I had prepared a blog today about clicker training people, but I am going to take a sidestep for a moment, because I believe that Monday’s events need some attention.
As some of you already know, my oldest dog Smokey was attacked by a pit bull Monday afternoon. He escaped the incident with relatively minor injuries, including a long but shallow laceration on his left hindquarters, a puncture wound on his right foot that extends into his pad, minor bite wounds on his jowls and one severely damaged collar (but thankfully, unharmed throat). Only time will tell whether or not he escaped without psychological damage. The thought of having to fight that battle all over again is overwhelming and honestly, completely exhausting.
After calling the vet, Smokey’s trainer, Joe, Joe’s dad and my mom, I had a conversation with my neighbor, asking her if she would feel comfortable allowing her youngest black lab, Ben, to be the guinea pig for Smokey’s next dog interaction. She willingly obliged, stating confidently, “Smokey and Ben have been best buds since the day they met. I’m sure he will be just fine, and if he isn’t, Ben has an extra thirty pounds or so on Smokey to throw around if he needs to.”
While not 100% comforting, I appreciated her candor, and steeled myself to the task of slowly introducing Smokey to other dogs all over again. Before I left, she told me the story of how her oldest lab, Raven, had come to be attacked by a pit bull as well. She said she will never forget how hard she cried when Raven came home barely breathing, all bandaged up and not able to move. She ended her story with the caveat, “And that’s why we will never trust pit bulls.”
When Joe told a coworker who owns a pit the story, he immediately went on the defensive, “They’re really nice dogs, they just get such a bad rap, you know…”
Joe had no choice but to cut him off, “Dude, I know, I have three friends who rescue pit bulls, that doesn’t change the fact that my dog just got attacked by one. I’m not blaming the dog; I’m blaming the idiot that owns it.”
And therein lies the thesis of this blog.
We all have heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a bad dog, only a bad owner.” This could not be closer to the truth. No one in our home blames pit bulls for what happened to Smokey (except Smokey, who I think probably does, but he doesn’t have a complex cerebral cortex like ours. It should also be pointed out that he blames all male German Shepherds for his missing ear as well).
I hesitated about even pronouncing what breed attacked Smokey, just because I do feel for the breed and the stigma that accompanies it. At the same time, for the sake of clarity, it was a pit bull that attacked my dog. A vast majority of pit bulls don’t deserve the reputation that they have, but this one did. A vast majority of German Shepherds don’t deserve the reputation they have either, but some of them, unfortunately, do.
While I do know that the pit bull can be a great dog when it’s raised properly, just like any other dog, I do not believe that it is fair to forget the victim in any situation simply to avoid a stigma. The same thing can be said of celebrity scandals, where people attempt to keep the deplorable actions of celebrities quiet because of the stigma that may be attached to all the good he or she has done, all the while, it seems, the media and the public are forgetting the victims.
I think it’s admirable for defenders of the pit bull to fight so hard for the breed they love. I certainly do the same for the German Shepherd Dog, my breed of choice. But I don’t think it is admirable, nor is it doing anyone any justice, for people to try and defend the members of the breed who do cause harm. Nor is it admirable for defenders of any breed to say over and over, “It’s not the dog, it’s the people” and then neglect the fact that some of us realize that, especially those of us with dogs that typically make the “banned breed” lists.
In my mind, Smokey wasn’t so much attacked by a pit bull as Smokey was attacked by a poorly trained (if not negligently trained) dog, whose owner doesn’t even deserve to have a dog, let alone one who needs some serious positive PR.
The whole situation is very sad. I feel for that dog, who could have had a chance to be loved and cared for in a better world. At the same time, if the dog hadn’t ceased, if the owner hadn’t intervened, if Smokey had fallen before the fight was over, I would not have hesitated to do whatever was in my power to end that dog’s life. I shudder at the thought of having to kill an animal, but in defense of Smokey, I would have done whatever was necessary. He trusts me to take care of him, and I take that very seriously, as any responsible dog owner should.
As I lay in bed last night, cuddled up next to Smokey, who whimpered in his nightmares, I thought about all the possible situations that could have led the dog to do what it did. What would possess a dog to try to take on another dog that’s twice its weight and three times its height and length? Joe thought, judging by my description and the owner’s reaction, that it was quite possible the dog was being primed for fighting. Perhaps, Joe surmised, the owner and his rather large friends, saw me in the woods with Smokey, a good candidate to prove the dog’s strength, and me, a harmless looking girl, and decided to see what the dog could do. I can only hope that isn’t the case.
What if the dog was a rescue, like Smokey? I would estimate that about 90% of the dogs in shelters around here are pit bulls or pit bull mixes. Perhaps the dog was recently rescued, and the owner knew nothing about his aggression issue. Perhaps he had never had a problem before. Maybe he was angry, perhaps even rightly so, that I dared to curse at him and accuse him of failing to have the dog properly restrained. Maybe his thought was – how could I have known? My very heated and arguably tactless response could easily have elicited the response I received.
Still, I rolled over and felt my dog’s wounds and listened to his heavy breathing and thought – even now, with all the training that Smokey has, and all the work that we have put into his dog aggression, we would never allow him to be off leash in a public space. When we first got him, we wouldn’t even let him be off leash in the backyard, you just never know with shelter dogs. You can never be too careful. And if Smokey hurt another dog, I would be horrified. I certainly wouldn’t flee the scene. I would be terribly apologetic; I would be pulling out my checkbook, begging forgiveness and begging that the person didn’t call for euthanasia. That situation is no different in my mind than Smokey being attacked – I would do whatever was necessary to keep my dog safe, including fighting it out in the courts, paying whatever necessary medical expenses, anything to keep my dog from being euthanized. And then, of course, I would crack down on Smokey’s training.
The thing is though that Smokey was just doing what he has been trained so diligently to do. He could have easily killed that dog, the fact that he didn’t surprises and warms me. I am proud of him for defending himself without killing, because that shows an incredible amount of control. I am even more proud of him for standing there like a big goof, tongue lolling, tail wagging, while the dog charged at him. “Hi, I’m Smokey, do you want to play?” I’m proud of him for sensing the danger, tensing every muscle in his body, and putting himself in between me and the dog. We put the work in, and it Smokey is a better dog for it.
It’s disappointing that other dog owners aren’t as responsible. It’s upsetting that anyone could see that scene, see my dog, who had refrained from killing because he wanted so badly to be rewarded, lying bloody on the ground, and just laugh, like the guy’s friends. It was heartbreaking to turn from Smokey’s wounds and see that man dragging his dog behind him, not even pausing to check on his own dog, who very well could have been injured. It was horrible to look into Smokey’s pain riddled eyes and see a smile behind them, “Did I do okay mom?”
Of course you did baby, here is a whole bag of cheese.
Smokey, I know you will never be able to understand this, but don’t blame the dog, blame the person. In another life, that could have been you.