are simply biting people - as the dogs who perpetrated the Pacific Heights mauling repeatedly did, without being taken from their owners or put down - or actually killing people:

1. Responsible Alpha: Make dog owners completely responsible for every behavior of their dog, as if they themselves were that dog.

2. Superpredator: Allow people to kill dogs they feel threatened by, and to carry weapons sufficient to do that job, regardless of the size of the human or the dog. Humans are supposed to be the apex superpredator - let us act like it.

It looks like the courts in CA may go a ways toward option #1. I can't imagine #2 ever happening, but if dog owners want to be absolved of the consequences of their dogs' behavior, they must support it.

1 comment:

Vanonymous said...

Caveat: I'm a dog owner. Hmm. You've identified the endpoints of the spectrum of solutions: either dogs should be 100% under owner control and therefore the owner is responsible or dogs are 100% responsible for their own actions (and possible retaliatory consequences thereof). Problem is, that dogs fall into a mixed category like.. like.. children. (All parents can now cringe at the analogy I'm about to launch into).

Suppose my 6-year-old child plays with knives and is very, very good at it. In my house and around my family, nobody ever gets hurt and the constant snicker-snack of cutlery in use is quite amusing. The child knows aggressive knifeplay with others is a no-no because parents have taught this (like good parents would). Then one day, a passerby enthralled by the cheerful smile of my progeny decides they simply must pick up and hug the kid. Misinterpreting the gesture as the beginnings of an abduction, the child responds by filleting said passerby. Am I responsible for the death of well-intentioned but blundering passerby? Or is the child? Both? Does the passerby have any part in this?

Now, I know there'll be whole chorus of "but the child is a human being with the inherent potential of full human consciousness which is merely undevelopedl; this is nothing like a fully-grown, self-sufficient dog acting according to its nature." But I would argue that the dilemma is the same since I have the same responsibility to care for and control the actions of both: Do we hold the parent 100% responsible for the actions of a self-willed, autonomous being (granted, armed with knives) because the child is dependent on the parents for care and guidance at this stage in its life? Or is the child 100% responsible when the full ramifications of violent (but to them, perfectly reasonable) actions cannot be understood at their age?

In the real world, the answer is not a clean this-or-that.