Monday, December 16, 2013

The "R" Word No One Wants to Talk About

Reposted from Feb 2009

Fundamentally, the dog debate is a collision between rights and responsibilities.

The dog-owning community screams that they have RIGHTS. And YES, they do.

But do they have responsibilities as well?

Well sure, but . . . well . . . we don't need to articulate those too well right now, do we? After all, weren't we talking about RIGHTS?

This kind of dance occurs in a lot of debates, and folks on both the Far Right and the Far Left are equally guilty.

People claim (sometimes simultaneously) that they have a right to guns, and a right to be free from gun violence.

People claim they have a right to shoot heroin, and a right to free drug treatment.

People claim they have a right to smoke, and a right to be free of cigarette smoke.

And now these same "rights rhetoric" people have come to the issue of dogs.

What an odd thing this nation is!

It took 169 years -- from Jamestown to Philadelphia -- to develop America's greatest product, the Bill of Rights, but it seems that today Americans are discovering a new set of rights every 15 minutes.

We have grandparents rights, computer rights, and animal rights. We have the right to know the sex of a fetus, the right to own AK-47s, the right not to be tested for AIDS, the right to die, and (if we are a damaged fetus) the "right not to be born."

Airline pilots have a right not to be tested randomly for alcohol or drugs. Mentally ill persons have the right to treatment, and when they are dumped on the streets, they have the right to no treatment and, therefore, the right to die unhelped in alleys.

What too few people seem to be asking is whether a society as crowded and diverse as ours can work if every personal desire is elevated to the status of an inflexible, unyielding right?

Can America work if our defense of individual rights is unmatched by our commitment to individual and social responsibility?

And if we give a small nod to that idea, what does it really mean? How do we encourage, enable and, if need be, force the shouldering of personal responsibility?

Of course, good people will come up with different answers. Right now one side denies there is a problem. The other side, perhaps too easily, marches in with authoritarian answers like Breed Bans and Mandatory Spay-Neuter laws.

But is there a Third Way? Can we encourage responsibility and/or mandate it?

Dogs live a long time -- 15 years is common. How big a deal is it to require that every dog owner take a Canine Safety and Responsibility course, once in their life, as a condition of owning a dog?

We require a once-per-lifetime hunter safety course for a hunting license, and we require an up-to-date driver's license to drive a car.

Swimming pool owners are required to fence their yards in order to own a pool, and falconers are required to undertake an intensive and extensive apprenticeship program in order to own and fly a bird.

I will let others hash out who teaches the course and what the State mandates as part of the course. However, let me see if I can offer up a few quick answers to some obvious question off the top of my head . . .

  1. No, the course is not for the dog, but for the owner. This is the course you take before you get a dog.
  2. The course might involve three hours of classroom instruction and a multiple-guess test at the end, with perhaps a short video in the middle about the consequences of selecting dogs for exaggeration and the problems associated with inbreeding and puppy mills. A small booklet about dog training, feeding and health would be the "take away," along with a prospective cost sheet detailing life-time costs of dog ownership.
  3. Folks who already own a registered and/or licensed dog would probably be "grand-fathered" in.
  4. The course would stress the need for socialization, training, and proper communication.
  5. Lesson One would be that a dog is not a child, nor is it a potted plant, and that about half of all dog problems are due to a confusion on this simple point. Because dogs cannot speak for themselves, and are too often hidden for most of their lives in backyards and basements, they are often subject to long term serious abuse, which is why this course has been mandated by the State. By the same token, dogs are not children, and the failure of humans to communicate with dogs as dogs is a primary cause of most dog-human conflict.

In short, this course would not be a big deal in terms of time and money, and would be designed to get people to think about costs, breeds, acquisition, training, communication, and lifespan.

A simple Canine Safety and Responsibility Course could also be a significant job-creator and money-maker for sponsoring groups such as the ASPCA, American Kennel Club, pet supply stores, and breed and dog-activity clubs.

How many folks would rethink dog ownership if they were told what fencing their property would cost, how much fixing a dysplastic hip might cost, and how few landlords are OK with dog ownership?

As a result, how many fewer dogs would end up in shelters?

Would a Canine Safety and Responsibility Course solve every dog problem in the world?

Of course not. The goal is progress, not perfection.

But if progress is going to occur, it will require more responsibility injected into the ownership equation.

Responsibility remains the "R-word" no one wants to talk about.


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