© 2012 BlogName - All rights reserved.

Firstyme WordPress Theme.
Designed by Charlie Asemota.

When Veterinarians Refuse to Euthanize Aggressive Dogs

September 12, 2013 - Author:

A life would have been spared had one vet honored a family’s request.

A recent article about euthanizing aggressive dogs has inspired me to write about a topic I believe gets very little attention but represents an important safety issue for our communities–veterinarians who refuse to euthanize “otherwise healthy” dogs that are dangerously aggressive.

We have personal experience in this matter. Years ago, one of our volunteers had a dog (we’ll call him Bubba) that was aggressive toward people. She had worked with several trainers, tried different management techniques, and progressed to simply keeping Bubba isolated at home, properly contained, away from the world as much as possible. She loved him, and she wanted him to have a long, happy life. Unfortunately, living with the stress of having a dog that could seriously hurt someone if she made one mistake (left a door or a gate open, didn’t watch him like a hawk in the yard, etc.) wore on her. Bubba wasn’t getting any better. One mistake and someone could pay dearly, and the quality of life for her dog wasn’t what she wished.

She made the decision to euthanize him, got up the courage to pick up the phone, and called her veterinarian. The clinic told her they would not euthanize Bubba because he was healthy. The vet did not feel comfortable ending the life of a young, healthy dog.

Our volunteer, already in tears, was devastated. She second-guessed her decision. She felt guilty for  having made that decision. Her sister decided to make an offer the volunteer couldn’t refuse. She would take Bubba. Our volunteer felt a wave of relief and agreed.

I believe it was the very first day Bubba was in his new home when tragedy struck. Bubba, who was already a dog afflicted with anxiety, found himself in a strange yard. He escaped.

We’re not sure exactly what happened next. The volunteer received a call with the bad news. Bubba had gotten out. He had been hit by a car, and at some point, someone had tried to help Bubba, but he acted aggressively toward the person. I cannot remember, years later, whether Bubba actually bit the person. I just know that Bubba’s injuries were so severe, he had to be euthanized. His last moments on this Earth were not pleasant. His death was not an easy one.

Another story comes from someone who wasn’t one of our volunteers but contacted us with suggestions on dealing with aggression between their two dogs. Now, we know that all breeds have dogs that exhibit dog aggression. Some dogs do well with other dogs, and some dogs don’t. Rather than euthanizing the vast majority of dog-reactive dogs, we think it best that they simply be the only dog in a home.

However, sometimes dogs present such a danger to other dogs (and people who may get in the way), that the only responsible thing to do is to humanely euthanize them. Those are few and far between, but they exist, and as responsible members of a community where others’ safety will be in jeopardy, sometimes ending a life is the right thing to do. I’m not saying those dogs cannot be effectively managed. They can…until there’s a slip-up, and there always is because every human on this planet is flawed and imperfect. If one slip-up will mean the death of a person or living, sentient member of the household, it is best to euthanize the dog.

Here is the story, in her own words, of a woman who lived through “the worst days” of her life. Her story involves two dogs, Mickey and Rufus.

In 2001, my son brought home the most adorable pit bull puppy.  My first thought was, “what on earth are you doing bringing in that type of dog into our home?”  The dog was a 19th birthday gift from his girlfriend; they named him Mickey.  Not knowing much about the breed other than the media hype I did my own research and found that the breed is not so different than others but they did thrive on socialization and love exercise.  At the time, we had an old lady cocker spaniel, Baby, and the two became fast friends.  Never was I concerned about the two of them together or Mickey being aggressive towards her, he was just a loving and sweet dog – no remote sign of aggression.  At some point in time, pretty early on, Mickey decided I was his and the guy had stolen my heart and he was mine.

I had Mickey for 13 wonderful years and during those years he had many dog friends.  He never had any formal training but he was one of those dogs who always followed your command.  We had a weekly play date with a friend of mine who had a large dog – perhaps a Shepherd-Rottie mix – but those two had a blast playing together.  We would take them down to the local junior high school and they would chase each other, wrestle, and run until they were ready to collapse.  If there were ever another dog off leash, I would call to Mickey and he would come running to be placed on his leash.   Yea, he was a great dog.  Mickey also had a girlfriend, Precious, a Chihuahua-Dachshund mix, and her mom and I would take them to the same school and they would chase each other and Mickey sensing her small stature, was so very gentle with her.  Yes, these two loved each other.  My gentle Mickey was a true ambassador for his breed and all our neighbors loved to greet him and he loved the little children on our block and was most patient with them.  He turned many of our family and friends opinion of pit bulls.

Mickey (L) and his gal pal, Princess.

Mickey (L) and his gal pal Princess.

Mickey was just the best.

Rufus came to us in June 2007.  A friend’s son, irresponsibly in my opinion, had bred his pit bulls and his dog had a litter of 8.  The father ended up taking in most of the puppies at his home because the son lived in an apartment. Of course, there was some difficulty in finding a home for all the dogs (not free) and to his credit, he was selective of the purchasers.  We were not in the market for a second dog, let alone another male, but when we got the call that the dog was going to the pound unless we could take him, we had a hard time saying no.  We had taken Mickey to meet the puppies and Rufus seemed the most calm and followed Mickey around the yard and was the only puppy that didn’t jump at him.  Rufus was 7 months when he joined our home and he was neutered after a couple weeks.

