Friday, October 21, 2011

The Dogs of Deming

Earlier this week, a child was mauled while waiting for a schoolbus on Hermanas Road. The two dogs that attacked him were a neighborhood Rottweiler and Doberman. The boy was alone. The dogs went for the kill, puncturing his neck and around his ear.

As it happened, a sophomore drove by the scene on her way to school, saw what was happening, and made a heroic rescue. She leaped out of the car holding her car keys between her fingers, and proceeded to punch the dogs (who then went after her). The boy ran to her car and they both managed to get away.

This problem is not limited to the country. Just next door to our house here in town, a pitbull attacked two human beings and was shot by a sheriff's deputy. There was another pitbull attack a block away from here. On Hemlock Street, where I have sometimes pushed my sons in a stroller, there are mistreated dogs, aggressive dogs, including a young and aggressive dog that is contained by a low wire fence that is not going to corral him much longer. We don't walk down Hemlock anymore. Riding my bicycle around town, I have frequently been chased by aggressive dogs, and on occasion I have had to make risky moves in order to lose them and avoid getting taken down.

Gabriel is delighted when he looks out our living room window and sees neighborhood dogs investigating our front yard. Unfortunately, some of these dogs are hostile, and have charged me when I have arrived at our home. Right in our front yard.

One sight I saw last summer captures the whole problem. On Spruce Street, a man was walking his dog on a leash. Two aggressive strays, dogs familiar in the neighborhood because at least one household provides food for them without actually taking responsibility for them, attacked him and his dog. A city worker doing street work had to leave his post and go rescue him, holding off the attacking hounds with a shovel.

The city has ordinances about dogs but enforcement is lax. Before I gave up on animal control, I was calling frequently enough that they recognized my voice. The operator would tell me they were overwhelmed -- not enough people working enough hours. Sometimes they would send someone out, and we even caught one of the dogs in a trap. Two weeks after they took it to the shelter, it was back in our yard.

The city doesn't seem to think this is a problem. The story of a young boy's attack was presented in the local paper as a tale of a teenage girl's heroism but not the story of a city overrun by dogs: stray dogs, kept dogs allowed to run loose, mixed breeds with no socialization, dogs encouraged to be aggressive, dogs who are not cared for and fed, dogs left to roam the vacant lots and railroad tracks without vaccinations or medical care.

The city does not think this is a problem, and I am left to carry pepper spray if I want to go for a stroll in our neighborhood with my children. I've never seriously contemplated carrying pepper spray on my person in my life, and I am someone who has lived in New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston. I have been mugged at gunpoint. And yet, somehow, Deming feels like the least safe place I have lived yet. The city is not disposed to deal with this very real safety hazard, and I must decide whether to break the law myself in order to take matters into my own hands (as when a neighbor offered to let me keep one of his guns for a while).

My wife loves the house she bought, but the city around it is in sorry shape.


Fran said...

Do you know any like-minded people who live in the community, perhaps other parents of small children? Is the city government open to groups who have a petition? How many concerned citizens does it take to get the government to listen? (There's more than one way to take matters into your own hands.)

Kelly said...

I find reports like this disturbing on a number of levels. I live in a rural area (no leash law outside the city limits) and currently have six dogs, four of which live outside and run loose. They are not vicious dogs and I take full responsibility for them. However, I'm not naive enough to think dogs won't follow the "pack" mentality under the right circumstances. It's accepted by those in our area that folks will take matters in their own hands if necessary. In fact, we had to take action ourselves on one occasion - not against a neighbor's dog, but a stray which had been hanging out at our home and ended up attacking and killing some of our livestock. It was heartbreaking in that not only did we shoot the offending dog on the spot, but I had to take two of my own pets to be put down because they "packed up" and joined in the offending act. There was no guarantee they wouldn't do it again having gotten the taste of blood.

That said, I will not discriminate against dogs based solely on their breed. We've owned three Rottweilers, all housepets, and each of them was a marvelous family pet. I long for the day I can have another. Dogs of any size, breed, or temperment must be properly handled and socialized by their humans.

If only everyone spayed and neutered their dogs as they should there wouldn't be so many stray, unwanted, and potentially dangerous animals out there!

Yes. Carry that pepper spray and never hesitate to use it!

Algernon said...

My view on breeds and dog rearing is influenced heavily by my own childhood. My mother bred showdogs, Russian wolfhounds (aka borzoi). We had as many as nine full-grown borzoi living with us at a time. I went to a lot of dog shows as a kid and spent a lot of time with dogs of various breeds.

To a large extent, I agree with you that the breed is less of a problem than the owners. I've met wonderful Dobermans for instance who were loved and cared for, and who were very used to humans. These dogs, however, were carefully bred and they were also trained, so as to be able to live happily with humans who cared well for them.

Most dog owners around here, from my observation, are not meticulous about this. As a result, their dogs become "spooky" (as my mother used to say). Not bad, just spooky, and more of a risk for biting or aggressive behavior.

When dogs become spooky, this is where I think the breed comes into play. A spooky Presa Canario is a hell of a lot more dangerous than a spooky poodle, you know what I mean? There are breeds that have been bred to be powerful, aggressive, virtual fighting machines. I'm not denying that a pitbull can be a happy, loving animal -- I've seen that. But when that pitbull has a bad day, it's really dangerous. A pitbull can kill you; a chihuahua cannot.

Kelly said...

I agree that certain breeds are more prone to aggressiveness than others. I also know that just because a breed is known as being family friendly (Labrador Retriever, for example), there are still exceptions to the rule.

To be honest, I'm more leary of small dogs when it comes to biting! I'm respectful of all dogs when I don't know them or what to expect from them. As for Sharpeis....two women in our neighborhood use to breed them for show and I would never have set foot on their property unannounced.

This is an important topic and I hope you can find some way to bring it to the attention of those that can successfully address the problem in your area.

Kelly said...

Ah.... you changed your Sharpei to a Chihuahua! I agree! :) (though I know plenty of "ankle-biting" Chihuahuas!!)