My heart is broken tonight over a terrible situation that has absolutely no winners.
It’s a no good deed goes unpunished story. A woman agreed to take on a challenging dog with an apparent history of biting to help a friend. Yet for some unknown reason, she then permitted her one-year-old child to play with the dog, only a few short days after the troubled animal moved into their home. During this interaction, the dog bit the child’s face, causing serious and what’s expected to be long-lasting damage.
The dog is being killed.
The little girl has no nose.
The mother will have to live with the guilt.
A breed will be further vilified by an unfortunate and entirely preventable set of circumstances.
This incident is an important reminder of how both dogs and small children so completely depend on us adults to keep them safe. My dog Freyja, a labrador retriever, has issued warning barks and growls to small children, and I know enough to heed them (and to avoid having her around small children).
Freyja needs her humans to keep her safe from everyone who would have her killed for reacting in a situation in which she should not be placed, just as this dog needed the same. Freyja is not a dangerous dog, per se. But she is a dog.
She isn’t always friendly. In fact, someone leaving something on my doorknob for me once said he thought there was a bear in my house, from all the ruckus she created. She’s been known to lunge and bark at people and other dogs while we’re on walks (after a year and a half of training, she rarely does it now.) She’s imperfect, but she’s an absolutely wonderful companion, and has been amazing with her older foster sister. She’s also petrified of my cats.
It sounds like this dog, Boss, may have been irreparable. It’s hard to say. Freyja may have responded the same way. The critical missing element in this situation is lack of common sense. Boss was set up to fail because of the actions of the human being who was entrusted with his care, and he will pay for that lack of common sense with his life. Check out this link for info about dog body language, and this one for some illustrations. And here’s some fascinating info from the National Canine Research Council about contributing factors to dog bite fatalities.
I don’t know the mother, or anything about her other than what’s been reported, but that she permitted her young child to play with a troubled dog tells me that she may not have been quite the dog whisperer that she thought she was. I’ve seen many people call for her to be investigated by child services, which seems a bit histrionic. Despite her incredibly poor judgement where Boss was concerned, everything else indicates that she’s a caring mother.
On the other hand, the chortling of those who are shouting for breed bans and euthanization of any dog who’s not an elderly golden retriever is a bit much as well (on certain news sites). I’m always troubled by those who seemingly delight in the misery of another species. To expect behavioural perfection in a dog is absolutely ridiculous, and a huge double standard considering how laughingly imperfect every person alive is.
Cutting though the shouting on both sides, it comes down to education, and taking our responsibility seriously. We need to protect the vulnerable members of our society, be they small children, those who lack advantages that many of us take for granted, or the animals who depend on us.
As my friend Tanya put it, “Not all dogs are safe, and by trying to ‘fix’ dangerous dogs, you are breaking a breed I love. Why we set this breed up to fail so miserably, why we seem to need to find an enemy in a loving breed, I can’t begin to imagine.” Pit bulls are currently euthanized in very high numbers at shelters across North America, because the prejudice that has been built up against them means there are few homes available. According to one article, in the US they have a 93% euthanization rate, and only one in 600 pit bulls will ever have a forever home. How incredibly sad is that?
People who have dogs in their life need to be on their toes, and take that responsibility seriously because lives literally depend on it. Don’t set your dog up for failure. Know your own limits, and assume your dog can never be left alone with a child.
And while parents need to use common sense to protect their children, it’s also not reasonable to expect childhood to be a completely sanitized, risk-free bubble. I remember being bitten and nipped and barked at ferociously by virtually every dog I encountered when I was growing up. That same behaviour now would have people calling for euthanization. (For the record, most of these were small dogs.)
This didn’t have to happen. And only adult humans have sufficient agency to prevent it from happening again. I wish the child and her family my very best wishes as they recover from this terrible event.