Rufus & Mickey

Rufus & Mickey

The first few months were great; the dogs got along well and there were no issues – or so it seemed.  We first noticed a little problem with food because Mickey was used to sharing his food with his friend Baby (the cocker).  We quickly remedied that issue and fed Rufus in his crate and Mickey in the kitchen – food problem solved.  We also had to rid the house of bones and toys because we saw a little aggression when the other wanted the bone or toy because their first fight came about over a toy and skin was punctured – toy problem solved.  After that time, the dogs enjoyed their time together and wrestled and romped around the backyard.

During one of their playtimes in the backyard, we noticed that Rufus was missing the steps on the porch.  We had always thought him to be a little clumsy, not to mention his interesting eyes, but we realized that his eye sight might be diminishing.  Light bulb moment, his cool looking eyes were actually dilated eyes.  Sure enough, after a trip to the dog optometrist, we were told he had a genetic condition, degenerated retina (something like that), and that he’d be blind by the time he was a year old.  This answered a lot of his behaviors; high anxiety during walks, heightened sense of smell of dogs, cats, squirrels while on our walks; oddly, even though he could not see, he always seemed on a mission to get somewhere on our walks.  He was very difficult on a leash as he could work himself in a frenzy over a dog across the street or he wouldn’t give a care. 

Rufus loved to sit on the front lawn with my husband Jim after his walks and it was sweet how they would both relax.  He was always on the leash because he was a bolter if the opportunity was there (I didn’t even go into the many times he snuck out and ran, ran, ran, where?, I don’t know).  Where Mickey had great self-control (he could sit on the porch watching me do yard work and not budge when another dog or person walked by), Rufus had none. Did I mention he was extremely territorial?  Well, one of these late mornings while Jim and Rufus were sitting on the lawn I noticed a woman, Lisa, and her lab walking down the middle of the street.  I said to Jim, dog, but before he could assure me he had a good handle on Rufus, Rufus bolted and broke his collar and chased Lisa and dog – actually, it was the dog because he just ran to where his senses took him and actually knocked down her and attacked her dog.  Luckily Mickey was not a fighter because being a dog, he thought he would join in (yea, great to see two pit bulls after one dog) but the woman just pulled him off and he took one look at me and went running to the porch. Rufus on the other hand, would not let go and of course, we all did what we weren’t supposed to do and we got in the middle trying to get Rufus from biting – yes, we both were nipped – but Jim got the worse although not too bad.  Fortunately, Lisa was SO understanding and her dog was not hurt.

Another time, we learned that he had gotten out of our yard one evening while we were out but weren’t told until the next morning.  The two large dogs that lived across the street and had gotten out of their yard – from what I can tell, there was lots of barking from our dogs and theirs and then Rufus broke the gate and went after one of the dogs.  Fortunately no harm was done to the dog just a scare to the neighbors.  Needless-so-say, Rufus was not the most liked dog on the street.  I say that, but no one said “get rid of him” and they got to know that he just was “special” due to his blindness.  We also re-enforced our yard and assured the neighbors he would not get out again.  It was shortly after this time that we enrolled Rufus into a 3 week dog training in a boarding facility.  The trainer said he was difficult to train, very stubborn, but once he completed the training, he was easier to handle on the walks but still anxious.  The upside, we had no more incidences for 3 years because we made sure we did not put Rufus in a situation for failure – he had a secure yard and we knew his cues of when he was not comfortable and when sitting on the front lawn, Jim was always alert to what was up and down the street.  Oddly, Rufus did meet other dogs on our walks and did well; no aggression and it made us happy to see that he could enjoy other dogs a bit.

One Friday night in March 2011, after Rufus had been part of our household for almost 4 years, we were all winding down for the night. Rufus was snoozing on the couch and I was off brushing my teeth.  I hear Jim say loudly, “hey, stop” and a lot of grr-grr-grr and  I run in to see Jim in the middle of Rufus and Mickey.  Mickey had jumped on the couch, as he had done hundreds of times before, and Rufus attacked.  We didn’t understand why; did Mickey startled him?  Did Mickey step on his sore foot?  Luckily, no damage was done to either dog but Jim’s hand had a nice wound; I got a little one too. Mickey was quite frightened and shaky.

The next day, Jim went to work and I watched the dogs cautiously.  I have to say, the remainder of the night before, all was calm.  Anyway, Saturday the dogs were both cautious of each other as well and before early afternoon, they were back to normal.  Jim ended up going to the doctors as his hand was quite sore and infected.  He stayed home from work on Sunday and had just taken a pain killer when he decided to take a nap with Rufus.  Once again, Mickey decided to join them and jumped upon the bed and again, Rufus went after Mickey.  This time he got a hold of Mickey; Jim was holding Rufus’ neck so that he would not thrash. I tried everything – probably all wrong - to get him off of Mickey.  Then I heard a guttural sound from my sweet Mickey, I knew I had to act quickly and I noticed a large screwdriver with a very large handle and I stuck it between Rufus’ jaw and it came loose.  I grabbed Mickey and held him and Jim was able to grab Rufus away because he was ready to go after Mickey again.  We were devastated, and Jim was ready to give up on Rufus, or so we thought.  I immediately took Mickey out for a walk and we went to my friend who has Precious. He felt safe there and enjoyed visiting with Precious and her mom.

