Anthropomorphizing Dogs and its Consequences

Last night I received the information from my flatmate that Ashra had been attacked by an off-leash pitbull mix, while on leash, in front of our home. I have been spending most of the night and day being furious that my dog’s life was put in danger and looking into the procedure of reporting the crime in the most effective way possible. But I have also noticed myself becoming more and more enraged about the whole Berliner situation.

The thing is, this dog attack was not an accident, it did not happen in the dog park or in an off-leash area where dogs can get into fights and there’s generally a lot of stupidity involved which then exacerbates the situation. It happened in front of our home, in a residential area, where leash laws are in place for all dogs (with a few exceptions), and restricted breeds, such as pitbulls, have the additional requirements of wearing a muzzle whenever out in public.

In fact, not only was the setting of the scene completely unacceptable, we have met this woman on a number of occasions and on all of those occasions, her dog was off leash and without a muzzle. The first time we encountered this woman with her dog, it almost attacked Rudra, but was jumped on and spooked by Ashra and so it ran back to its owner. This woman has absolutely no control over the dog, and even if she did, it has now proven itself to be dangerous. Furthermore, she had the audacity to yell at me to take my dogs to a dog school, because Ashra is leash reactive and barks and lunges.

Ashra was attacked several times on leash including when she was under 1 year old which is why she became leash reactive in the first place. And while we have worked on it and it is now at a manageable level (with age, her tolerance is receding), every time she gets attacked or almost attacked, guess what happens to the level of reactivity? It goes right back up again, and we have to work on desensitizing her again. And guess what else? It even rubs off onto my younger dog, who has the propensity to nip out of frustration. Fun times on my end, I can assure you.

Now, you might be wondering at this point what the title of my post has to do with this story. The problem is that people continually ignore laws and safety measures put in place, because they believe that aggression is not innate and that it is only ever the result of training and mistreatment. Another myth going around due to AR propaganda is that dogs will never seriously hurt each other and so you should just let them work their spats out. Or, yet another: dogs will never hurt puppies, so feel free to let your puppy interact with every random dog you meet on the street.

I have been posting about the attack in several local Facebook groups to find out more information about similar experiences and how best to report. Shockingly, absolutely nobody believed that temperament had any role to play in this attack, but rather said it was simply a lack of training and an irresponsible owner. In fact, many people with similar cases refused to report the owner to the police because they didn’t want the dog to be put down. Upon speaking to people who had actually gone through the process, however, it is exceedingly difficult to a) get your case to be taken seriously and b) to even get the dog removed from its owner. The dog would have to grievously injure a human AND fail a temperament test before the idea of euthanasia would even be entertained.

When we anthropomorphize dogs we ignore their intelligence and unique psychology. Not only is that a disrespect towards the dogs, it can potentially have very dangerous consequences for society. The more people push the blame simply on the ignorance of the owner and not take account of the fact that dogs are individuals and some individuals are genetically predisposed to being a danger to society, the more dog bites and subsequently stringent and unreasonable regulations will become the norm. Dogs are not furry children, nor are they all compatible with other animals or fit to live in cities.

End note: Ashra has been seen by a vet and she is going to be fine. And perhaps mostly by virtue of her size, as a few months ago, in a neighbouring suburb, another attack occurred where a Miniature Schnauzer was not so lucky and had to have life saving surgery and his front leg amputated.

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