Monday, October 02, 2006

Dog Bites Man, Woman, Child, ... But That's OK

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this post about the complaint that Simone Powell and Kevin Skerrett filed with the Ottawa Humane Society, after they were denied a chance to adopt a Lhasa Apso that failed the OHS's temperament tests. I expected, in common with others, that this little spat would be a storm in the proverbial teacup and would have faded from memory by now.

However, the Powell-Skerretts have apparently been so angered by the euthanasia of the dog they found that they have gone beyond 'Angry from Ottawa' letters to the newspaper and founded the grandly-titled campaign to 'Reform the Ottawa Humane Society'. They have set up a website at in which they post copies of their correspondence with the OHS Executive Director and Board, along with newspaper clips and exhortations to readers to take action against the OHS.

Now, while they claim to be supporters of the OHS, it is public knowledge that this couple had never owned a dog. Nor, we can infer, had they ever been to the OHS, or anywhere else, with the intention of adopting a dog. No, their interest in getting a dog was a secret between them and their maker until one day the Lhasa in question crossed their path. Ahhhhh, how adorable. It's a common tail, but it's no way to decide to get a dog, or to choose the right dog. We don't know if they ever did their research, looked at breed options, learned about training and health, looked into behavioural issues, until the day they found the stray.

So they take the dog to the shelter and the dog is found to be food-aggressive. In keeping with policies based in the real world, where space and funds are limited, where lawyers salivate around potential dog-bite victims and where real people have to make tough decisions no matter how cute the dog, the dog was euthanized. Suddenly the Skerrett-Powells become instant behaviour experts. The tone of their letters to the OHS, and their op-ed in today's Citizen (subscriber only) is one of immense arrogance. They march in, off the street, never having owned a dog, and expect to be taken on as advisors to the Board of Directors of the OHS. Nice work if you can get it.

Now. We at DTP love dogs, if that wasn't already abundantly clear. I am dafter than daft about my corgis, or any other dog for that matter (except Weimaraners; try as I might, I just can't see the point of a Weimy). We've worked hard to take care of our dogs, and we've spent years reading, researching, learning, training, going to shows and being mentored by some wonderful breeders and experts. We love dogs. But we don't take chances with aggression. We've had to re-home a dog we loved who was aggressive with other dogs, because neither we, nor his breeder, wanted to take a chance - we have a toddler and a toddler in the middle of a corgi fight wouldn't come out in good shape. There wasn't a debate, or a 'maybe we can make this work'. It's an absolute; anything else is foolhardy and needlessly risky. Loving dogs fully requires us to be hard-nosed sometimes.

There are too many dogs in our cities. Puppy mills and backyard breeders, pet stores and an uneducated public produce scores of unwanted puppies every year. The shelters do what they can. But money is limited. So they have no choice but to save the most adoptable dogs. Food aggresion is extremely dangerous; it only takes a child to have something the dog wants in his or her hand and you're looking at a whole different newspaper story from the one the Powell-Skerretts want to tell us.

The Skerrett-Powells want rehabilitation programs, appeals on euthanasia cases, and so forth. If they want to pay, I'd say go for it. If they want to underwrite the legal costs and insurance policy of a shelter releasing aggressive dogs - great. Until then, it's warm and fuzzy thinking with no basis in reality. And until they get real, they have no place in the boardroom of the OHS and they should have no business campaigning against the Society.