That morning, Jim took Rufus to the Front Street Shelter but fortunately they were not doing in-take on Sunday.  I say fortunately because as upset as I was with Rufus, he was our dog, I loved him too, and did not want to know that he live his last days being scared in a shelter with a likely euthanasia as his fate.  You see, with his age, his blindness and his past dog aggression, I didn’t see a promising future.  When Jim called our vet at the time, he was told they would not euthanize him because he was healthy.

It was at this time we contacted [Chako] to see what we might do.  We didn’t know what prompted the aggression towards Mickey and we were also looking for support that we were doing the right thing in euthanizing him.  You were great; you gave us some ideas but also supported our decision and gave us the name of a vet that would come to our home to put him to sleep.  One of your suggestions was to keep them separate but at the time, we didn’t think that would work since we have a small home.  Anyway, the longer we waited, of course the more difficult the decision to put him down was, as much of a difficult of a dog he was, he was also sweet and we did love the big guy.  We ended up building an outside kennel and purchased a large indoor crate that looked like a furniture piece.  He stayed in the outdoor run if the weather permitted it and was crated indoors when the weather was not so good.  We did crate rotate and this worked for a number of months.

We found that we could have them out at the same time, but we never let them get too close, especially on the couch as this seemed to be Rufus’ trigger.  Go figure, he couldn’t see but could sense when Mickey jumped on the couch.  One March evening in 2012, I was home alone and getting ready to go meet a friend. I had both dogs out – it was manageable if you were alert.  Knowing that Rufus would be crated most of the night, I wanted him to have some time outside the crate.  I fed Rufus first and he went to the couch to sit.  My mistake was that I left the living room windows open – the couch was in front of the windows – and often a noise would cause Mickey to check out the sounds.  I was feeding Mickey in the kitchen, I turned my back for a split second and Mickey starts to bark and runs to the couch – panic sits in – I calmly run into the living room and Rufus runs towards me and you can see his mind working and had I grabbed him quickly (I had done so before) when I saw the look in his eyes I could have stopped a horror.  He turned and went after my Mickey.  You can imagine the next few minutes – which seemed like hours – of me trying to break them apart.  I tried a fire extinguisher, but all that did was leave a big dusty mess – I can’t remember exactly how I got Rufus to release but by the time I did; both Mickey and I had bad wounds.  Mickey was traumatized and didn’t want to return in the house.

Fortunately my wounds did not get infected but the pain was with me for awhile. Mickey’s wounds got infected and it was at this time I told my husband that if this happened again, I knew that Mickey would not live through another attack.  I was already resenting Rufus for making my Mickey’s life not peaceful, but also started to resent my husband for not putting Rufus down when we had planned to.  I will admit, I too was heartbroken when we had set up the in-home euthanasia, and I was rather surprised at the rallying of all our neighbors at our heartache BUT also their relief when we couldn’t go through with it.  I just kept going back to that one office call to our vet that refused to put him down when we first asked because we would have been relieved of a lot of future heartache.

In August 2012, my husband had to travel to Florida for the entire month.  He was concerned about me taking care of the two dogs; he confessed his main concern was another incident for me by myself.  I managed well; walked both dogs separately and we had no incidents.  Jim got to come home  the weekend of August 17th for a visit.  Sunday, August 19th we ventured out for breakfast.  You know when you know something is off?  Well, this was one of those mornings.  Rufus was placed in his crate but he was not settling down, I would say agitated.  My husband and I couldn’t decide where to go for breakfast and in fact, had a miserable breakfast. When we arrived home, as we walked in our hearts sunk as there was Rufus, or rather NOT Rufus as the crate door was open and he was not there.  I immediately said in a panic “where’s Mickey” knowing the worse was yet to come; Rufus comes out of the bedroom (I think) and I hurriedly place him in the crate and Jim runs to the backyard and I hear “f—”, “oh God”.  There was my Mickey, just standing in the backyard in shock, covered in blood.  Who knows how long he was out there, what prompted Rufus to let loose on Mickey, what prompted the attack but I can venture a guess Mickey was on or got on the couch and the crate safety lock wasn’t properly secured and Rufus got out and the couch was Rufus’ trigger.

Jim picked-up Mickey and placed him in the truck; I got in too, and when I got in the back seat, Mickey moved to the back and put his head on my lap.  My sweet, sweet Mickey. He was loosing so much blood but we both had comfort with me holding him. Mueller’s Veterinary Hospital was great; no judgment and wanted to assure us that such things happen with all types of dogs. We spoke to them about Rufus and they said if Mickey were to make it, he needed to be a one dog household. Which we knew all along; we explained the history and said we knew this was his last straw and she said “we can help you with this”.  When we left the vet of course we had to leave Mickey in their care but they let me see him before we left and as I pet him his little tail wiggled – the techs were pleased to see that and said that was a good sign.  Of course, deep down I knew he wouldn’t be coming home, but I couldn’t fathom the thought.

Jim returned to the vet with Rufus, and he was peacefully put to rest with Jim by his side.  As much grief as this dog inflicted on us – both humorous and tragic – we were heartbroken to lose him this day as well.  He had a happy life with us; yes, he had aggression issues towards dogs, but never to humans I have to tell myself he had 7 years of a happy life with us because someone else that might have had him may have given up on him with his blindness.  I know some think we were crazy to love a dog like Rufus, but we did and we tried to work through his issues. 

