Friday, September 21, 2007

Of Dogs and Hens

True to my word, I expand on some comments I made at Lynn's about pitbulls and chickens, which recently made the news in Nova Scotia:

Of Dogs and Hens

Last week in rural Nova Scotia a couple of dogs broke into a barn and killed about 40 chickens. The most remarkable thing about the incident is that it made the news, as if dogs killing chickens is unusual.

The story made the press because the dogs in question happen to be pit bulls, a nebulous category of dogs that includes several breeds and cross-breeds. Now that this chicken-killing incident has been debated ad nauseum over ink-stained pages, talk of legislation banning pit bulls, similar to that enacted in Ontario, has surfaced.

Some dog advocates have rightly pointed out that banning a breed of dog runs counter to attempts to restrict the bad behaviour of owners, which is the real cause of canine violence. A spokesman for the Canadian Kennel Club has said that “it’s not an individual breed that’s responsible for what they’re trying to curtail, it’s usually an owner or an environment.”

Some have also noted that pit bulls are not technically a breed anyway, so any attempt to ban them outright would be fraught with technical difficulties.

These are all reasonable points, but they miss the bigger picture of a fact so plain, so overwhelmingly obvious and natural, that nobody has noticed it lurking behind the flying chicken feathers. That fact is this: dogs are carnivorous predators.

Dogs kill things. Things smaller than themselves, like chickens. And by dogs, I mean all dogs, from the smallest shiatsu to the largest mastiff. The latter are just more likely to be successful, equipped as they are with a hundred-plus poundage and jaws of steel.

I mean no disrespect to those chickens; they have as much of a right to life as the next livestock, but the doggie advocate who claimed that “both the chickens and the dogs are victims” is missing the point. Had the dogs not reached the chickens first, dog’s best friend would have done the job for them. For we humans, too, are carnivorous predators, in our own special way.

And had a human done those chickens in, as happens every day in every rural town across this province, you wouldn’t have seen any heavily armed cops seeking retribution at the local abattoir, “for public safety.”

I have to confess here that I myself am a dog-lover. But when you think about it the human effort to domesticate animals as wild and dangerous as canines is one of our more hair-brained schemes, and that’s saying something.

Still, through careful breeding and the provision of a loving environment, any dog of any breed can become the most loyal, gentle friend. But that doesn’t mean that the dog loses its natural hunting instinct.

And, the bigger and stronger the dog, the bigger its prey will be. So, a couple of dogs of the pit bull variety can, if left to wander, break into a barn and slaughter 40 chickens. And, sorry fellow dog-lovers, they can also turn on a small unattended child at any time.

So, our experiment to totally control dogs has thus far failed. What should we do next? Ban the breeds that seem to most often breach our unwritten agreement that they eat only the packaged and prepared portions of livestock we provide for them? Even though there are thousands of other bigger and stronger dogs that unscrupulous and lazy owners could turn into public hazards once pit bulls were banned?

Or, should we focus more on human behaviour, more specifically dog-owner behaviour, something we may actually have some hope of controlling?

In this case, the dogs went after a small prey that some human being would likely have killed anyway. It boils down to an economic loss for a farmer. The owners of the dogs should be required to compensate that loss; that is a punishment that fits the crime.

Unfortunately, the dogs have already paid an unnatural price for their most natural instincts.

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Pit Bulls are nasty dogs.
Pit Bull owners are nasty humans. Of course I generalise there are exceptions to both these statements but these two comments seem to run together and I am not sure why. I have thoughts on this. Poor chickens.
Your point about the dogs getting there before the humans is the central one, which underscores the craziness of the "outrage"...

Is the motive for said outrage not far more likely to be the smaller profit margins that a deficit in chickens is going to bring about?
You make some good points about the laws of nature ... it's natural for any dog to chase chickens. When I was a kid and lived by a farm, my beagle (a naturally bred hunting dog) would chase the chickens and cows and the farmer told me he'd have to shoot him if he didn't stop because it upset their breeding.
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Making an ill-defined breed of dog illegal because some owners are neglectful?

