I was sort of attacked by a dog a while ago when I was out running. It wasn’t really a severe attack: I was simply taken down, like a deer, in a well-executed stealth manoeuvre by a large German Shepherd; he did not, nor did his companion, come in for the kill, or even the maul – I was left with a single but deep and ragged bite requiring half a dozen stitches.
It wasn’t provoked – well, perhaps it was – in the way a red miniskirt provokes an assault: I was running, which in itself is provocative to most canines for at least accompaniment, if not pursuit; and I was running past (but not on) his property, so I was, given the canine propensity to extend legal boundaries by a few miles, ‘in his face’.
Thing is, almost everyone I’ve spoken to encourages me to report it to the police so the dog can be ‘put down’. Now, true enough, while my thick thigh survived the bite and I’m not now traumatized for life regarding all furry brown and black things, a child would not have fared so well. I understand that.
But dogs can make mistakes, and I don’t think we should necessarily be killed for our mistakes. Again, true enough, this doesn’t sound like a mistake – but I decided to meet Willy and Axel before taking any further action. I did so and concluded that Willy is not a psychopathic killer or even a beaten and abused dog with an understandable but incurable ‘attitude': I had both he and Axel eating out of my hand – those little doggie treats shaped like little letter carriers (or, come to think about it, like little joggers); Axel even licked my face (Willy gave me a look that seemed to discourage that sort of invitation – though he could have been remembering just at that moment that cellulite tastes rather yucky); and both dogs were quite obedient to their owners’ commands to lay down in their corner. So, I concluded instead that Willy is ‘simply’ a big, rough, strong dog who hasn’t been taught that Biting is Unequivocally Unacceptable (Bad).
Where am I going with all of this? Here: we routinely let people live who have done far far worse than Willy. Are we just inconsistent or is our distinction between human and not-human/dog justified? Frankly, I don’t see the justification. I think there’s as much likelihood that Willy can be rehabilitated as there is that the forementioned people can be – perhaps even a greater likelihood, given the (relative) simple clarity of Willy’s mind. (Furthermore, the human’s greater potential to control natural tendencies with reason make such assaults less excusable and therefore more punishable than Willy’s assault.)
Rehab aside, is Willy more likely to repeat the attack? I don’t think so – it was a fluke of timing and circumstance (I happened to run by his property just at the moment he was let out of his kennel and then left unsupervised for a few minutes – first time in five years). Furthermore, fencing the entire property (the solution I advocated to the owner) would reduce the likelihood of repeat attacks. Unlike Willy, most of the forementioned humans know how to open a gate.
Lastly, Willy has an owner, of whom I can request a remedy short of death. Alas, the forementioned humans don’t.
Am I wary when I pass by now? Of course. But I’m still more afraid of the camouflage-clad hunters with their beer and rifles, and the half-wandering drivers with their cell phones.