Sunday, December 23, 2007

Fatal Attack, Boger City, NC

First off, let me give a quick shout out to Brent Toellner at the KC Dog Blog. Brent’s blog is a breath of fresh air in the world of dog legislation and fighting the unsubstantiated junk that passes for mainstream reportage of dog issues, especially those orbiting around Planet Pit Bull Hysteria. To get a balanced view of a wonderful breed visit with Brent.

Now on to the first case. This case is not unusual; in fact, I am going over this case to introduce you, the readers, to a textbook example of the typical fatal attack. This one has it all; trailers, chains, a history of escalating aggression, unneutered dogs, no public education, no response by local authorities to the early signs, and a child caught in the middle.

In reality, Karson Gilroy never had a chance. A lovely two year old boy, he had two great dogs in his family that taught him dogs were wonderful pals. His uncle next door owned a German shepherd who was tolerant and gentle with little Karson. Karson could tug, pull, and clamber all over the Shepherd. No problems, no issues, nothing but a gentle loving relationship.

Karson had his own dog too. Thirteen months old, his Boxer pup was exuberant but gentle, a good, stable family dog. Remember that-a family dog.

Three trailers away the story was different. The man there owned two Shepherd mixes. Both males, father and son. Both dogs were kept outside twenty four-seven. Both dogs kept on chains. Both dogs intact.

The chained Shepherds were known well by the neighbors. They had broken free of their chains several times. During their tours of the area they had reportedly chased several people, fought with a number of dogs, killed at least one cat and allegedly killed as many as two dogs.

The younger of the two dogs was poorly socialized, to say the least. Fearful, the owner described him as skittish and spooky. The younger dog was also the more agile escape artist. The owner said that the dog had learned to shuck out of the standard buckle collar, so he placed the dog in a choke collar. On a chain. And since the dogs barked at any passers-by they could see through the woods in front of the home, he tied them out in the woods behind the home, almost a hundred feet back into the woods. With no fence or barrier to keep other dogs – or children – from wandering up to them.

Karson typically stayed with his Grandparents while his own folks were at work. His aunt and uncle live next door, and Karson was a regular visitor, playing and watching TV with his cousins. One fine North Carolina afternoon Karson and his cousins were watching TV together while Karson’s aunt went into the other room to finish a few chores. When she returned to the living room a few minutes later, Karson had let himself out the door to go play in the yard. Karson’s aunt immediately began to search for the boy, and the search quickly turned frantic. Neighbors and police were called, and within thirty minutes of Karson’s flight the area was swarming with help. The yard and house were double checked and deputies began combing the woods.

A short time later Karson was found by a deputy, tangled up in the chain of the younger dog, mauled and bleeding. Karson was rushed to the hospital, but died a short time later.

So what can we take from this as lessons learned? The first issue here is the function of the dogs and their place in the family and community.

Karen Delise, author of Fatal Dog Attacks and The Pit Bull Placebo ( uses a pair of terms that I also use, gladly crediting her for their development. She makes the distinction between a family dog and a resident dog. A family dog is just what it sounds like; a dog that is an intrinsic part of a human family. This dog hangs out with the kids, rides in the car, eats under the table, sleeps in someone’s bed, sneaks shoes out of the closet, and saves Timmy from the well. This is the dog that most of us who are dog people have under our foot as we read or write blogs.

A resident dog, on the other hand, is what we see far too often. The dogs are tossed in the back yard, or worse tied or chained out, and never integrate with the family. They are usually poorly socialized, have little to no training, have food tossed to them pretty regularly, may see a Vet once every year or so, and are only peripherally part of any human-canine social grouping. Perhaps the owners meant for them to be family dogs, but time got away from them. Or they were supposed to be the “kids’ dog” and the kids lost interest. Maybe they had behavioral problems that led to their exile – or maybe their exile has caused the bad behavior. Either way, they have become a sad reflection of what they could be.

And they, the resident dogs, are by far the largest group of dogs involved in fatal human attacks.

So back to this case: two resident dogs chained and unsupervised. The least socialized of the two not only chained, but also on a choke collar, set up to panic if the collar tightened. No provisions to keep unwary toddlers from stumbling into the dogs’ area. A toddler who loved his own dogs and didn’t believe that other dogs were any different. And an accidental slip of attention that led to a toddler becoming a victim in what should have been a safe environment.

Tragic? Absolutely. Predictable? Certainly. Avoidable? Without question. The dogs’ fault? Not hardly. And just the setup that Karen and I find far too often.

COMING UP SOON (and WAAAY quicker than last time- I promise!) A list of the fatalities to date in 2007, a look at the attack in Middleburg, Florida, and a discussion of canine aggression and PTSD in traumatized dogs!