I suspect that for the dog-banning advocates, this is like the gun-banning issue for others. They think that because there is no need they can see for having a strong potentially dangerous dog, said dogs should be should illegal.

Of course, I usually ask such people why they own a car rather than use public transportation. After all, cars kill more people than all the dog and gun related deaths (chickens included) that occur every year combined. And unless you live in rural parts, you generally don't actually need a car. So maybe we should make those illegal while we're at it?

But usually they think that I am saying cars should literally be illegal. Or try to claim that they need a car (although they are lying), which makes it different. What I'm really saying is that taking away freedoms is all fun and games until you lose the ones you care about.
I've seen some pit bulls, that while high-strung, were indeed playful animals that wanted to play catch or go for walks more than anything else--except perhaps eat.

And that's another point: dogs, like cats, instinctively want to chase and kill other, smaller animals. All dogs are like this--kind of mirroring many humans who have bullying tendencies. Few would bully somebody larger--again, there's exceptions to that, but generaly, one can bet on it.

So, when a dog steps out of line, humans will kick them, shoot them, or even release them somewhere far away to presumably die. The other day right around here, a rotweiller mauled a child and was immeadiately shot by police when they arrived on the scene. It's a standard practice, right or wrong.

You are right about it being kind of crazy that we as humans have entered into a symbiotic relationship with dogs, and one that is of higher order than the other animals we have entered a much more one-sided partnership with. The first dogs probably begged for scraps from early humans, until a pregnant one gave birth and it's pups were taken by us. Pigs also first followed bands of humans to live on our refuse. Both became of use to us, and inspired us to subjegate other animals, cattle, horses, sheep and goats. Agriculture brought vermin like mice and rats, so we adopted the cat--or it adopted us--and remains aloof to us, and therefore, actually has a better deal than any of the rest.

But dogs are our servants. Cats pick and choose and don't "do" training. They tend not to kill our young, despite myths to the contrary about the stealing of baby's breath.

Dogs have a subservient role--we call ourselves masters in over them. You don't hear that in regards to cats. So dogs face our wrath if anything they do displeases us, even if it is their nature. I'm not saying its right at all to treat them like that. I don't think it is--except, of course, when children become endangered. But it is how they will continue to be treated, despite the obvious absurdity on our part of being angered over there killing of chickens. If it takes meat or profits from a mans table, that will always be seen as an outrage. It should be seen in an enlightened way, but it's not. It is seen as a master vs servant light and dealt with accordingly.

It is extension of how we deal with one another throughout history, and that is something that we can't stop doing either, thus we have troops in countries they should not be. Saddam Hussein was a pit bull of Ronald Reagan, but the Bush clan saw him as a dog taking what is "theirs", AKA, oil.

I need to stop typing, so I will for now. This could be a 500+ page book and not be finished. But you see my point. I agree, but we are not the powers that be. Other's need to be this enlightened, weather in regards to the rigths of other people on this globe, or to the animals we have taken stewardship/dominion over.
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Sorry about the long response fraught with typos and exceptions--such as the cat stuff. yes, some cats have killed people, or if some says that people are masters over cats too, that's fine, but cats won't agree with that. Dog will agree with those terms. This was an interesting and challenging discussion, Benjibopper. Glad you followed up on it. I look forward to Lynn's response, not as an argument, but to add to the dialogue.
It is so true how insane it is that we expect these animals, because we have given them a name and a pretty collar, to be happy with their cans on Iams, have no other such wish for food.
We laugh when our dog eats our scraps, but heaven forbid he goes after them himself!
Dawgs will be dawgs, but birds should be reserved for consumption by cats!!
I don't have anything against pitbulls, but I wouldn't want one. My sisters sister-in-law has a pitbull and I get on my sister for bringing her kids around it. I don't know much about pitbulls but I had always understood that they were bred to be the way that they are and that although all dogs have a killer instinct, pitbulls do even more so. I don't think it is their fault, but I do believe that they can be very dangerous. I think that if someone has one it is their responsibility to be sure that it can't hurt anyone else. As far as the chicken's? I believe a lot of dogs would have done that, but I don't think they all go after people and kids like pitbulls do. They don't have the laws about them for no reason. They can be very nice and affectionate dogs, but they still have that potential and because of this need to be watched.
I really fear for pit bulls. They get killed all the time in the States as they are seen as the fierest canine predator, owned by gang bangers, and the like. I don't deny that some dogs have mauled babies, but so do bears when people go camping. Should all bears die? I've had cats most of my life who lived to kill mice; we lived in a place that was infested and they did their job. When does it become okay for animal to kill and when does it not?

