So… in the current economic climate £1.3M a year of your hard-earned tax money is spent every year on housing seized dogs that have done no harm but simply look like pit bulls according some whacked idea of what a pit bull looks like and a rough assessment by an un-trained police officer. IN LONDON ALONE. This is just the housing cost; it’s not the prosecution costs for those cases where families refuse to just meekly agree to the destruction of their beloved pet; it’s not the vet fees for those cases where people do, and not the police man-hours wasted bothering these people and writing up reams of reports and whatever back at the station, when they could be out on the the streets. It also doesn’t cover the money spent on actually dealing with dogs of any breed, or dog owners, that have actually done something untoward.
I repeat, this is just in London!
Perhaps we might remember this next time the library has to shut through lack of funding or a hospital ward has to be mothballed or the police can’t follow up our burglary or mugging because they can’t afford enough officers. As many people are learning in these straightened times, it’s not so much about how much money you have but about how you use it. Prioritising is part of that and surely this money would be far better spent dealing the the people who, along with their dogs, make others’ lives hell and leaving ordinary folks to get on with their lives.
Furthermore, I am deeply concerned about the impact a number of issues are having on the next generation and this one is an important one – in order to raise children well they need to learn right from wrong, fair from unfair, responsibility and that doing the right thing will not necessarily pay off but also won’t get you into trouble. Having a dog is a very beneficial thing for a family helping children to learn to express their love in a giving way, helping them learn responsibility for their actions and to put their own desires second sometimes. It can range from as little as choosing to spend pocket money on a dog treat to regular grooming or sitting up all night with a sick puppy, and many other things besides.
A dog is not essential for a good upbringing but it is a great mechanism and a valuable tool in the parental toolbox. How often have you heard, “Every child should have a dog”? As a behaviourist I would have to add the parental responsibility of deciding that your family circumstances are right for the wellbeing of one, and you can of course do without a dog, but what if you take in this living creature, feed and nurture him; attend dog training classes with him; teach him to “paw” and fetch the newspaper; diligently walk him to the park even though it’s raining and you’d rather be playing on the computer in the warm but learn to take pleasure instead in his pleasure at bouncing in the puddles; take him to the vet for his shots even though it’s expensive and he doesn’t like it but you know it’s for his own good – and others’; care for him when he is sick and save up your pocket money to buy him a special fancy collar – virtuously ignoring the sweets in the corner shop for weeks, only to have police in riot gear charge at you and wrench him, terrified, away from you and tell you he is dangerous and must be killed immediately, unless you want to spend a fortune that you may not have fighting through the courts whilst he languishes in kennels with you unable to see him and unable even to get a cuddle from kennel hands because he’s been labelled vicious by people who don’t know him. What if you are ten years old and you now witness the fact that nothing you can say, nothing your parents can say, no witnesses you can bring – however expert, no photos you can show will change that person’s mind and that nothing will save the life of a creature you know to be entirely innocent of all crimes save fitting some random set of measurements which turn out to have been cobbled together by inexpert people based on some show standard designed for a foreign country where, and this really hits home, the dogs are legal anyway?
What if you overhear your parents, the people who’ve always had the answers for you, crying at night because they can’t save him and don’t know how to tell you? What does this do to your young mind? How does it affect your attitude to responsible behaviour if your best friend can be killed just because of their bone structure despite overwhelming scientific and social evidence that this has nothing to do with their behaviour?
There’s always been prejudice and probably always will in some way, idiotic and state-sanctioned, but hitherto our society has been moving forward and attempting to eliminate such things, as professional women, jews, black, disabled and gay people can attest. Of course things could be better but I think most people can agree that social exclusion has moved to social acceptance and thence to social inclusion for many and many more are somewhere along that route.
“But it’s a dog” I hear and, as an animal behaviourist my first response would be, “So what?” but sadly not everyone is interested in getting to know the wonders that are the dog’s emotional, intelligent and rational brain so how about this for size – it’s not just about the dog, it’s about the family, the humans, who own the dog and it wouldn’t be happening if they owned a poodle or, for that matter, a dachshund which has just been crowned the most vicious in terms of attacks by one study or the Yorkshire Terrier, which has held that title on many past occasions. And no, I’m not saying they should be included, I’m saying, as everyone who works in animal (including human) behaviour knows, behaviour is driven by experience, environment and circumstance much more than any tenuous genetic link (that science has so far failed to find by the way) in all but a very very tiny selection of cases where some medical problem can be diagnosed and, usually, treated. This is known to all psychologists and ethologists and backed up in copious scientific works not to mention enough anecdotal evidence to sink a fleet of battleships, but still the job of assessing what is and what is not a dangerous dog is left to council workers and police wholly unfamiliar with the field, or even the animal in question, and working from a crib sheet produced by others with no more knowledge than they, all trying to fit in with a law that was produced by people with even less knowledge and, in my not-so-humble opinion, an agenda based entirely on being seen to do something rather than being seen to do the right thing. A very worrying trend in modern society, not just in the Dangerous Dogs Act. Children are learning that being good and responsible and considerate gets you punished, and the authorities don’t care.
“Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done” is an aphorism generally credited to Gordon Hewart, [in Rex v. Sussex Justices ex parte McCarthy (1924)], but coming from a much deeper tradition of natural justice on which the English legal system is based, and many others around the world which have been based on ours. Maybe it seems obvious and maybe it doesn’t but my first question would be, “Ok, so what if the opposite were true; that justice were not done and were seen to be not done” I think the results of this are far more obvious – a gradual breakdown of any trust in the authorities in any shape or form – police, judiciary, parliament, even local councillors and finally school teachers, bosses and parents. Whilst I applaud a healthy questioning mind, this is not the same thing, this is the flip side of the closed mind that automatically trusts authority, and leads directly to… well what do you think? Anything sound familiar here?