Wednesday, December 19, 2007

When Mother Nature Has the Final Word

In summer 2007, in New Jersey, a police dog named Rommel was let off leash to do his business and ended up killing a chihuahua who was walking by with its owner. One quick shake and the tiny pet was gone. Needless to say, it was a tragedy for the chi's owner. The police called it "a horrible accident," apologized to the owner and sent the german shepherd back to training. As far as we know, Rommel has gone back to his life and - we can bet - he won't be let off leash around small animals anytime soon.

At around the same time this summer - here in the SF bay area - a similar scene played out when a dog named Lucy escaped from her yard during an exciting squirrel-chase. Unfortunately, she too came across a chihuahua on a walk. (Insert expletive) As you can guess, Lucy ended up killing the chi just as Rommel had done on the other side of the country. And in front of its horrified owner, no less. In both cases, the owners of the attacking dogs were tragically negligent. The only difference being, Rommel was allowed to live while Lucy - a pit bull - has been sentenced to death. The gray muzzled girl has lived incident-free with her family for over six years, so we can all imagine the anguish her owners are feeling over the outcome of this tragic first offense.

Our sympathy goes out to the heartsick chi's owner for the loss of her companion. And while we can't condone the irresponsibility of Lucy's owners, based on the behaviorists' evaluations, the declarations on her behalf, and the shelter staff's own adoration of her, we're concerned that Lucy was condemned to the most severe and ultimate decision because of her breed.

Despite the mismanagement of her owners for not maintaining their fence, chasing small animals is NOT a "pit bull thing." And contrary to popular belief, it's not even a "dog aggression" thing. (Note: Lucy's lawyers misfired and called the incident a "dog fight" - OUCH.)

Rommel and Lucy are certainly not alone. The wolf-kin Malamutes and Huskies, the bred to-lure-course Greyhounds, and even those cute little Westies ...All breeds are encoded to exhibit prey drive in select situations. This canine behavior is as natural as shedding fur and it demands a good old fashioned dose of common sense management from dog owners especially in an age when living spaces are getting squeezed and small squirrel-sized dogs are heeding Paris Hilton's bidding and arriving by the tens of thousands into our neighborhoods. (In two recent Shots Fairs in Oakland, chihuhuas outnumbered the pit bulls by 6 to 1!!)

Above: The primordial wolf. Simon taught us early on that thousands of years of hunt drive were not erased with the invention of kibble.

We have to wonder: If a german shepherd with no previous complaints had been involved in killing a chihuahua in Sunnyvale, would he have been ordered to death as a result? Time will tell.

These sad situations beg a larger question: How can we support dog courts to hold irresponsible owners accountable without causing their people-safe dogs to suffer the most dire of consequences? It's a difficult time for cities that are encouraged to "get tough" on owners who set their dogs up to fail, especially when a pit bull is involved and worse yet, when the pit bull paparazzi is watching. From a judge's perspective, miscalculating a home's intentions and letting a dog return only to possibly fail again is every court's worst nightmare and can cause the bravest to buckle under a deadly dose of breed bias, peer pressure and misinformation. It's not fair, but it's the reality that dogs - our breed especially - is facing right now.

So how do we find any balance in this chaos? It's not going to be easy. Recently, we absorbed a new dog into our program that had been deemed a "dangerous dog" by the courts and condemned to death by the shelter for allegedly biting a dog's ear while running at large. It was made clear to us that she'd been set up to fail several times by clueless owners that neglected to contain her. In this surprising case, an open-minded judge reviewed video tape of our evals (which revealed a highly manageable, people-safe dog) and a dog-savvy city attorney convinced him to remove her "dangerous dog" label so she could be saved. (Rescues can't absorb dogs with "dangerous dog" or ''potentially dangerous dog" labels since they render a dog essentially unadoptable).

The judge's decision and the dog's liberation was a first, and a sign that with education and cooperation, we can work towards helping dog courts make decisions that are fair for all involved -- especially to those people-safe dogs that are only guilty of acting like dogs when their owners fall asleep at the wheel. But of course, that can only happen if dog owners stop howling and start building those bridges needed to change the minds and hearts of the powers-that-be in our city councils and especially, our dog courts.

Please, PLEASE remember to practice defensive driving with your dog during this difficult time of breed bias, and know your rights, your responsibilities and your dog laws. Your dog's life may depend on it.


Anonymous said...

It's always sad to hear of cases such as that of Lucy and Rommel. I am happy to hear of the court win, however.

Every little victory counts.

No BSL said...

That`s one smart Judge.
Good for him.
I`m glad he took the time to watch the evaluations.
We need more like him.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I haven't had the pleasure of meeting Lucy, but I've been hearing her human "dad" talk about her throughout this ordeal, and the three appeals for her life.

