Today my frustration level reached about, oh, a 6 on a 1 – 10 scale. A young man in his early twenties has a Pit Bull Terrier tied in his backyard. The Pit Bull, which to some, has become the signature of virility and machismo. For many, to own a Pit Bull, is to say, “I’m a bad a..” Here I am writing about IRRESPONSIBLE ownership.
Anyway, this sweet Pit Bull, a female, maybe 1 year old, had her chain twisted in a chain link fence. She had about 2 feet of tether so she had no freedom to move. The temperature today was 100 degrees. She was forced to lay in the sun, her water 30 feet away. How long she had been like that, I have no idea. I know she was in distress. It took me several minutes to untangle her as she was jumping and climbing all over me, scratching my arms and face with her unattended nails, anxious to be freed. When I loosed her she ran to some water and some shade to rest. She was exhausted, overheated and alone. All I could do was walk away with an ache in my heart.
Why? Why do people acquire a dog to take home and tie it outside to live alone in the elements? Simply, I don’t know.
We have Dexter, a Great Pyrenees, and Nekayah, a Louisiana Catahoula Leopard. Both are large dogs. When we come home they greet us with tales wagging and smiles. They are very happy and emotionally healthy dogs. I have never seen a happy dog chained in the backyard. The dog in the backyard is often excited to see its owner, but that is because it is so lonely and depressed, not because the dog is happy or emotionally healthy.
My back yard is fenced. In my back door we have a dog door. My door is kept closed, but my dogs can go in and out as the wish. Dexter loves the winter. He goes out and lies for hours. Sometimes we cannot see him as he lets the snow cover him. They go in or out as their comfort dictates. They have water both outside and in the house. We can go and come knowing both dogs are comfortable. They are never thirsty, overheated, or unduly cold. If I could not provide for them in this manner I have no business having them.
Think about this from the dog’s perspective. I can do this because that is my specialty. I am the Dog Listener. Dogs tell me what they think and how they feel. A study published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, 1996, by Michael Hennessy, show how dogs prefer human companionship over other dogs. That was a study, cutting edge research, almost twenty years past. Since that study there have been a myriad of research that have made this former hypothesis a fact.
This, alone, being true, why would one tie a dog outside to suffer loneliness, fear, confusion, isolation and whatever the elements delivered? Why? What rational argument or defense can one mount for doing this? Much education and advocacy is essential regarding this cruelty. The thinking many have is that a dog, being a dog, can be happy and healthy just being in the backyard. I have seen hundreds of these “back yard dogs” and I have never seen a dog, tied in the backyard that is either happy or healthy. Again, because they jump and bark when the owner appears is not an indicator that the dog is happy or healthy.
We know the negative effects when a baby is born and left without attention, affection or interaction. The effects are both myriad and terrible. So it is with dogs. Dogs are very social animals. Dogs do not develop healthily without human interaction. To leave a dog to live and survive alone, outside in ones backyard is one of the most psychologically damaging things one can do to a dog. Any responsible dog owner is charged with providing a safe, secure, quiet place to live as part of a family. Only in this place does the dog have the opportunity to develop an emotionally healthy life and experience a secure human animal bond.
As I write this, Dexter, my Great Pyrenees, is laying beside my chair, his head oriented toward me. As I smile with affection and periodically stroke him my brain and body respond in a calming emotion. This is very important for Dexter also. He is calm, secure, has no fear, no uncertainty, and is very important to his mental, emotional health and is evidence of a bonded human animal relationship. I cannot imagine Dexter tied up outside, dirty, insecure and both of us alone. I would consider that cruel and inhumane.
I work with many of these outside dogs. They tend to be less responsive to training, requiring more work. They develop stereotypical behaviors, compulsive disorders and have little to no socialization skills. These outside dogs have more stress related illnesses, infestations and mental issues ranging from mild to severe. Many of these maladies also range from hard to impossible to overcome. I hate to admit it, but many of these dogs, by the time they get to me, are too damaged to be restored to a healthy, emotionally balanced life. There are times when less than the best has to be settled for. These are the dogs that end upin shelters and, very often, euthanized. Not because of something the dog has done, but is the end result of what an irresponsible owner has created.
