Dog days of summer

July 19, 2007 by barbara

by barbara

Wash day. Pop wet clothes into basket, grab clothespins. Peer out window. Seeing nothing, race across yard to clothesline, wishing I'd asked for a Taser for Mother's Day. Slap up laundry. Peek under sheets. Coast is clear. Run back to house. Safe!

Typical laundry day for the past year. Also, outdoor grilling, gardening, lawn watering and fruit harvesting. Why? Two words. Pit bulls. Yard next to ours. Big dogs. Four-legged terrorists. News coverage describing how pit bulls have savaged some human beings. Women and children, mostly. It is small comfort, then, that we are separated from a pair of pit bulls by an invisible "fence" that sometimes contains them.

Sometimes, but not always. Click for more.

The larger dog is massive. His barrel chest houses a deep, authoritative bark that demands instant attention. However, it is the smaller dog that trends more aggressive, in our experience -- notably, the day it charged into our yard at David, baring its teeth and snarling.

David grew up around German shepherds. So, unlike me, he is not easily intimidated by big dogs with bad reputations. But when he found himself within 10 feet of a snarling pit bull, he knew he was in trouble. He didn't move. He didn't blink. The standoff ended when the dog's owner summoned it home.

On a different occasion, one of the dogs raced through the invisible "fence" in its frenzy to catch up with another neighbor's dog.

Now, as someone who has long championed individual rights, I guess people are entitled to own pit bulls, Akitas, rottweilers and other aggressive breeds. That said, I cannot fathom what moves them to do so. But I also champion individual rights to safety and peace of mind. It appears the deck is stacked in favor of dogs that inspire fear.

We contacted Animal Control. The officer was very accommodating. But our examination of city ordinances illustrated that options are limited. To be classified dangerous, a dog must inflict "substantial bodily harm" on a human being. Just so you know? Bodily injury is "a temporary but substantial disfigurement, or which causes a temporary but substantial loss or impairment of the function of any bodily member or organ, or which causes a fracture of any bodily member." There's more, but that got my full attention.

Bottom line: no harm, no foul.

Did you know that pit bull advocates have websites? Essentially, their message is "These dogs are getting a bad rap." Meaning, I guess, "My dog has never killed or mauled anyone." Yet. The possibility is there. Always. These are not soft-mouthed dogs, bred to retrieve ducks without destroying them.

Living near them is unnerving. It has had a profound effect on quality of life in the 'hood.

It has come to this. We and our nearby neighbors (who have small, medium and large children) have become hypervigilant, wary of the possibility of dog attack. At our house, we are no longer comfortable being in our own yard, entertaining there or having neighbor kids and grandchildren play among our gardens and fruit trees.

I respectfully suggest that if these breeds must be tolerated among us, then it is incumbent upon cities to require their owners to erect strong, tall fences, expertly installed and periodically inspected. In addition, as has been done in some communities, the city should require a homeowners' insurance rider covering "substantial bodily harm" that might be inflicted by the dog (aka, closing the barn door). And the city should impose a significant license fee for pit bulls and similar dogs.

Proactive, preventive measures are needed to protect residents. It's doubtful that state Rep. John Lesch's bill banning these breeds altogether will succeed. So please mandate fences for them, sooner rather than later.

I'll take my chances with Chihuahuas.

(originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 18)

Posted in

Comments

Anonymous (not verified) | July 19, 2007 - 9:15pm

GGGRRRrrr: Since I receive a "regional" edition of the Strib here in Dakota County, I didn't have Barb's note/letter/essay in my paper. Instead, in the July 18 edition of the Strib, on the subject of dangerous dogs, I have an editorial counterpoint from Marshall Tanick, "a Minneapolis attorney who represents dog organizations and owners."
I have long been unhappy with the "regional" edition of this paper, and this only serves to make me think I was on the right track.
But that's not what Barbara is talking about. Pit Bulls: We've lived next door to a large aggressive pit bull who has finally been declared "dangerous" so the owner moved it to Apple Valley(!) Now we get to watch the neighbor, whose relative has the dog in and out on weekends. I've been attacked twice by this dog. We "do" large dogs in this household, so we know what we're doing. Personally I think it doesn't matter what owners "teach" or "train" pit bulls to do: I think it's a really aggressive unpredictable dog, absolutely unsafe in any neighborhood. But here's the kicker: at our annual Family Reunion, one Sweet Young Thing brought a Pit Bull to the picnic, calling it a terrier. End of my rant. Thanks, Barbara.

