Saturday, July 31, 2010

Two newspapers, two fatal dog attacks, two different styles of reporting

Today, a dog killed another 2-year old child. This time in San Diego. As sad and tragic as this horrific incident is, it unfortunately stands as an example of inequitable news coverage.

California has seen two recent fatal. In one, a dog identified as a Pit Bull killed a 2 year old in northern California.  Today, a dog identified as a German Shepherd killed a toddler.

Let's take a look at how two media outlets reported the attacks.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported the "Pit Bull" attack as follows:
Owner of pitbulls that killed CA boy arrested.
It even reported on a nonfatality involving a dog identified as "Pit Bull":
Pit bull bites 7-year-old Oakland girl in the face

The German Shepherd attack was headlined as, "Dog mauls toddler to death in Tierrasanta"

San Francisco chronicle also reported on the German shepherd story: 2-year-old mauled to death by family dog

But when a Pit Bull simply bit a girl in the face in the Oakland incident, the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned the breed in the headline: Pit Bull bites 7-year old Oakland girl in the face.

And the Concord fatality:
Step-grandfather talks about killer pit bulls

The unequal reporting makes an association between "Pit Bull" and attack or mauling but not other breeds because the other breeds generally aren't mentioned in the headline. Unless you clicked on the story of the German shepherd, you'd have no idea what the breed was (and may have even assumed it to be a Pit Bull because that's what people are used to seeing in headline news). The day the Oakland girl was bitten in the face by a Pit Bull, other children in the bay area were bitten by dogs not identified as Pit Bulls. It happens every day in every city in America, and yet most were not reported.

The old adage, "Dog bites man, isn't news. Man bites dog, is news," has taken a dark turn in today's society. Now, it's "Dog bites man, isn't news. Pit Bull bites anything, it's headline news."

Friday, July 30, 2010

Thanks to one prejudiced woman and an anti-Pit Bull shelter, Chako was founded

Today I met with a nice gal interested in volunteering for Chako. She asked me how and why I founded Chako, so I told her The Story. I've told it only a handful of times, but it's both sad and amusing at the same time.

I was a graduate student at Texas A&M in 1996. I bought a house there, since Texas real estate was ridiculously cheap at the time (a shock to someone like me from California). Being young and naive, I decided I'd get a dog (nevermind the instability of a college student's life, budget issues, etc.). I grew up around Pit Bulls. My parents owned champion show and weight pull dogs. I knew I wanted a Pit Bull. I wasn't going to show my dog, however. I just wanted a companion.

So, I eagerly strolled into the only shelter in the small duet town known as Bryan-College Station. That was the Brazos County Animal Shelter.

I walked up to the lady at the counter and said, "I'd like to adopt a dog. Do you have any Pit Bulls?"

She looked at me like I was about to pull out an Uzi and pepper the place with bullets. Her eyes went narrow and she replied, "No. We don't adopt out vicious dogs."

Of course, I knew Pit Bulls had a bad rap, but not quite that bad. "Pit Bulls aren't vicious," I told her.

"Why do you want a Pit Bull? Only drug dealers have Pit Bulls."

I found the conversation very strange. Only drug dealers have Pit Bulls? What the hell did that make my parents? Would I have to start checking their sock drawers?

I took a breath. "I'm not a drug dealer. I'm a doctoral candidate at Texas A&M University."

She shrugged. "Sorry, but we don't adopt out Pit Bulls."

"Well, what do you do with them when you get them?" I asked.

"We euthanize them," she responded, matter-of-factly.

I was astonished. "What do you do with puppies?" I mean, they had to have some kind of system for puppies.

"We euthanize them, too."

"Even puppies?!" What kind of sick, cruel, twisted organization would kill puppies? I wondered.

"Yes. We don't adopt out vicious dogs," she repeated.

"Well, if you get one that you're going to euthanize, can you call me?"

Her eyes narrowed again, and she tilted her head. "What? Do you mean like a rescue?"

I had never heard about "rescue" before, but I figured out what it must be from the context. "Yes," I replied, without hesitation.

She pushed a ledger book toward me. "Put your information into the rescue book."

I did.

Then, I went home and researched Pit Bull rescues on what counted as the Internet at that time. There were virtually none. The United Kennel Club had a national rescue, but that no longer existed.

So, I formed the Chako Pit Bull Rescue Association (what it was called back then) and started pulling dogs from the Brazos County Animal Shelter.

Soon thereafter, I got a call from a woman named Deirdre about a dog in a shelter. The name of the shelter escapes me. The dog was a Pit Bull, and it was scheduled to be euthanized because the shelter had a policy that mandated all Pit Bulls be killed. She volunteered at the shelter.

I became a woman on a mission to save that dog, writing faxes, making phone calls -- you name it. It was so long ago, I can't remember for sure what the outcome was, but I think they ended up transfering the dog to another shelter that did not have a "kill all Pit Bulls" policy. (Oh, how I wish I could remember for sure.)