Most people, responsible pet owners, acquire a dog for the purpose of relationship. A relationship is not two or more just living together. Ask any wife and she will affirm this proposition. There needs to be positive, loving interaction. Violate this and I can think of no faster way to destroy a relationship. Enhance a positive, affectionate interaction and two will build a bonding relationship. I can think of no better way to build a bonding relationship with a dog than through force-free, marker training. This kind of interaction builds quickly the human animal bond resulting in a reciprocal loving relationship with one’s pet. Dogs long for this kind of relationship, thriving in this environment and become emotionally healthy members of the family.
I have been asked, “What about working dogs, Border Collies or Great Pyrenees? They work outside, often for long hours. How does this apply to them? Rather than give a long answer to this question, which is a valid inquiry, I would make this referral. One can begin understanding this concern by reading Patricia McConnell.
For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend, The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs. These two books are a good place to begin to understand the premise of this article. Dogs, any dog, are about human relationships. This is in their DNA. There is no other animal in the human world like a dog. Humans are healthier both mentally and physically because of a dog in their life. Did you know that a dog is the only animal that will follow our finger pointing or our eye movement?
The other day my Great Pyrenees, Dexter, was laying on the floor. I thought I would test this point. I stood a distance from him and the front door. Now all Dexter has to see is his leash and he is up and at the door spinning in excitement. I stood very stoic. All I did was shift my eyes from Dexter to the door, back to Dexter, then the door. His head cocked, his ears came forward. He looked at the door then back at me. I repeated the process. His paws shifted as his head raised. “Does he mean what I think? Is he going to take me for a walk? Oh I hope so!” Now, without hesitation, Dex lifted his 100 lbs. went to the door saying, ‘Let’s go!.’” A dog records our every move, eye brow shift, smile, glance, and gesture. They miss nothing. The dog often knows what we are about to do before we have decided.
Unless you want this kind of relationship, for heavens sake, do not get a dog. If you get a dog don’t be an irresponsible dog owner and chain the wonderful thing outside. To do that is callous, cruel and abusive.
Now, about Cecil the Lion. What a beautiful specimen of its breed. He stood out with his coal black main and his slow lumbering pace. He was the attraction of the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe, Africa. Millions, knowing of him came to see this King of the forest.He was 13 years old and had developed his own pride. Somehow Cecil knew he was special and could play to the camera. Cecil wore a collar so scientists could track his every move. Cecil provided information to science that otherwise would have taken years to acquire. He was a protected Lion. He waas not a candidate for hunting, legal or otherwise. I understand the need for culling wildlife heards. It is for the health and balance of nature. Culling is a process that is strictly controlled by law. To violate these laws is to poach, the illigal killing of a protected species. I will not get into PETA or other groups who raise either pros or cons concerning culling. Culling is a part of protecting wildlife just as death is a part of life.
That said, Cecil wore a tracking collar and the information gleaned over those 13 years led to the safety and protection of thousands of cubs growing to adulthood. He was famous in the animal world. Cecil’s death will now insure the killing of his 6 cubs by the new dominante male.
Cecil died as the result of poaching. He was lured beyond the border of the park and senselessly killed. His head with that distinctive main was severed and his body left to rot in the African sun. His head and main were wanted as a trophy. Now, granted his death, the death of one lion in Africa, doesn’t affect my daily life, except as this leads to the issue of how callous man can become. “Cecil is just an animal. He is good for just a trophy. He is an animal without feelings or emotions. He is a mindless creature, a robot of nature.” This is also what we hear about dogs. “It’s just an animal. Dogs have no feelings or emotions. They are incapable of feeling love.” This is the argument of gaming people in the blood sports who cruelly fight dogs to the death. And if a dog isn’t killed in the ring, the owner kills the dog for being weak.
Descartes, as with thousands, believed because a dog is soulless they are just machines of nature. As a result of that philosophy Descartes could nail a dog to a board and ignore the howls because the howls emanated from a mechanical response and had nothing to do with feeling or pain.
My point? If we can reduce a dog to nothingness, to an animal without feeling or the capcity to feel, then we can perpetrate any evil upon it without conscience. Thus killing Cecil or a dog is no different that dicing a carrot or slitting a tire. This changing of something to nothing can be applied to animals or the subject of abortion.
Think about it!