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barbara aka babs (not verified) | July 20, 2007 - 8:48am

Hey, Anon, thanks for your response. I suppose it's fair to say that Marshall Tanick, who bills himself as "a Minneapolis attorney who represents dog organizations and owners" might have a bias on this issue.

Here's the deal. How many times have we read stories of a pit bull attack by a pooch that had been, up to that time, a model of decorum? I remember one owner, whose dog savaged someone, saying something like this: "I just don't understand it. We've had pit bulls for 20 years, and nothing like this has ever happened."

Most parents give child-raising their very best shot. Our approaches vary widely, but we really are trying to guide our kids toward being responsible, respectful citizens who obey the laws of the land. Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts (George W. Bush comes quickly to mind), a kid does something egregious in spite of everything. Might even be one kid among many, and the others do the good citizen thing.

My point is that it's impossible to predict when a dog that has the capacity to maim and kill may act out, regardless of how well trained it may be.

I don't buy the "blame it on the owner" thing. Certainly could apply in some situations. But this is an inherently dangerous breed. I am flabbergasted that, with all the choices available, people continue to choose pit bulls, Akitas, rottweilers, etc. as pets.

Yes, I get that any dog could go bad. But not many of them have the power and what I believe is the latent propensity to go for the jugular.

If you have to show the world how macho you are, keep your pit bull and your cheetah fenced in your own yard. Then it's your problem, not ours. Do not make your neighbors pay for your scary choice.

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Mo' (not verified) | July 20, 2007 - 11:38am

the fact of the matter is the owner is responsible for keeping their dog under control. whether that means keeping it on a leash, within a fenced area (invisible fence or otherwise) or keeping it inside the house.

these rules do not exist because your dog might attack someone, they exist because someone might be afraid your dog could attack.

which, in and of itself, may play a role in the actual attack.

irresponsible dog owners don't understand your right to walk freely in your yard or neighborhood without feeling threatened by their dog, whether an attack is a real threat or simply your fear of an attack is a threat, it's completely irresponsible for someone to allow their dog to, in effect, terrorize the neighborhood. irresponsible dog owners only understand their right to own a dog and the dog's right to be a dog.

responsible dog owners not only understand all of those things, but also understand that their animal needs to be disciplined and contained for it's own safety. a responsible dog owner will not let their dog roam into your yard where it could get into something unhealthy for it (say, rat poision - you know who you are!) or where it could be struck by a vehicle. responsible dog owners try to protect their pets from danger. irresponsible dog owners will sue you when their dog is injured on your property, even though they'd been well aware of the fact the dog escaped habitually and never took any preventative measures.

check your city's ordinances regarding "dog running at large" and call animal control when it has broken free of it's "fence" (and keep a camera handy so as to catch the little bugger in the act, otherwise it's he-siad-she-said). that is negligence on the owner's part. if they know the dog frightens you and also that the dog can get out then they need to take steps to rectify the situation. i mean no offense, but it seems possible that there hasn't been enough pressure to fix the problem yet. get legal. get as legal as you can afford!

my neighbors have a black lab. he is very docile. however, i've been bitten by two dogs in my life, both of which i'd known for some time. one was a shih tzu, the other was a shepherd. i do not want to be outside when their dog is also outside because the dog is unfamiliar to me, and i to him, and that is an unpredicatble situation (especially when the dog is very rarely on a leash) no matter the level of discipline. we live in townhouses and they also feel it's ok to use the yards between their house and a wooded area as an exercise pen for the dog. i've complained to the association and nothing has changed. my next call will be to animal control.

bottom line: you should absolutely not have to suffer the consequences of another's ignorance. get animal control to educate your neighbor and take action if said education doesn't stick!!

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perhansa (not verified) | July 20, 2007 - 6:10pm

Speaking of bad dogs: (the following ran in a story on truthout.org today)

"Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, told Pentagon reporters that while he would provide the mid-September assessment of the new military strategy that Congress has required, it would take "at least until November" to judge with confidence whether the strategy was working.

The sessions appeared aimed in part at conveying that the administration was not planning a major strategy shift in September that would begin reducing the American troop presence, even if benchmarks set by Congress to measure Iraq's progress were not achieved."

In my business we call what's happening in this war a "runaway" project. It looks like, acts like, and smells like a pile of doggy doo and all those involved keep saying, "it's going to turn into chocolate mousse any minute now"... When you see these things happen it's cause for both introspection and tsk tsking. You know how easily and subtley it can happen and you just hope for all those involved that someone has the insight and the mercy to end it. Those closest to the "runaway project" continually exhibit a near pathological denial of reality and endless begging for more time, money, and patience. Success is forever "just around the corner."

