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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one

Registry won’t end dog issue

I like dogs.

I don’t have one now, but we had two when I was growing up — a husky named Bambi, followed by a black lab mix named Casper. Many of my friends had dogs, and I was pretty comfortable around them. But I never forgot that dogs are animals, and I’m even more cognizant of this fact today.

When I’m out walking, few things make me more uncomfortable than an unleashed and unfamiliar dog bounding up to me. Rather than bend over backward to assure the owner that I’m OK with dogs, I usually make a point of stopping until the dog is called off. After all, I don’t know this strange dog. What if it likes to bite? And while most people are quick to call off their dogs, there are exceptions. On a few occasions, I’ve encountered a woman whose dog makes a habit of running up to strangers and barking at them.

“He’s friendly,” this woman assured me, when I stopped and waited for her to tell her dog to knock it off. “He just likes to bark.”

I felt annoyed, but not with the dog.

When an unleashed dog runs up to strangers and barks at them, it’s the fault of the owner. The dog hasn’t been properly restrained or adequately trained — perhaps both. After all, training a dog is hard work. Not everybody is up to the task, which is why there are obedience schools and dog trainers, and why Cesar Millan, aka The Dog Whisperer, was able to create a hit reality TV show in which he rehabilitated problem dogs.

I can only speculate about what Millan would have to say about the Schenectady pit bull and bull mastiff who are accused of leaping out a window at their home, running across the street, attacking a smaller dog being walked by its owner, causing the dog’s death. I have no doubt that such behavior would cause most experts to classify the offending dogs as problem dogs.

Especially if it was the third time said dogs had been accused of attacking other dogs.

I can tell you exactly how many times Bambi and Casper leaped out a window and killed a dog walking down the street: zero. In fact, I’m not personally acquainted with any dogs who have ever done such a thing.

Perhaps that’s why I find it easy to sympathize with the owner of the dead dog, a 25-pound terrier named Templeton. It must be terrifying, not to mention traumatic, to stand by helplessly while unfamiliar, unleashed dogs mutilate and inflict wounds that would ultimately kill your beloved pet.

“One dog had one end of my dog, and the other had the other end of my dog,” Templeton’s owner, Rebecca Cignal, told The Gazette shortly after the attack. “I was screaming. I didn’t let go of the leash, because I was afraid they would carry the dog off.”

This week a court hearing will determine the fate of the pit bull and bull mastiff owned by the McKearn family, who last week surrendered their dogs to the city. In a story by the Gazette’s Kathleen Moore, the dogs come off as calm and well-behaved around people. Which is great. I like dogs that are calm and well-behaved around people.

But their attacks on other dogs are frightening — red flags that should have prompted the city to take action earlier.

Shortly before the attack on Templeton, the dogs were accused of attacking a dog in Niskayuna. Last August the two dogs reportedly attacked another dog, bowling over a man walking his dog and going after his pet; after this attack, the dogs were declared dangerous. The fact that the 2013 incident was followed by two other attacks, including the fatal mauling of Templeton, suggests that whatever steps should have been taken to prevent future attacks were not taken. Which doesn’t exactly give me the confidence to believe they’ll ever be taken.

Templeton’s death has led Assemblyiman James Tedisco to propose a statewide dangerous dog alert system, which would require online alerts whenever anyone is convicted of having a dangerous dog. Schenectady Councilman Vince Riggi has called on the city to create a similar system ASAP.

I don’t have a problem with providing people with information about where dangerous dogs live so that they can avoid those areas. I’m generally of the belief that information is a good thing to have, and it’s possible that a registry would help dog walkers, joggers, bikers and pedestrians protect themselves: Cignal has said that she wouldn’t have walked past the McKearn house had she known dangerous dogs lived there.

But I don’t see a dangerous dog registry doing much to solve the underlying problem, which is the existence of dangerous dogs in our communities.

I shouldn’t have to worry that a vicious animal might attack me while walking down a public street or in a public park. I know people who have been bitten by dogs, and they aren’t to blame for what happened.

And the dogs really aren’t to blame, either.

It’s their owners who are to blame.

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August 11, 2014
8 a.m.

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Being sent to a judge when my lab jumped on a neighbor completely modified my behavior.

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