Anyway, Deirdre ended up adopting a dog from Chako. That dog was named Carla. Her name today is Carla Lou, and she just celebrated her 16th birthday. Oh, and she happens to be the mascot for the wildly successful Pinups for Pitbulls, which Deirdre founded.

People often ask me how I came up with the name "Chako." It's in honor of my childhood dog, Chako. He was the greatest dog that ever lived. I swear. Yes, I know everyone's childhood dog is the greatest dog, but really he was! (Apologies to my current dogs, Tauri and Savvy, who thankfully cannot read this blog).

I had a vision in my head of Chako somehow falling into different circumstances, through no fault of his own, and ending up in one of those "no Pit Bulls" shelters. I imagined him in a concrete cage, alone, until finally someone went into his kennel, snapped a leash on him, and walked him to a room where he'd be killed...for no other reason than he happened to be a Pit Bull.

I get teary eyed just thinking about it, and it never even happened. So, for all the "GREATEST DOGS IN THE WORLD" out there who have found themselves--through no fault of their own--homeless, Chako Pit Bull Rescue exists. Unfortunately, we cannot save them all, but we can save one at a time.

And that is the story behind Chako Pit Bull Rescue.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Top 15 fatal or serious dog attacks in recent U.S. history that were not caused by Pit Bulls and not heavily reported in the media

There has been a lot of talk in northern California lately about Pit Bulls and possibly banning them because, frankly, "we only really hear about Pit Bulls killing people."

Of course, we know that's not true. In 1980, the first year the CDC study covered fatal dog bites, Great Danes topped the list of dogs that killed people.

But the issue isn't about breed. It's about making sure that people who own dogs choose to own dogs that are SAFE around people and managed responsibly -- regardless of breed. It's about not having a false sense of security because one owns a Labrador or a Golden Retriever or a Border Collie (all of which have been involved in fatalities or serious dog attacks on human beings).

It's about preventing deaths from any dog, regardless of breed.

We are going to take a moment and remember the victims of fatal dog bites from dogs other than Pit Bulls, to remind people that, if we really care about public safety and making sure people aren't seriously hurt or killed by dogs, that we cannot and should not just focus on one breed of dog.

Below are 15 recent fatal or VERY serious dog attacks across the United States that have not made national news:

  1. Carolyn Mahon, Rottweiler, Florida, critcally injured.
  2. Kyle Holland, five years old, killed, Labrador and German Shepherd/Husky mix, Michigan
  3. Hoa Yun, Rottweiler, killed, Oceanside, CA
  4. Krystal Brink, 3 years old, killed, "Sled Dog," Alaska
  5. Olivia Rozek, infant, killed, Illinois, Siberian Husky
  6. Boys, Labrador and German Shepherd, MD
  7. James Sims, 11 years old, Labrador, mauled, Washington State
  8. Christian Elder, 3 years old, Labrador, lost ear in the attack, Virginia
  9. Ashlynn Anderson, killed, 4 years old, Oregon, Rottweiler
  10. Robert Hocker, infant, killed, Husky, Minnesota
  11. Liam Perk, 2 years old, killed, Florida, Weimaraner
  12. Baby (name not released), critical condition, Labrador Retriever, Kansas
  13. Triston Reed, 9 years old, mauled, Washington, Border Collie
  14. Dustin Faulkner, 3 years old, killed, Husky, Georgia
  15. Kate-Lynn Logel, 7 years old, killed, Denver area, Colorado, Alaskan Malamutes
Chako advocates euthanizing dogs, of any breed, that are vicious or have demonstrated that they are a danger to human beings. We believe in tough laws that hold people criminally responsible if they keep a dog they know to be dangerous, and that dog hurts a human being. We want to have all dogs treated humanely and to be kept as family pets, not isolated in small kennels, back yards, or kept on chains their entire lives. We don't want a single child to die from a dog bite, ever -- regardless of the breed of dog involved. We want to see all dog owners be held equally responsible for their pets and equally accountable for any injuries their dogs cause.

We hope the media reports responsibly on this issue, and gives comparable coverage to dog bites of all breeds, based on the severity of the bite and the injury, not the breed involved. We care about all dogs and all people, and we want to see society deal responsibly with this issue, for all dogs and all human beings.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Heroism forgotten, mauling not

His name is Thor, and despite the toughness of his name, he's a marshmallow. When a fire started in Thor's home, he barked to wake his family, and then he grabbed the bassinet where the family's three-month old baby lay and dragged it to the front door.

"It sounds like the real hero here is the family pit bull," said Frank Connolly, assistant executive director of the Elkhart County Red Cross. Source: WSBT-TV

If not for Thor, the family, including the baby, would have died.

But Thor didn't make major headlines. Hardly anyone remembers him or what he did so very recently.

The nation, however, is talking about dogs (identified as Pit Bulls, but we don't know for sure what they were yet) that mauled a two year in Concord, CA -- dogs that rarely (if ever) got to sleep inside a home with the family. They were left outside or in the garage, isolated, undersocialized, nervous around strangers since they weren't walked outside and rarely exposed to new people or new places.