Mickey lasted 12 hours; I couldn’t sleep that night. The first reports was positive but around 9 pm that night, the vet called and asked to place him on another medication as he was getting agitated.  It didn’t surprise me, Mickey was very much the homebody and had a bit of separation anxiety.  Again, I was lying to myself but knew he wasn’t coming home.  Around midnight, they called again to let me know his organs were shutting down so that we could come say goodbye. As difficult as it was to see my once full-of-life Mickey laying there lifeless I had to be there for him for his last breath.  Some people say, “it’s just a dog” but this dog was very special to me, he saw me through some rough times in my life and was there for me during both my parent’s passing and was oh-so-gentle with them.  He didn’t deserve to go the way he did.  The vet on duty that night at Muellers was so understanding and kind; she let me sit with Mickey until I was ready for him to go; she even assured us that Rufus went peacefully.

While we loved Rufus and cried as many tears for him, had the first vet listened to our reasons why in 2011, it would have saved us all from a lot of injury and heartache.  Mickey might still be alive today as he was a very healthy dog.

It is still difficult for me to talk about the loss of our dogs.

The Internet being what it is, I’m sure there are many people who will criticize either of the owners above for their decisions to euthanize. Yes, Rufus’ crate could have been placed in a separate room, behind a closed door. Bubba should not have been left unsupervised in the yard, even for a minute. Ultimately, however, each person knows their own skill and comfort level. In a family situation, where there are multiple people, sometimes it is difficult if not impossible to ensure crates and doors are always locked. This becomes even more problematic when there are children living in the home. Plus, sometimes, people just make mistakes. It happens to all of us. It just takes one off day.

Rufus could have been rehomed, but then the reality of finding a home for an aging, blind, seriously dog-aggressive dog isn’t the easiest task in the world. Of course, the family could have opted never to bring Rufus into their home, especially considering they had another male, but then who knows what fate Rufus would have met.

I’m a firm believer that the quality of life is much more important than its quantity. Death is inevitable. Dogs, as a species, are lucky because, unlike humans, they live much more in the moment. For example, almost all dogs that lose a leg scarcely seem to notice, as if they have no idea that having three legs isn’t quite normal. We are the ones that lament the loss, feel sorry for our beloved pet, but the dogs just make do and learn to get around pretty much as well as they did before without ever seeming to miss the leg they once had.

So dogs don’t tend to sit around pondering their own mortality. They live for each moment and don’t worry about what tomorrow holds. A dog that lives 5 great years and goes peacefully in his sleep, surrounded by those who love him, is far luckier than a dog that lives 11 years of neglect, abuse, and misery and dies alone and scared.

I believe that, when people who truly love their dogs make the decision for humane euthanasia, they do so because they know it’s the right thing to do. No one can effectively second-guess their decision because no one is in the exact same situation. Every dog and every situation is unique. Veterinarians who make blanket refusals to euthanize an aggressive dog because it is healthy do their clients and their communities a grave disservice. In fact, one could make the argument that a seriously aggressive dog is not, in fact, healthy. Most (though not all) aggression is caused by fear. A dog that lives in fear, acting out aggressively at anything and everything that frightens it, is, in fact, suffering. Then there are dogs whose aggression is not caused by fear. They are just, as the saying goes, “wired that way.” Genetics drives them to want to attack dogs or people, for example, not because they fear them, but because they are, essentially, programmed to do so. While training and behavior modification regimes, along with medication if necessary, can help, one will never change the underlying genetics of a dog. Each person has to make the decision, after careful thought and, often, trial and error, whether he or she is capable of responsibly managing such a dog for the rest of its life.

Instead of flatly refusing to euthanize a dog that is physically healthy, veterinarians could ask questions such as “Have you spoken to a behaviorist or trainer?” or “What management techniques have you tried?” Ultimately, however, flatly refusing to euthanize a dog simply because it is physically healthy (while it is their right) puts the family, the other pets in the household, and members of the community at risk. Yes, clients can shop around and call other vets, but those who have long-standing relationships with a veterinarian feel most comfortable with that doctor. In a fragile, emotional state such as that brought upon by having to make one of the hardest decisions of one’s life, being rebuked by a veterinarian someone has grown to trust has the effect of crushing one’s resolve. It is the rare person who would buck up, call around, and stick firm with the decision to the end the life of a family member.

If Bubba had seriously hurt someone when he’d gotten out, imagine how much worst the situation would have been, both for the victim and Bubba’s custodian (who would likely be facing a lawsuit). Imagine if the owner of the Presa Canarios who killed Diane Whipple in San Francisco had approached that same vet to euthanize her two healthy but aggressive dog, and the vet had refused.

The issue of dangerous dogs is a significant one. Cases of serious attacks and fatalities have made news repeatedly. If every person who had a dog he or she knew to be a serious danger to others euthanized that dog in a humane and loving manner, there would be far fewer dog-bite related fatalities and fewer dogs dying in stressful, scary shelter environments.

Euthanizing a dog in a humane and loving manner does not entail dropping a dog off at a shelter to be euthanized in a strange, noisy, scary environment surrounded by strangers. The very last gift anyone can give their dog is to be with her during her last moments, in a familiar environment, speaking softly and sweetly into her ear.