A good leader has to sensibly and mercifully put an end to it in a decisive and unambiguous manner. They have to say--"you don't know what you're doing and I'm stopping it now."

Unfortunately we no longer have good leaders in Washington. We keep hoping someone will be merciful enough to bring it to an end. Someone will have sense enough, maturity enough, and toughness enough to declare it over, deceased, ended. Is there no one in all of D.C. with a sense of decency, mercy, and reason enough to declare this out of control and OVER? To take it away from the pathetically inept and self-deceived people who keep asking for more time to make mousse while they have sh** all over their hands?

Please. Someone have mercy. Someone act like a grownup. Someone call this thing dead. It's too painful to watch. Take the keys way from this deluded adolescent and his friends.

Someone, show some mercy. Or gods help us all.

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Gary (not verified) | July 21, 2007 - 8:50am

Barbara,

A couple of points on your column...

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I own a male German Shepherd and a female Pit Bull. Both are the nicest, happiest dogs you'd ever want to meet. That said, they both run free in my back yard, separated from others by a six foot fence. Not because they are dangerous, but because I love them and don't want them to get run over by a car (or leave 'gifts' in the neighbor's yards).

When you called Eagan Animal Control, did the officer cite your neighbor for having a dog at large? Eagan does have a leash law. If the owner finds himself having to pay a fine once or twice, perhaps he will be better about controlling his animals.

There are other potential remedies as well. Have you considered getting to know your neighbor a little better? Go over and spend some time with them, have a beer (or lemonade, whatever floats your boat), and get to know the dogs. If your goal is to live in peace, this should be your first and best option. You get to know your neighbors, and you start to get over your fear of Pit Bulls.

Don't get me wrong, I can't stand people who let their dogs and cats (and children too, sometimes) run around uncontrolled and unsupervised. But my point is that not every problem we encounter in life requires a legislative solution. There are already legislative remedies available for your situation.

Far too often in today's world, those who lean left turn to the government to solve their problems. I say be a strong, self-reliant citizen and find a creative solution to your own problem. You have to live next door to these dogs and their owner. I would think you would want to get to know them better.

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susan | July 21, 2007 - 11:17am

Gary,
It's funny that you would write this, as it's usually the solution that I, a class A lefty, (though those on the left don't always see me that way) also employ. And knowing Barb, I suspect she does too. So maybe these neighbors just aren't open to her kindnesses, I dunno.

I have a neighbor in Mpls. who is a true scoff-law, violates every city ordinance known -- illegal renters, cars parked on the lawn, burning of toxic trash, loud music, scaffolding left up on house indefinitely -- and sometimes he's responsive to "suggestions" and sometimes he's not. He likes me, so when I ask him to turn down the music, he does. (he's Palestinian, so it's middle eastern music. But middle easterners don't have much use for dogs, so at least there's that.) When my other neighbors ask, he cranks it louder. Then they call the cops. So they no longer ask. Hey, I pay the big-buck taxes to live next to this.

And as I write this, from Michigan, my neighbor's dogs are incessantly barking. And they're very nice folks, and I'lll mention it to them later.

I digress. What struck me as funny is that you say, "be a strong, self-reliant citizen and find a creative solution to your own problem. You have to live next door to these dogs and their owner. I would think you would want to get to know them better."
This is just what the lefties are pushing for when it comes to being better, self-reliant world citizens. We have to live on the planet with these people, doesn't it make more sense to get to know them better, talk to them, find some common ground? If fanatic terrorists are the pit bulls of the world, shouldn't we talk to their "owners" instead of trying to shoot the dogs? Even if we find their owners -- Osama and various clerics and sheiks -- not to our liking?

I know, it's a stretch, but you seem like a rational and pleasant person, so I hope you get my point. We lefties have been saying from the git-go that diplomacy makes more sense than war, nine times out of ten. When I ask my neighbor to turn down the music, he does it because I've managed to keep a good relationship with him, which believe me, isn't always easy. But he sees the other neighbors as antagonistic and goes out of his way to annoy them.
Somehow there's a parallel here. You don't want to call in the gubmint to solve a problem with neighbors, better to talk. I don't want to call in the gubmint to bomb Iraq, better we talk.

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Gary (not verified) | July 23, 2007 - 7:36am

Susan,

Thanks for the compliment. I do consider myself to be a 'rational and pleasant' person. I try to be anyway. That said, I also tend to enjoy a good verbal/intellectual tangle every now and again as well.

I didn't pop in here to discuss Iraq or the broader War on Terror. I just happen to love and adore Pit Bulls. I think they are a misunderstood breed. But since you brought it up....