I want to debate this with Trevor, but I sense we probably agree to a point.
My Jack Russell Killed a 200 pound black bear am i supposed to have her killed? Over your dead body if you (not you benji but the imperious you) try to take her down.

Only a moron blames the animal for what the human companion teaches it to do.


Wow! Excellent post. My head is spinning though, having raised my babies with a "we want that puppy, Mommy!" pitbull adopted from the pound, I loved my own to pieces. However the pit down the street from me, just viciously attacked an old man on a bicycle, followed by a second attack on a Mom and two little girls. Where was his people family? Why was he out? Why does he view everyone outside as a threat? Is it his nature or is life behind that privacy fence not a fairytale? With any animal, when we bring them into our homes, give them names, feed them, hopefully love them....isn't it our responsibility to protect them from themselves if they're expected to live with people, to socialize them, nurture them, teach them manners and rules?

We have a few stray pit bulls in our 'hood, dogs that wouldn't fight or lost fights and the owners just threw them away on the street so they roam vicious and hungry. Such is ghetto life, If a pit locks on you, you could be in great trouble which is why My Jack doesn't get all the walks she'd like.

I don't want to have to kill one of these outcast dogs with my bare hands. But I don't blame the animal on the street just the one that trained it to attack as blood sport.

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Best laid plans...

This made me think of something my dad used to say about the uproar caused when statistics were released a while back about drunk drivers causing almost 2% of car accidents.

'What about the other 98% who can't control a car when they're sober?' he says.
Thanks one and all for your comments here. Seems to be a consensus that pit bulls can be problematic, but most agree that it's the owner's fault, not the dog's. It seems to me that human beings, by and large, still have trouble seeing themselves as part of a web of life, rather than at the top of some imagined animal hierarchy. As a species, we need to think carefuly about this if we want to survive. It is this mentality that guides our industrial agriculture system and its terrible abuse of animals. It also guides our wars over control of resources. It has caused a massive imbalance from which we may not recover. And it also causes dumbass by-laws trying to control the uncontrollable.

Some pitbulls are viscious because that is how they have been bred and trained. Others are kind and loving because that is how they have been raised. The former can't be stopped by any by-law because the idiot humans who made them that way will just do the same with other large strong breeds. Ever seen a pissed off 95 kg (215 pounds) mastiff?
Kissa: Poor chickens indeed. It must suck to be raised solely to meet the needs of others. I have a friend who would agree with you about pit bull owners; he's prosecuted several of them. But there is no evidence in this case that the family weren't loving owners. They did fail to keep a dominant breed on leash though.

Ant:Maybe that is the source of the farmer's outrage but I think the source of the public's outrage is that they have been poked and prodded with a putbull stick by constant media hype.

Bibi: And that's the mentality of our farming system. Various human communities have been farming for hundreds of thousands of years, at least. But since the agricultural revolution of 10,000 years ago a mentality has been in place that we must aggressively fight off ALL competition for our food. Any disturbance can be shot. I hope your beagle never did though.
Trevor: Some excellent points. I guess the one difference with guns is that they are designed specifically to kill. No one is attempting to ban bb guns.

