Putting the onus on the owner

We were just about to order lunch when the manager briskly walked over.

“Do one of you have a dog tied to the sign out front?”

My husband flashed me the “I-told-you-so” look. Just a few moments earlier, we had a debate over where to tether the dog while we grabbed a quick bite. He proposed a parking meter, but I countered that it was in the flow of pedestrian traffic and perhaps the dog would be better off tucked to the side. There was a heavy metal sign displaying the restaurant’s lunch specials near the entryway, which would make a fine roost, I thought.

The spousal unit expressed his misgivings over the sturdiness of the sign, but I reassured him the dog, who slept 23 hours a day, wasn’t going to go anywhere – unless a sirloin-clad Persian cat happened by.

And, judging from the complete lack of amusement on the manager’s face, that is exactly what happened.

“He’s dragging the sign down the sidewalk,” he said.

I admitted ownership and followed him outside. There a small crowd had amassed, anxious to get a look at the sort of inhumane moron who would tie a helpless creature to a metal stand. The sign lay in a shambles on the sidewalk, and the dog was cowering in the arms of a stranger.

“A great dane ran right up to him, and he got scared and started running,” she said. “Then the sign fell over, and the clatter spooked him and he started running even faster with the sign still attached.”

As is my custom in situations of public humiliation, I started laughing. Not because I thought it was particularly funny, but more as a response to my complete and utter lapse in judgment.

I apologized profusely to the manager, who was trying to re-erect his now slightly askew sign, explaining that the dog was provoked. And then I uttered the five moist meaningless words in the English language that every pet owner at one time or another finds escaping his or her lips: “He’s never done that before.”

Of course, to a restaurateur whose Main Avenue signage was just destroyed during the Christmas rush, this was about as reassuring as if I had just told him “at least he didn’t pee on it.” I realized my lame efforts at reconciliation were not appreciated and instead humbly offered to pay for a new sign. I then thanked the good Samaritan for comforting my forlorn dog in his time of need and took the dog back to the office, where I should have left him in the first place.

And although the horrific shame, dread of a costly repair bill and immense guilt all were unsettling, they were nothing compared with the fact that all of it was 100 percent my fault and 100 percent preventable.

And therein lies the rub in pet ownership. Everything the animal does, whether under your supervision or not, is your responsibility. Sure, animal-control laws can help assuage the effects of poor choices in pet parenting. But the occasional slap on the wrist from the dog catcher only goes so far, and ultimately it is up to the human to decide whether to let the dog off the leash, tie it to a wobbly metal sign or let it roam freely.

Perhaps now, with the Dec. 23 mauling of an 8-year-old Pagosa Springs boy, this point has never been so painfully poignant.

And in the tragedy’s wake, the fickled finger of blame is flying – being pointed at everything from lax animal control regulations to the dogs themselves. Some of the solutions that have been mentioned include tighter dog-control laws as well as a ban on certain breeds.

course, these ignore one blatant culprit: the dog owner.

Laws are only good when one chooses to be informed and abide by them. And banning certain breeds, aside from having constitutional issues, will only make the dogs that much more coveted in certain sick minds. A less-popular opinion on this point is that a ban would only punish law-abiding, responsible pet owners of such “attack” breeds as pit bulls, Rottweilers, Dobermans and shepards.

And who will be entrusted with making the distinction between “good dogs” and “bad dogs.” In my life, I have personally known pit bulls that would be more likely to lick you to death than anything else (including one owned by a vet) as well as miniature poodles that could remove a limb if you so much as looked them wrong.

What this says to me is nurture is much stronger than nature. Regulations are not the answer; personal responsibility is. And if you happen to have a special affinity for a breed known to have a not-so-sunny disposition, you better make damn sure you can control this animal – or be ready to face the consequences of its actions.

Because when everything is said and done, whether it’s a piece of plywood or a little boy’s life that lies in shambles on the ground, “he’s never done that before” isn’t going to mean a thing.

– Missy Votel




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