This is the title of a new HBO series about a dog’s place in our life.
It covered puppy mills, rescue organizations, individual owners of vicious dogs and euthanasia.
Initially, I was not sure I wanted to watch the program. After years of raising Irish Setters and Longhaired Standard Dachshunds, I have a hard time watching animals not raised the way I raise my dogs, placed in the manner I place my dogs and monitored for life the way I monitor my dogs. Yet, I muddled through. In today's Blog I am going to speak to one specific segment of this program because Mediation might have helped all the parties involved.
The segment, involving vicious dogs, was near and dear to my heart. I believe dogs are not necessarily born vicious. Some inherit protective tendencies and if those tendencies are not gently guided or modified the dog exhibiting such propensities may need to be strictly supervised.
The program followed a doctor and his family who owned Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs. They were beautiful dogs and family pets. Yet, the family failed to recognize that their family pets, gentle and kind to them, were going back to their lineage and instinctive behaviors with strangers. These dogs were bred to be guard dogs, taking on lions to protect their masters. Family friends were not immune from the ferocity of these dogs. When the dogs were left alone with a friend or stranger, they bit. Each time they bit someone the dog’s owner, a doctor, asked the victim and their families to remain quiet. He paid all required medical expenses. This worked several times, until one of the more aggressive/protective dogs ripped off a small girl’s ear.
Multiple court proceedings ensued, the doctor's professional life was ruined, his family's life and reputation in the small town was ruined and ultimately the dog was euthanized. It was inevitable given the lying and avoidance of addressing the bigger issues surrounding the care and containment of dogs that had exhibited vicious tendencies. As a mediator of conflicts between people involving an animal, I understand how hard it is to have the kind of conversation needed after the first bite. Everyone is frightened and in both physical and emotional pain. The owner of the dog wanted to keep it quiet so his dog wouldn't get a reputation. The victim and her family were new to the town and didn't know what to do and didn't want to create enemies.
If we look at the incident as it confronted the first victim, had they used a tool for effective communication, Mediation, a discussion may have occurred and precautions discussed and implemented. This discussion and implementation may have saved later victims from the trauma of their injuries and encounters. Mediation, if implemented at the onset of a conflict between people involving an animal, is a process that affords the victim the ability to speak about how they feel, what they would like to implement to prevent something like this from happening again and have all their medical expenses paid. The doctor would also have been able to speak about how this was the first such act by this dog and listen to suggested steps he could take to insure such an attack would never occur again. By remaining silent, covering up for the dog and never having a meaningful conversation, the doctor, the victim and the dog all suffered serious consequences. And so did the future victims.
This was a clear case of, "locking the door after the horse was stolen." Had the requirements to lock up the dogs behind a huge fence and keep them in constant care and control of the owners when other than family members were present on the premises, after the first bite, the initial victim and the owner would have done a far better service to each other and the dogs than keeping silent. By keeping silent, the dogs were allowed to maintain a lifestyle that endangered non-family members or their dogs. This is an unacceptable outcome that could have been ameliorated by the early and confidential use of Mediation.
In the end, the dog that ripped off the child's ear was euthanized. The other dogs were put in a fenced enclosure inside a fenced enclosure. The child withstood painful surgeries, other victims were injured or traumatized by the dogs and being ordered to euthanize a vicious dog traumatized the dog’s owners. It is the way in which people handle incidents such as these that spell disaster or compromise.
In my mediation practice, addressing a conflict of this kind between parties involving a dog at the initial stages and in a manner that addresses the dog’s conduct and the safety of others may have enabled all to remain unharmed in each others presence. It may have been as simple as putting in a kennel room where the dogs would be housed when non family members where in the same space as the dogs. This may have been suggested by the first victim or the dog owners and been implemented, thereby eliminating the threat from the dogs going forward. Yet, they all chose to treat the victim and remain silent, resulting in future injuries, trauma and the ultimate death of the dog.
If you have an issue involving a dog, and a conflict ensues, please consider using mediation to talk about alternatives and options. In this case study it may have meant the difference between life and death.