What are your thoughts? Have you had similar experiences? I ask that you be gentle, whether you agree or disagree, because the people in our stories are real and, to this day, continue to have real heartache as a result of their experiences.

Comments are closed - Categories: Uncategorized

Open letter to kennel registries: require permanent identification on every pup

December 21, 2012 - Author:

Meet Chloe. Her owner surrendered her to the Animal Care Center of Indio. Her intake number is 12-10-12-503. She has papers issued by the United Kennel Club (UKC).

Someone bred her, then sold her, and eventually she ended up in a shelter — another sad face, forlorn and discarded. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if every breeder took lifelong responsibility for the dogs he or she bred? No UKC, AKC, ADBA, ABKC or other dog registered with any kennel club would die in a shelter because every breeder would instantly pull that dog and place it in a more responsible home (of course the dog would be spayed or neutered before being released from the shelter).

Responsible breeders do take responsibility for their litters and would be horrified to learn one of the dogs they produced ended up in a shelter. However, thousands of dogs die in shelters every year, and this overpopulation leads shelter workers, animal rights advocates, and most rescuers to scream for spay and neuter legislation or, in some cases, breed-specific legislation. Most breeders oppose these legislative efforts. Every dog produced by an irresponsible breeder that ends up in a shelter adversely affects responsible breeders. If responsible breeders want to avoid laws that restrict breeding or ban breeds, they must take united action against irresponsible breeders or end up lumped in with them.

It is time for the kennel registries to act. The kennel registries–not politicians–should step up and require that every breeder give each pup permanent identification–either a microchip or tattoo–that any shelter can look up if the dog ends up in their care. Require that breeders (owners of both the sire and the dam) never allow one of their dogs to remain in a shelter.  Ban any breeder from being able to register additional dogs or enter shows if that breeder, after being notified that a dog he or she produced is in a shelter, fails to retrieve that dog.

It is time for kennel registries to support their responsible breeders by weeding out the irresponsible breeders and, by doing so, save a few thousands lives.

Comments are closed - Categories: Uncategorized

One Lawyer’s Perspective: Dog Owner vs. Dog Guardian

October 8, 2012 - Author:
Recently, the term “dog guardian” has increased in popularity, presumably to encourage a more responsible and loving relationship between humans and the animals they share their homes with. However, there are a variety of issues, both legal and ethical, relating to the use of these terms. As an attorney, I’m going to focus mostly on the legal issues associated with these terms and explain why I favor the term owner over dog guardian. 


To understand this issue, it’s important to go over a bit of the history giving rise to “guardian” terminology. The Cat Fancier’s Association gave a decent summary of this history: 

In the late 1970s animal “rights” advocates began to argue that animals should be equal to humans. Peter Singer in his 1977 book, Animal Liberation”, claimed that “to discriminate against beings solely on account of their species is a form of prejudice, immoral and indefensible……” A law student in 1977 proposed the idea of recognizing legal rights for “nonhumans”. She proposed existing guardianship laws, which are for protection of incompetent or human minors, as the model for protection of the rights of dogs and cats. By the early 1980’s animal rights activists started using the term “guardian” instead of “owner” and in the 90’s the meaning of “guardian” became linked with taking away legal property rights of pet owners. 

The American Veterinary Medical Association weighed in on this topic in April 2010, unequivocally stating its preference for the term “owner, as follows: 

The American Veterinary Medical Association promotes the optimal health and welfare of animals. Further, the AVMA recognizes the role of responsible owners in providing for their animals’ care. Any change in terminology describing the relationship between animals and owners, including “guardian,” does not strengthen this relationship and may, in fact, harm it. Such changes in terminology may adversely affect the ability of society to obtain and deliver animal services and, ultimately, result in animal suffering.

Extreme animal rights organizations, such as PETA, promote the term “guardian” over “owner.” On its Website, PETA has an article titled, “What Does It Mean to Be a Good Animal Guardian?” But these extreme animal rights groups generally see pet ownership as akin to slavery. PETA members have even gone so far as to pull dogs from shelters only to kill them instead of adopting them out as pets. 

Extreme animal rights groups would like to end all pet ownership, and advocating a change in terminology can be the first step toward accomplishing such a goal. Words have power and, in some cases, words can directly affect legal rights. 

PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk even advocates outright Pit Bull bans and supports shelter policies mandating the euthanasia of all Pit Bulls. She has published her opinion in several forums, the most prominent being in 2005 on SFGate, as follows: 

Most people have no idea that at many animal shelters across the country, any pit bull that comes through the front door doesn’t go out the back door alive. From California to New York, many shelters have enacted policies requiring the automatic destruction of the huge and ever-growing number of “pits” they encounter. This news shocks and outrages the compassionate dog-lover. 

Here’s another shocker: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the very organization that is trying to get you to denounce the killing of chickens for the table, foxes for fur or frogs for dissection, supports the shelters’ pit-bull policy, albeit with reluctance. We further encourage a ban on breeding pit bulls. 

The pit bull’s ancestor, the Staffordshire terrier, is a human concoction, bred in my native England,  

I’m ashamed to say, as a weapon.

Newkirk advocates that Pit Bulls be killed and eventually exterminated completely. If you own a Pit Bull or are concerned about the plight of Pit Bulls or other often malinged breeds currently in shelters and rescues, Newkirk’s words should concern you.

