Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Zanesville, Ohio incident

It's been a week now since the owner of fifty or so exotic pets opened their cages, turning wild, scared and previously improperly cared for animals loose on his property before taking his own life.  While I've been outspoken in my personal life about the events, it's not something I'll go into here.  Quite frankly, since I'm not the sheriff and I didn't have to answer to the people that decide if I have a job next election, I figured it's not really fair for me to Monday morning quarterback any calls that were made that day.  I have personal feelings on the issue, yes, but as far as what should have been done, I just don't think anyone has the right to call that other than the one person who would take the heat for it.

Instead, my issue is with the owner.  Apparently Ohio has some of the weakest laws in the country when it comes to exotic pets.  Complains have come up that there were something like thirty or more complaints over the last few years.  Animals kept in confinement too small, too filthy, and not fed properly.  For a wild animal this must have been torture.  But because laws are so weak, they legally couldn't do a thing as far as seizure.  A very sad thing for the animals left to languish at the hands of a horrible keeper. 

Now that this is in the open everyone is calling for stricter laws for exotics.  And while I definitely think there needs to be laws in place to ensure that exotic pets are in the hands of the people with the knowledge and ability to provide that level of care, I worry that the emotional knee jerk reaction will be laws passed that are overly strict.  Now don't get me wrong.  I do not like the thought of taking animals from the wild and caging them in any situation.  Just keep in mind how many captive born and bred exotics there are in this country.  If we start passing laws so strict that even experienced keepers aren't able to follow the law.............what happens to those animals?  In the vast majority of cases, zoos are full.  They can't take in the hundreds of thousands - possibly millions - of exotics pets that are kept in this country.  So do we start killing off these exotics?  Once captive born and bred they can't be released back into the wild. 

And what about domestic animals?  We kill upwards of four million a year in shelters.  That doesn't include the ones hit by cars, dying of disease, euthanized in vet's offices, killed by other animals, and those that die doing jobs like hunting.  And this doesn't even touch the tip of the ways animals can die.  So if we're going to push for laws for strict exotic pet keeping, why not also push for laws to protect the domestics?  If exotics can't survive when released back into the wild, there's no way domestics can.  And yet we see daily stories of animals abused and neglected (think Patrick the pitbull nearly starved to death), as well as dogs that never see a vet in their life, usually dying of easily treated illnesses after producing a hundred off spring or more, which simply starts the cycle all over again. 

The big fight for exotic pet laws has always been that they're a 'danger to society'.  What about dog and cat attacks?  People die every year from being attacked by dogs and cats.  How many are bitten by a cat and contract a fatal illness?  Latest estimates are that roughly 10,000 people per year are hospitalized for cat and dog bites.  While dog bites are more likely to cause immediate death than a cat bite, cat bites result in 80% of victims developing serious infections and sepsis.  Up to 30% of those that do contract sepsis from the bite die from it.  Given the few number of exotic pets that get loose and attack compared to the huge over population problem we have in this country from dogs and cats, doesn't it make sense that in fact the dogs and cats are the true danger?  So where is the 'protection for the public' from these evil kitties and puppies??

Don't misunderstand me.  I don't see domestics as a threat any more than I see exotics a threat.  The true threat that I see are the inexperienced, uneducated, lazy and irresponsible human owners that allow these situations to take place.  The problem we have in this country is a lack of responsibility.  We've become a country that makes it too easy to blame someone or something else instead of stepping up to the plate ourselves.  That's where the true danger lies.  In every single state in this country you have to take a written and driving test to be license to operate a motor vehicle.  Why?  Because a human behind the wheel that doesn't know how to drive and follow highway safety laws is a danger to society.  Are you seeing the similarity here?  The motor vehicle if left alone will not hurt anyone.  Removed from it's garage and placed in the hands of an irresponsible and uneducated driver however, it's a couple thousand pounds of fast moving danger that could easily result in the death of an innocent person.

This same analogy can be used to debunk the popular breed specific laws that are so popular these days.  In dog psychology, what a canine is starts with 'dog', not breed.  All dogs have the same psychology.  There's not such thing as any breed of dog that was ever bred to be human aggressive.  None.  Some have been bred to be protective of their humans, but not specifically toward other humans.  In other words as long as you are posing no threat to the human, the dog will pose no threat to you.  If however you choose to assault, rob or otherwise endanger the human, the dog is trained to end that threat by attacking you.  So is the dog aggressive?  Not at all; it's simply doing what it was trained to do.  You caused the attack on yourself. 

The common belief that a 'pitbull' is a man eater is just as silly as the years before when people thought the German Shepherd, Rottweiler, Chow Chow, Doberman Pinscher and so many other breeds were aggressive.  These breeds all reached levels of wide spread popularity and were chosen due to their ease of training, intelligence and loyalty to an owner.  Sadly, this makes them ideal candidates for the criminal element as well.  And let's face it, few criminals believe in treating their beloved pitbull properly with training, socialization, vet care and spay / neuter procedures.  The statistics show that in dogs that have bitten there are actually very common threads; dogs left outdoors to either roam freely or be chained their whole lives, most commonly they are male dogs that have not been neutered, and the dogs were never socialized or trained properly.  The common thread, again, is man.  It just happens that the pitbull (which isn't even a true breed but a catch all phrase used to lump dozens of other breeds into a single category) is very popular right now.  So if you assume there are 100 pitbulls in a neighborhood and 12 labs and there are only 2 lab bites and there are 3 pitbull bites, you'd think the pits are more aggressive, right?  But that's not true.  That simply means that a pitbull has a 3% likelihood to bite whereas a lab has a roughly 17% chance of biting.  Now factor in the very high frequency of people saying they were bit by a stray pitbull when in fact it turns out to be another breed.  And when they're labeled pitbulls but that consists of dozens of breeds, you're getting exaggerated bite stats for a single breed.  That would be like saying from now on we'll be including all dogs that are yellow, black or brown and over 45 pounds into the category as lab.  Would that be fair?  But that's what's going on with pitbulls.

The whole point to this, is humans are the common link when it comes to dangers to humans.  We do this to ourselves with our lack of responsibility, whether that be with exotics, domestics or one another.  And now because an irresponsible pet owner (who was also a convicted criminal) has made national news with his behavior, all other exotic pet owners now must sit on the edge of their seat, wondering if laws will be placed making it impossible to keep their well cared for pets, or, even worse, if they'll be outlawed and they'll have someone on their doorstep to seize and kill the pets.  Personally, I'd love to see domestic laws passed as well so that all people that want to have a pet must prove their educated and responsible.  But I guess that violates our personal freedom.  So the animals will continue to suffer.  So sad.

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