If fanatic terrorists are the Pit Bulls of the world, we should ticket their owners when they let them roam free (like economic sanctions if you will). If they continue to roam free after the owner has been ticketed, and maybe now they bite someone, they get declared dangerous by Animal Control (think one-time surgical airstrikes for example). If, after being declared dangerous, the dog gets loose and bites again, it gets taken from it's owner and put down (now you get to the Afghanistan/Iraq situation).

I'm all about being a good world citizen, but if I get bitten twice (or more), the dog has to go. Did you like how I used your own analogy against you?

I suspect that I won't have much luck changing your opinion on the subject of Iraq or the War on Terror. And I KNOW that you won't have much luck changing mine. In the interest of being good neighbors, we'll have to agree to disagree on this one and look for common ground elsewhere.

Seriously, I just came here to defend my beloved Pits.....

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barbara | July 23, 2007 - 10:20am

Thanks for your comments, Gary. I get that you feel moved to defend your beloved Pits. I, on the other hand, feel compelled to defend my beloved ass.

Living in the shadow of these dogs 24/7 is a major stressor for us (and our neighbors). We all recognize it's possible there may never be a problem with them (if you discount their growling charge into our yard a few months ago and a race through the invisible fence after that). But the possibility also exists that there could be.

I've read about pit bull attacks nationwide, and a common recurring theme from the owners is, "I just don't understand. Nothing like this has ever happened before."

Yeah, well.

I do not wish to interfere with your love of pit bulls. Your choice in the land of the free. But I do wish to interfere with the possibility of grievous damage -- damage that few other breeds are capable of inflicting.

So my side of the compromise is this. Keep your scary dogs if you must. I want a real fence (like yours, Gary, and thanks for that) between us.

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susan | July 24, 2007 - 12:12am

Gary -- I knew when I used that analogy that I left room for it to come back and um, bite me.

And I continue to appreciate your downright gracious tone -- though I confess I have no love for Pits whatsoever.

But when you write, "I'm all about being a good world citizen, but if I get bitten twice (or more), the dog has to go.", I don't think you're flipping the analogy on me at all. I agree. But we went after the wrong dog. Saddam was a major jerk, a murderer, etc. etc. and he loved to taunt the good ole US of A, but he wasn't the dog that bit us on 9/11. (Even though Bushco and Fox "news" did a good job of making the Amurkan people think he was.) I know, and I assume you do too, who that dog was, and he's still romping outside the electric fence, eluding us all over Afghanistan, and breeding more little Pits all the time. Bushco sure helped him on that front.

So, the common ground will have to be that we both enjoy the (civil) verbal tangle. We like to think it's kind of the hallmark of the C-Line.

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Poet (not verified) | July 22, 2007 - 2:21am

I am speaking as someone who has owned and kept dogs and (depending on the breed) likes them just fine. (Although my general preference is for cats--so long as they are kept inside so they don't kill all the birds and iitter box trained.)

Barbara this oe is a no-brainer as far as I am concerned. Any neighbor of mine is entitled to own any kind of doggie he wants so long as 1. it is firmly tethered on a chain on that neighbor's property or 2. It is fenced in or caged in a yard other than my own to restrain it.

Failing either of those two, if poochie is on my property he is all mine. Neighbor should be advised that you are severely afraid enough of such animals to be willing to resort to violence up to and including lethal to defend yourself if they wander on to your property.

My first choice would be a thorough macing on the snout. If I still catch poochie back where he doesn't belong out coes the bb pistol. If poochie still does not get the message I move up to a CO2 pellet gun. (Which is capable of being both lethal and silent)

Pit Bulls and Rotweilers in particular have been bred to be savage and violent predators and as such have no more rights than a wild animal. This kind of animal deserves to be attacked first if not properly restrained.

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Anonymous (not verified) | July 23, 2007 - 8:01pm

First - Marshall Tanick is sort of a one-man quote machine who gives his direct line to all the Strib reporters so they can get an instant quote on anything. Tanick has been cited as representing dog owners, dog victims, slander cases, employment law, real estate, criminal cases, just about anything, anytime, anywhere. It's great advertising. And it's free.

Second - controlling an unfenced dog is really easy. It's called rat poison. Some people mix it with catnip and kitty chow and leave it overnight near their bird feeders to get rid of feral (i.e., wandering out of their own yard) cats.

Third - anyone talking about using a pellet gun on an attacking pitbull is not thinking straight. Aiming is tough when a dog is attacking you; the pellets bounce if there's any angle to your fire; and the dogs are bred with a minimum of pain sensors anyway. And if you do hit him, he'll probably just get more pissed off.

If you want to actually do something about the problem, do what you know you need to do, before it's too late.

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