Many misguided advocates of the term “guardian” believe using this term promotes more responsible pet ownership and can put law enforcement in a better position to seize dogs that are being abused or neglected. 

However, strong animal cruelty laws are the best tools for saving animals from irresponsible owners. Of course, animal control officers can intervene when a dog is starved, abused, or otherwise neglected, but currently, animal control agencies are understaffed and it’s often hard for them to respond to all reports. That being said, focusing on making animal control more effective without allowing such agencies to trample the rights of responsible, loving dog owners is the best way to help all animals. 


The primary difference between the term owner and guardian, from a legal standpoint, has to do with the United States Constitution. Nowhere does the U.S. Constitution protect or even recognize rights of “guardians.”       

However, the U.S. Constitution gives several protections to property owners. For example, the Fourth Amendment on search and seizure provides, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” 

While the Fifth Amendment explains that no person can “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.” 

Finally, the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

Together, these amendments provide owners certain protections. Law enforcement can’t simply seize anything you legally own without a solid legal basis. They must obtain a warrant, in most cases, to enter your home or seize your property. 

These Constitutional protections become very important where breed specific legislation arises. These protections help responsible, loving dog owners because animal control must abide by the U.S. Constitution in order to seize and kill an owner’s animal. Furthermore, the animal owner is entitled to due process, which means a Constitutionally mandated hearing and the ability to appeal before the agency is allowed to kill the seized dog. 

When dog owners give up ownership rights, they give much of their ability to protect their dogs. 

Nowhere does the U.S. Constitution say that those who are animal guardians are entitled to such due process. A legal guardian is a person who has the legal authority (and the corresponding duty) to care for the personal and property interests of another. In fact, the very notion of guardianship flies in the face of due process because a guardian, in the traditional legal sense, if overseen by a Court of Law. The Court can decide that someone else would make a better guardian—for example, someone with more money; someone who owns his or her home rather than rents; or someone who stays home rather than works full-time. 

Author with service dog
Then there is the issue of service, therapy, and search dogs. If we own dogs, we can train them and use them to help us if we become disabled. Laws grant disabled persons the right to be accompanied by service dogs. Dogs guide persons with visual impairments, for example, and help pick up dropped items for those confined to wheelchairs. Presumably, if we are mere guardians of our dogs, we cannot force them to perform tasks for our benefit, including search and rescue work. Therefore, we risk seeing the complete extinction of service, therapy, and search and rescue dogs. As guardians, we exist solely to benefit our dogs. In effect, we become their servants.
 While many of us already do feel like servants to our dogs and, even more so, to our cats, there’s a very real difference between being a servant in the legal sense and being a servant in the practical sense. Yes, we provide them with food, shelter, vet care, toys, their own beds, and even throw them birthday parties, but we still own them. We have the right to decide what food to feed them (kibble, raw, or home made, for example) or what type of vaccinations to give them (other than the legally required Rabies vaccination, of course). Since overvaccination is becoming a real topic of discussion in veterinary circles, this alone is an important discretionary issues for dog owners. 

Important decisions about a dog’s care, feeding, and training are best left to dog owners, not courts. For example, people have strong feelings about feeding kibble versus raw. Some people believe kibble is ultimately harmful to dogs, containing low quality ingredients and, in some cases, toxins. Others believe feeding a raw diet exposes dogs to too many dangers from bacteria and bones. 

When we are guardians, those decisions are no longer our own. They are subject to control and oversight by the state or a court. Because I want the United States Constituion behind me when I fight for my dog’s life, should it ever come to that, I prefer the term “owner.”

Comments are closed - Categories: Uncategorized

Managing the Reactive "pit bull"

September 21, 2012 - Author:

There are many resources out there about managing the reactive dog. Patricia McConnell’s book Feisty Fido comes to mind as does James O’Heare’s works. However, these resources are general dog behavior books. Patricia McConnell, for example, talks about Weimeraners and Golden Retrievers in her book. After approximately 30 years of working with Pit Bulls, dealing with dogs in shelters, participating in obedience clubs with German Shepherds, Bordie Collies, Australian Shephers, and a variety of breeds, there’s one little secret I’ve discovered that really isn’t much of a secret to a certain group of dog owners.

Terriers are a little different. No, not all terriers, but terriers, as a group, tend to run a little hot toward other dogs, and they tend to focus a bit more intensely (in fact, terrier owners have a word for that intense “I’m oblivious to everything else but that” mentality — “spark”).

The American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and Bull Terrier are terriers. It’s amazing how many people who own or handle ”pit bulls” fail to realize this (for those who notice, yes, I’m using the breed phrase in lowercase, with quotes, to refer to the general grouping of bull and terrier dogs). They think of them more as bulldogs. In fact, these are bull and terrier breeds, meaning their ancestry includes bulldog and terrier in roughly a 50-50 ratio.

Before you cry out to me that I’ve just labelled Pit Bulls as vastly different than other dogs, more aggressive, or otherwise inherently dangerous — stop. Let’s realize something. All dogs, of all breeds, have the capacity to be dog aggressive (hence Patricia McConnell’s book, along with books by many other dog behaviorists who don’t specialize in “pit bulls”). And many of these general techniques are fully applicable to the bull and terrier breeds. However, for those of you have dogs that are just a bit more terrier than bulldog in their temperament, you may realize one startling fact.

