There are a few people left who actually walk down city sidewalks, while SUVs stampede away into shopping oblivion. Already contending with occasional drunken derelicts, these folks are sometimes outnumbered by stray dogs in their vicinity. Why? Just why? Many dogs have simply been let out by their owners to do their thing. Some are on permanent urine patrol. Some have adopted any neighborhood as their own private toilet. The only good they do is to keep the cats in the trees, eating birds. Plus, there are the dogs already tied up or fenced, who are a major nuisance anyway, barking like they've just seen Jurassic Park. Doesn't anyone realize that some people who walk down the street are not terrorists, but frail or sensitive souls, possibly trying to recover from a stressful illness? It doesn't matter the breed, any of these dogs can look like a threat - that's enough. In fact, no dog is 100% safe - especially to a stranger.
I've had hundreds of friendly encounters with strange or stray dogs. I've also had times when dogs were basically sent charging at me. Once I told a stranger not to get too friendly with my dog, and the guy nearly bit my head off. Why'd I tell him this? Because my dog had bitten me once! That's the risk. Anyone who's ever seen a dogfight knows you don't fight fire with hugs and kisses - you respect and deal with the problem, better than a dog would. Being tough on
dogs doesn't make you a dog-hater. It means you care, dog gone it!
What we have in this city is a people problem. Often, an atmosphere of neglect and negativity is reinforced by an elevation of irresponsibility into some kind of right. Those who act as if they are above the law fail to comprehend that most laws were meant to benefit them and their neighborhoods. Instead of working together to better everyone’s environment, or to change the laws, some people want to be little Napoleons, dominating their neighborhoods, with the pathetic, passive aggressive, help of their pit bulls, their pollution, or sometimes even their children. This is compounded by a degree of benign neglect, or underfunding, of our police departments and public officials. Into this ethical void creeps vindictiveness, vandalism and violence. Dog Eat dog.
The “dog gone people problem” is most pronounced when it comes to the ownership of dogs which were bred for fighting - the shorthaired, pug-nosed breeds, primarily put bulls. Let's face it, any dog can suddenly turn aggressive, turn on a baby, or even kill someone. However, this volatility is most serious in poorly disciplined dogs, dogs bred for fighting, and dogs in a group.
Enter the pit bull, which is sometimes all three. Pit bulls in Rockford are assumed to be mean. That is one reason why some people buy them - as tokens of intimidation. Consequently, pit bulls are encouraged to look, or sometimes to act, mean - both by owners and by strangers. It is a vicious cycle. Why should we ban or regulate the pit bull because of a people problem? For the same reason we take guns away from children. For the greater social good.
Every pit bull owner thinks his dog is true blue, lovable and cuddly. That's because, even more than other breeds, pit bulls were bred to fight, and they fight because they are loyal. They can be sweet to everyone they know, but if they believe they own a turf, they may kill for it. That's how it is. This, "my dog is a special angel," with a hint of, "well, its also nice that people are afraid of him," mentality can be a kind of narcissism, reinforced by the dreaded hippie cat people, who believe that all animals are blameless.
I was willing to keep an open mind to this "pitiful pit bull" philosophy when I met a potential volunteer for my charitable organization. This fellow wanted to "cooperate" on a citywide project, but mainly wasted hours of my time talking about himself and his agenda. It never entered his mind that, say, I might suffer from a serious medical condition or, say, mymorganisation has its own projects to advance. One thing he talked about was his pit bull.
"People are amazed that my dog is so nice," he said, "They ask me if I would let them make him meaner." Too sad. But this guy went on and on like poor pit bulls should be everywhere. Come on, give it a break. Also, besides insulting me, he thought it was important that I know everything about how muscular he was. "I can even do push-ups with my side muscles!" - huh?
When he lay down on the street, and started squirming around, barking, "See, look at me!," I suddenly realized, "Hey! Wait a minute! This guy is a pit bull!"
Conclusion: There is a correlation of weirdness and pit bull owners. At least, this is what I am beginning to suspect. Why would someone own a pit bull in the first place, go around preaching about how wonderful he is, and also act as if he has a right to set everyone else's agenda? Before I had a chance to get back to this guy, he was leaving rude messages on my answering machine.
We are lucky to be able to own dogs in the first place. Other towns have banned vicious dogs or fighting breeds. I say there is nothing extreme about regulating pit bulls, mastiffs, and rotweillers, at least until all owners of these dogs know how to regulate them either by virtue or by habit. Until the weird, negative attitude in this city gives way to something more mature.
Until there is no longer a need for such organizations as Rot Rescue. I am talking about the self-respect of our wider society.
I was minding my own business on my organization's wooded lot. Two pit bulls were wandering around, relieving themselves, etc., on that property. I rounded up the dogs and lead them off the private property. Soon a fellow came barreling onto the property, yelling at me - backed up, of course, by his dogs and two other guys. He proceeded to try to lodge his face down my throat, thinking, perhaps, he had just been invited onto the set of the Jerry Springer show. In this way, he tried to convince me that his dogs were nice, fun dogs, and that I was trying to take over his neighborhood. I informed him that this behavior was called assault. He told me he was so angry at me because I was, "some white guy." So here we have a pit bull on private property, stray by
its master's permission, somehow granting its master the right not only to (allegedly) trespass on private property, but to (allegedly) perpetrate assault, threats, verbal obscenity, and so forth, even if they were hate crimes. By the time it was all over, he was shaking my hand and apologizing for being drunk, but this newcomer never demonstrated just why he and his dogs were such fine examples for the neighborhood.
Again: I think all dogs are wonderful. But I don't think some dogs are so wonderful that they or their owners may tell us all to stay inside as if we were the dogs, or else to roll over and accept whatever magnanimous agenda their owners command. I am not talking about individuals, I am talking about a real trend in our city: stray dogs, vicious dogs, intimidating dogs. I am talking about a people problem letting it go wild, dulling away the cheerfulness and sweeter wilderness that used to breathe easily in our neighborhoods. Maybe, just maybe, the idea of keeping dogs fenced up, of taking them for walks on a leash, of disciplining them to be socially aware, considerate, and respectful, has existed for hundreds of years because this was a policy that worked for hundreds of years. Now, when we walk down the street we have to calculate and negotiate totally unnecessary threats. Who let the dogs out?
What do I propose? Appropriate fencing or leashing of all dogs. Set-back fencing or privacy fencing for all fighting breeds, and special licenses for ownership of more than one fighting breed dog, especially in trouble areas of the city, with mandatory neutering/spaying. Increased funding for animal control. A more efficient "911" type system for reporting animal nuisances and emergencies, including the distress of all pets, operable at all hours. A better system of tracking and mapping animal ownership and nuisance trends. A ban of vicious dogs. Finally, all dogs should take courses on cat-friendliness, and be prohibited from watching Jurassic Park.