When a dog is not 'God's love'

Comment

August 16, 1998|By Mike Burns

BIRDS ARE God's grace, dogs are God's love," my grandmother used to say, as much in appreciation of animals as in theological explanation.

She kept a mixed breed collie, name of Tippy, when I was a young boy living down the street from her house. Tippy was of uncertain age and trained only in the rudiments of canine behavior, such as outdoor toilet routine.

Tippy was not the most polite of creatures, with a propensity to stand on his hind legs and paw visitors in greeting, even when held on a leash. It's a common dog trait, one that trainers address early on in their programs. But Tippy, like so many dogs back then, never had so much as a single lesson.

He gave us loyal love, or what passes as such for a dog, and we returned it in kind. He was no problem to us young kids. We welcomed the chore of the feeding and watering of our long-tailed companion. Tippy had a local license tag and a rabies shot but never was sick enough to otherwise visit the town veterinarian.

One day, the dog was running loose and became too friendly with an older woman walking on the sidewalk. She repelled him with a heavy purse, and Tippy responded with a bite at her ankle.

The woman called to berate our family for harboring such a vicious animal. My grandmother checked with the woman's doctor to determine if anything needed to be done, and offered to pay the physician bill.

The victim of the slight bite was not placated, still frightened by the experience. So it was not long before the family made other arrangements for Tippy. One day, the dog was suddenly gone.

Gone to the country

Tippy had to go to the country, my parents explained. Where in the country? Could we visit him? The answers were vague and evasive. My grandmother didn't want to talk about it, either.

The dog was just gone, she said with exasperation that tried to mask her sadness.

It was beyond my young understanding that a pet dog would have to be killed: put down, put to sleep, "sent to the country." My grandmother never got another dog, nor did my parents.

That was a traumatic event for everyone in the family, with lasting consequences. The loss of a pet dog would not be repeated, because there would be no more pet dogs in our family.

The family upset went deeper than the killing of an animal: a chicken from Grandmother's henhouse was slaughtered, plucked and cleaned about every month for our Sunday dinner. A dog, however, was much different. He was companion and friend, a subject of childish curiosity, an eager leader in neighborhood adventures.

He was love.

So I can share the profound sense of loss when someone's pet dog or cat is taken away because of injuring a human. The attachment is strong and sincere.

But it's sadly true that dogs sometimes become aggressive and hurt people. Even the most treasured of canine pets can turn vicious, for reasons that may escape the understanding of the owner. While a rabies shot may guard bitten humans from that terrible disease, the dog can still inflict significant injury with tooth and claw. A vicious attack on a human should not be allowed to be repeated.

Attack in Westminster

But that's what happened in Westminster recently. Several people, including a 10-year-old girl, were reportedly bitten by a pit bull that was supposed to be on a leash. The dog broke loose and lunged at the throat of the child, without apparent provocation, and finally locked on to her groin and severely shook her, according to witnesses.

The head of the Humane Society of Carroll County, which acts as animal control agency, declared the dog to be a public nuisance. Normally, that means the dog would be destroyed after 10 days, absent an appeal.

But the dog was not put to sleep, despite its repeated dangerous behavior, and the owner was permitted to file a belated appeal to save its the pet's life. The matter went to the County Commissioners, who decided late last week that the animal (named Leather) will be put to death.

(It's a curious responsibility for the three men charged with overseeing all aspects of county government and $200 million in annual budgets. But that's the law.)

Pit bulls have a bad reputation for unstable aggressiveness. The reputation is well-earned, as demonstrated by case after case of attacks on humans by the breed. They may love their owners, but pit bulls are notoriously untrustworthy around strangers.

People who own this breed should know that and keep the animal muzzled and firmly in hand on a leash. The owner of Leather did not do so, by her admission. And not just once. The result is physical and psychic trauma for the dog's victims and neighbors. A young girl will be frightened of dogs she once loved.

There seems little doubt that this is a dangerous animal, one which had to be destroyed before it attacked other people. Regardless of the deep bond between the owner and the dog, sometimes a dog is not God's love.

Mike Burns is The Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

Pub Date: 8/16/98

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