Your dog doesn’t give a damn about treats or praise, and no matter how far distance wise you start, and try to slowly decrease distance, you find that your dog will probably die of old age before you’re ever able to get within 30 feet of another dog without your dog reacting. That will make walking your dog and vet visits problematic. And, practically, you need to find a way to speed up the process of making your dog not act like a butthead around other dogs.

If this is you, keep reading. If treats and praise and starting at a looong distance, while gradually decreasing the distance and keeping your dog under threshold works for you, you can stop reading. You’re doing great. Keep with what works.

So for those of you still with me, let me first tell you, I sympathize. Been there, done that (a lot!). I’m going to make the bold step of telling you what works for me, and not all of it is popular. (And, no, it doesn’t involve  hitting your dog or jerking your dog around like a maniac).

Your little terrier is stubborn, driven, and very smart. Terriers were bred to chase small animals, and to do so pretty independently of their handlers. If they kept checking back with their humans, they’d lose the prey. That’s not particularly effective for a dog that was bred to chase and kill small animals to keep pests off the homestead. Foxes and rats (hence Fox Terriers and Rat Terriers) are kind of hard to catch. They’re fast, small, and easy to lose sight of. (By the way, sighthound folks, you can probably sympathize a bit, also).

So, the terriers were bred to spot vermin, focus on it intensely, and seek to destroy it at the exclusion of all else. I know, I’m making these dogs out to be some kind of horrific monster. Actually, they aren’t monsters. They’re very useful animals, even today! On the farms or in your yard, they’re making sure those pesky rats don’t bring disease into your home (and, yes, they also keep the neighborhood cats out of your yard).

But, they’re animals, and like all animals, they have drives and instincts that you need to understand in order to effectively manage them.

So if your dog is one of those types, how do you deal with dog reactivity? I’ll give you a few pointers, but really, it’s hard to discuss this in detail, properly in a blog. That why Chako offers dog reactivity workshops.

First things first. Before you work your dog around other dogs (and, yes, you need to set up training sessions on a frequent and regular basis), make sure your dog is properly tired via exercise, hungry from having skipped one or two meals, and understands all the basic commands such as “sit,” and “watch me.”

If your dog doesn’t know “watch me” (also known as a focus command) just do a search on how to teach your dog a “watch me” on youtube (or, alternatively, how to teach your dog to focus) .

Once your dog has these basics down solid, and you’ve tired out your dog, and he or she is hungry, put your dog on secure equipment. Whatever equipment works best for you and your dog is fine. It can be a martingale collar backed up with a harness or slip collar. A head halter backed up with a martingale or flat collar. Whatever you use, your dog should have two different pieces of equipment on him. I also recommend getting a European Training Leash (also known as a six-way leash) so that you have two separate snaps on your leash–one for each piece of equipment on your dog. See our FB note on equipment.

The reason you want to back up your dog’s equipment is because if your dog does decide to lunch, spin around, or put up any kind of a fuss, it’s easy enough for him to slip out of certain collars or harnesses. Even if he doesn’t, often the snap on the leash may come open, inadvertently releasing your dog. Incidentally, if you choose to use a prong collar, head halter, or flat collar, backing up your dog’s equipment is doubly important. Prong collars, for example, pop open often. Head halters and most flat collars are easy for dogs to back out of.

Start walking in your neighborhood or an area where you know the places most of the dogs are (and where there aren’t a lot of loose or stray dogs). Carry a safety deterrent like spray shield just in case you encounter a loose dog. Spray shield is a citronella and water spray that smells bad to most dogs but is otherwise completely harmless. If a loose dog approaches you and your dog reactive dog, spray the oncoming dog (the range on this spray is up to 10 feet away when the canister is full). Spray shield won’t deter really determined, aggressive dogs, but it will deter 95% of loose dogs that try to approach, and it won’t harm the dog or, if there’s a backwind, you or your dog.

Also carry really awesome treats on you — not kibble or dog biscuits. Go buy steak or chicken, bake it, and cut it up into dime-sized pieces. Bring about six handfuls on your first outing, which should last about 15 to 20 minutes.

On this outting, you will work the first five minutes on warming up your dog by practicing “watch me” and the basic obedience commands such as “sit” and “down.” After this warm up, you’re off. If you know there’s always a dog behind the tall chain link fence at the corner, go across the street from that house and walk your dog passed the fence. You will be using the treats as bait to keep your dog focused on you.

If, by the way, your dog is way more toy motivated than food motivated, you can use your dog’s toy instead of food. If you use a toy, make it an extra special toy that you only bring out once in a great while. Play with your dog and the toy for about two minutes right before you leave on the walk, so your dog is super excited about the toy.

The idea is that your dog is getting the toy or the food for focusing on you instead of the other dog. Check out some segments from Chako’s dog reactivity workshops for what this might look like.

By giving your dog really good things when your dog is behaving around other dogs, you teach your dog that the presence of other dogs isn’t so bad, and good things happen. If you are constantly correcting your dog, yelling at your dog, or jerking your dog when there are other dogs around, your dog learns to be even more reactive to other dogs because bad things always happen when other dogs are around.