As for cars, you are right of course that even though they are the most deadly product on the planet banning them just wouldn't work. But I do think we need to make serious efforts to reduce our dependency on them and encourage more sustainable forms of transportation.

Eric: Have you read any Daniel Quinn? I think you might like his work. I kind of think everyone should read him, but I don't want to be a cultmaster. Good points about human's and animals, and I agree for the most-part. Except I don't see bullying the same as dogs going after what for them is prey, because for the dogs it's not about asserting social control, or taking pleasure in other's misery, or even taking out insecurity on others. It's just a natural instinct.
PP: yeah, it's a strange form of antropomorphism.

Tomcat: teehee, watch out for the neighbourhood dogs, they might have a different point of view on this one. And be careful of chickenhawks too ;-)

BBE: I think I agree with all of what you said. I just don't think we should punish dogs for what humans do. I also don't think we should shoot a bear that has eaten a human. It is absurd to go to war with animals as if they should obey OUR laws. They obey NATURE's laws, and they always will. I'm not 100% sure if pitbulls have greater killer instinct than other dogs, or if some have just been trained to be nasty, or if it's just that they are very effective killers, than can make them less than ideal pets.

EOTR: well said as always, and good questions. not easy to answer, but again I think we need to let go of our delusion that we can control non-human animals and control all outcomes.

TWM: correct. your jack russel killed a 200 pound bear? jesus.
Just Give Me Peace/Singleton: Yes, yes, and yes, absolutely. And it's awful when people fail to take this responsibility. That's why I don't think pit bans work - they don't address inept dog owners.
I wouldn't want to own a pitbull, but I don't believe they're genetically "bad." I believe they're raised to be bad.

I can't imagine my little black pug ripping apart a chicken. I can imagine her running away from a chicken though. She runs away from stuffed animals, so I'm betting I'm right.
:-) Yes, then there are those animals who have become so domestic they are scared of teddy bears. I like those ones too. As for having a pitbull for a pet, it wouldn't be my first choice either. But when I see them at the pet shelter, the abandoned ones with their 'misplaced prey syndrome' not suitable to be around families with children, in need a firm owner, my heart bleeds for them. I'm sure their fate is pretty much sealed at that point.
Yes, I did go on bit of a tangent. But dogs will fight each other for social dominance. But that is the way of their natural life, long before we came to dominance.

A note about pit bulls I forgot to mention (shame on me): The most rabid of them, wild and dangerous, have usually had gunpowder sprinkled on their food, as well as the fact that they are rewarded for "training" with bloody meat. The gunpowder causes neurological damage on the level of psychosis. I've never seen it, but then, I don't hang around pit bull fight trainers, I've only heard it from people who do know others, aka place I should not legally be at buying illegal greens. Detroit is a bastion of the breed, for home defence and otherwise. They are very common. But as stated, I've seen plenty that the only thing they've torn up was a linoleum floor, or a tennis ball.

And right on about other breeds. I've seen Alaskan Malamutes that had to be kept seperated at all times, so they wouldn't kill each other--and neither one was trained to fight, both being owned by a friend of mine. I've sat in the floor and hug-wrestled both--I love all animals, even mean ones, cop trained black and tan or white German Shepherds being my favorite. Great dogs, the Malamutes, but boy, they can't stand the sight of one another. I couldn't imagine giving one of them the "pit bull powder" treatment. No more wrestling in the floor then! I'd be the bloody meat!
Ultra: cars can be nasty things. was your dad also the kind who if you got a 99 percent on a test he'd say "what happened to the other 1 percent?"

Eric: gunpowder, awful. I used to be tormented by a giant newfoundlander dog in cape breton as a wee one. it took me a couple years after that to get over my fear of dogs. today a rotweiler bounded up to me in the pet store and gave me a big hug.
Sadly, yes.
yeah, i got that on occasion too ;-)
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