He is a good, responsible man who is heartbroken that Lucy is paying for his error in not maintaining the fence. She is scheduled to be euthanized this evening, and a bunch of us have one last effort planned to try and postpone this so that the next appeal can go through. Please wish us luck.

Anonymous said...

At risk of this sounding harsh in light of Lucy's pending final appeal...please understand that I'm in complete support of Lucy's owners here.

I agree with everyone here in that neither dog should have been judged for breed, without being given a second chance or an opportunity to prove themselves through training.

I can only think that in the case of Rommel, the judges knew that Rommel had undergone extensive training, and that the PD was completely responsible to complete his training-perhaps more so than the average pet owner (though clearly Lucy's owners are more dedicated than the average). Just as with people-civil servants are often given second chances that the rest of us would not be afforded.

I have 2 dogs-a Lab and a Rott. I recognize that my responsibilities as a Rott owner have much further reaching consequences-one bad move on her part reflects badly for the breed as a whole. I feel so sorry for Lucy's parents and the grief that their learning experience has caused them and the Chi's family.

moi said...

I read this with a sinking heart. A similar case is pending here in Albuquerque. First time "offense" by an eight year old pet bull with no priors. And he didn't kill or permanently injure the dog he attacked. Still, the DA is asking he be euthanized as a "vicious" dog. Good news is, a very good defense attorney has agreed to take the case at a nominal fee. Fingers crossed.

Anonymous said...

I googled Lucy and found that she was executed yesterday, without her family by her side.

I found myself thinking, I guess I AM against capital punishment because honestly, an eye for an eye does no good to anyone, or any dog. This does not bring back the is merely an act of vengeance on the part of all who were involved with this sentence.

The dog was clearly not a 'vicious' dog as one can see by viewing the blog on her and seeing the pictures.

If one visits this blog spot,, you can read the details. If it had been a Jack Russell Terrier and it had killed a cat, an easy thing to imagine, very, very doubtful that the JR would have been executed.

I don't have a very good feeling about people today.


Anonymous said...

I feel badly about the whole situation with Lucy, rest her beautiful soul. I wonder how negligent her owners really were.

Yesterday my dog's leash broke/snapped at a metal swivel joint connecting the hook to the cord part. He wasn't even lunging or pulling hard. He ran towards a small dog about three or four steps, stopped, and came back.

Since I was reading about Lucy and keeping up with her news the past week, in my mind I said "Oh no" even though my pitty doesn't normally have any problems with small dogs/animals. I feel lucky that my defective leash decided to pop then, instead of another day when we may have been walking closer to an unneutered large dog which my dog would have had a problem with. I count ourselves very lucky.

Accidents happen. I will restrain from giving judgement to people I don't know personally.

hanna - nyc

Unknown said...

If only the Bad Rap team could be cloned so that you can be available in every courtroom with a people-safe pit!

Maybe we need to euthanize the people that invented and bred chichi's and other small dogs, because now instead of looking like dogs, they look like small prey animals! And trust me, a lot of them feel like helpless small prey animals.

Dogs chasing cats is ingrained in how people see dogs. How can we expect them to chase cats, but understand that people have breed dogs to be so tiny and to know the difference to not chase them?? GRRRR!

So really, we should also euthanize cats for killing mice.

Anonymous said...

Thwe breeding of tiny dogs is really a form of animal cruelty:
For the record, I think anyone who has a teacup dog is guilty of canine abuse. The litany of health care issues associated with "micro" breeds is nothing short of a nightmare: collapsing tracheas, hydrocephally (water on the brain), epilepsy, seizures, broken bones (a jump from a chair can do it), serious dental issues (their jaws are always too small for the teeth), moleras (soft spots on the skull), hypoglycemia, lens luxation and eye infections (due to over-large bulding eyes), and liver and heart problems.

The reason these dogs are expensive is that they have about a 70 perent natal mortality rate. Microbreeds are guaranteed death.

No BSL said...

I just read about Lucy being euthanized.
NO OTHER BREED OR TYPE OF DOG would have been euthanized for this type of unfortunate incident.
My heart goes out to Lucy`s family and to the family of the dog that was killed in this encounter.
Pits seem to be in a no win situation.

Anonymous said...

I wish there was another way.
Like Lucy my dog was deemed dangerous after allegedly attacking a Yorkie. First offense.

Unfortunately when an owner finds himself/herself in the position of authorizing euthanasia or requesting a hearing, they feel trapped by another's statements. No other witnesses, and no justice under the law. I wish there were more options available. He could be rescued and adopted, but for now he is in limbo. If we find the available funds to fight we will, but if we cannot we will be forced to surrender. And that is a very, Very sad place to be.