Because some other dogs, somewhere else, that were never really treated as family pets killed an unsupervised child that wandered into his grandparents' garage (a child that was almost a stranger to the undersocialized dogs, especially the dog described as most aggressive), dogs like Thor who get to sleep inside and, in their spare time, save families and babies from burning buildings, will pay a horrific price... as will their owners.

Dogs are simply dogs. It is up to the Human species to do right by them, since we have chosen to bring them into our world. Embarking on a campaign to villify creatures that are incapable of truly understanding right from wrong and completely rely on us for their housing, feeding, training, and socialization is not only wrong, it's cruel and stupid.

The Human species needs to get its act together -- and not by banning or villifying animals that aren't as intelligent as we think we are. We need to ensure that children like Kate-Lynn logel (killed my malamutes), Kyle Holland (killed by a labrador/husky mix), Krystal Brink (killed by sled dogs), and Nicholas Faibish (killed by a Pit Bull type dog) are remembered, not because of the breeds they were killed by, but because of what they have tragically demonstrated.

Animals are animals. If we don't do right by them, if we don't treat them humanely, socialize them, train them, and (if need be) humanely euthanize the ones that just aren't safe, then both species will pay the price.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dog Reactivity

We finished our second Dog Reactivity Workshop (well, four sessions total, if you want to be technical, since each was broken up into two small groups). I want to give a big round of applause to the students (both human and canine) who completed the workshops.

For those who did not attend, here are some tips to managing dog reactivity in your dog. First, try to determine why your dog is reacting to other dogs (in a way you disapprove of, we assume). Is the dog excited, wanting to play? Anxious? Fearful? Dominant? Acting out of prey drive?

If your dog is fearful, avoid harsh corrections whenever possible. Imagine that you have a phobia. Say it's spiders or snakes or bees or enclosed spaces. Then imagine that you're confronted with that thing you're afraid of. The spider is crawling toward you. It's big. It's black. You can see its eyes and hairy ickiness. Then imagine that while you're about to freak out, someone starts slapping and yelling at you.

Obviously, they won't be helping your situation. The better way to deal with fear is through prolonged, slow desensization. You see a photo of a spider. Then you look at a spider from across the room. Etc. All the time, you're working on relaxation techniques or getting positive reinforcement (dollar bills, chocolate, whatever your particular lust is). If you got a five dollar bill just for looking at a spider across the room, you might not mind looking at one so much.

That's not to say correction isn't appropriate at times. Let's say your dog isn't particularly fearful but is prey driven. The dog is acting on instinct wanting to go after an animal. It could be a squirrel or a cat or whatever. In those situations, your dog may or may not want to take a reinforcer (like a treat or even a toy). It's focused on the smaller thing. That squirrel consumes its vision. You want to combine some desensitization work (seeing squirrels in the distance) with correction and reinforcement...but the key is to make sure the correction is approrpriate for your dog. A verbal correction such as "eh-eh" may often do for softer dogs. Once you get your dog out of the "zone" and looking at you, reward it. Give it a very tasty treat. Its favorite toy. A butt scratch. Whatever your dog really likes. Rinse and repeat.

Then work toward reinforcing your dog for choosing to look at you (rather than being prompted). Maybe you see the squirrel across the street. You've already practiced getting your dog out of the zone. Now see how your dog does on his or her own. Don't say or do anything, just be a pole. Wait your dog out. At some point, your dog is probably going to get over it and look at you. The moment he or she does! Bingo! Reward! And make sure you've got a super duper special reward. No, I don't mean kibble. No, not a dog biscuit. I'm talking about cooked steak or chicken. Something smelly and tasty and yummy (this assumes your dog is motivated by food or treats, and make sure he's hungry). Even "jackpot" the dog for choosing to look at you (that means give him a handful). Bestow verbal praise. Then end on that positive note.

It takes work. It takes repetition. But soon you will likely have a dog that, when it sees another dog or a squirrel, automatically looks at you and asks, "Where's the treat?" (or ball or...whatever).

Use correction to remind a dog that behavior isn't tolerated and as a consequence for a dog that blows you off after it knows what is expected (and, yes, they do). Dogs are creatures of consequence. They learn that behavior equals consequences, so you want to give positive consequences for desired behavior and negative consequences for undesired behavior. A negative consequence can be as simple as not getting a treat, being ignored, or not moving forward--if that is appropriately "unpleasant" for your dog. I won't go into correction too much in a blog, because it's really the most misused form of dog training and benefits more from demonstrations. Otherwise, you risk doing more harm than good.

However, if you focus on trying to reward desired behavior, you can't do a whole lot of harm, even if you mess up and reinforce the wrong behavior. It's a lot easier to recover from wrongly reinforcing a dog than wrongly correcting a dog, especially with sensitive or soft dogs.