But remember, you have to start these sessions with a tired and hungry dog! And keep your leash loose (you should have worked on loose leash walking as part of the basic obedience your dog knows before you start this training). A tight leash leads to increased reactivity.

Let me repeat that — a tight leash leads to increased reactivity. Keep your leash loose!

As soon as you have some decent success here — meaning your dog has focused on you for about ten seconds without being concerned about the other dog, walk on and be super happy! Praise your dog, play with the ball or toy, give lots of treats. Make it seem like you both just won the lottery. Act like an idiot. Yes, your neighbors will lock their doors and close their drapes, but that’s okay because you’ll eventually have a dog that can behave him or herself around other dogs.

Don’t go home right away after your success (and always end on success!). Continue your walk, make it a fun one. If you can find a second encounter, go far it. Same guidelines apply. Start at a distance, get your dog focused on you, etc.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, this sounds an awful lot like that whole “working under threshhold stuff” that I promised I’d give you an alternative to if it’s not working for you and your dog. You are absolutely right. It does sound a lot like that (except that you may not have been told to start with a very tired dog). A tired dog has all that pent up energy released and is less likely and willing to put up a fuss. Of course, that’s no guarantee. A tired dog may often get her “second wind” back as soon as she sees another dog, but at least you’re not starting with a dog that is bouncing off the walls because she hasn’t been exercised properly.

So what do you do if you just can’t get your dog to focus at all, your dog is lunging, barking on sight when another dog is visible, even in the distance, and there is no “under threshold” to work with?

This is where you are going to need to break through that terrier brain of your dog’s. You might consider using a head halter backed up for these dogs just because you have more control over your dog’s head. You can also try a prong collar (and, if you do, get one with smaller links — just buy more of them — and rounded, bevelled tips), backed up, of course. Be aware, though, that prong collars can rile up certain dogs even more. Another piece of equipment you can try is a “dominant dog collar.” The name is unfortunate, but really all it is is a slip lead that snaps around your dog’s neck and is fitted to your dog’s neck size, right behind his or her ears. It doesn’t slip over your dog’s head because slip collars that go over your dog’s head are automatically too big to be effective. Just don’t let your dog pull on a slip collar. You will choke your dog, and that’s not the point of these collars. These collars are used to give you control by riding up high on your dog’s head instead of down low by their chest –which happens to be the source of your dog’s pulling strength and doesn’t give you great control.

If, and only if, you cannot get your dog’s attention any other way, this is where you use correction. Start with a very solid, quick, one-time leash jerk and say, in a very, very low, firm, and intimidating voice, “NO!” or “Eh-eh!” The very second your dog stops acting like a butthead and looks at you, perhaps a bit surprised, praise and treat up the wazzu! Or bring out the toy! Hey, dude! You stopped acting like a butthead for half a second, you just won the lottery!

Here, you are trying to get your dog out of “the zone” and find opportunities to reward your dog. When you use corrections to deal with dog reactivity, it is important that you find opportunities to praise or reward at least twice as often as you correct.

Let me say that again — praise or reward your dog at least twice as often as you correct.

Only when you are correcting should your leash really tighten up (and if it was tight to begin with, you can’t give that correction — so a loose leash also allows you to give this single, fast correction). One note of caution: do not jerk a dog on a head halter at all. Use the flat collar or martingale side of your leash for this. You can damage your dog’s neck by any jerk on a head halter.

What if that correction does nothing and your dog is still barking, growling, focused on the other dog to the exclusion of all else and the only way to stop him is to get out of sight of the other dog — and this is how it is all the time? The second your dog sees another dog, even from 70 feet away, he goes ballistic and you can’t get through to him?

Now it’s time to try something else. Take your spray shield, or even a water bottle filled with something that has a strong smell like vinegar or lemon, and qive one quick shot to your dog’s nose. Just one quick shot. Don’t drench your dog in it. Ninety-percent of the time, that will break your dog out of that zone just because, all of a sudden, something squirted them in the nose and it smells pretty strong. Use your voice the second you do squirt and say “NO!” or “Eh-eh” in that low, intimidating and firm voice.

For those who object to squirting your dog, remember a few things — this is for dogs that don’t really have an “under threshold” setting, that are in a zone that makes them oblivious to treats, praise, toys or anything other than the dog 75 feet away, and who, because they are in that little zone that I call “sparking” need a way to be able to get to a point where they see another dog and don’t act like a butthead. That actually requires, that, at some point, they see another dog.

The very second your dog is out of the zone, get him focused on you with the treat or the toy and be very happy! You won the lottery, dude! You won the lottery! This is awesome! You’re such a good boy! Here’s some chicken! Here’s your toy!

Then keep moving immediately and keep up the treats one right after the other while the other dog is still visible. End on success.

Comments are closed - Categories: Uncategorized

Our therapy dog workshop

November 21, 2011 - Author:

On Saturday, nine Pit Bulls and their owners participated in Chako Pit Bull Rescue’s therapy dog workshop in Sacramento. What an awesome group of dogs and handlers. Chako’s very own Ozzie was one of the participants. We’re so excited to see one of our rescued Pit Bulls taking the step toward becoming a certified therapy dog. Take a look at our photo album for more photos of our therapy dog workshops, and if you are interested in finding out about more Chako events, sign up for our Meetup!

Comments are closed - Categories: Uncategorized