The story of a 5-year old dog named "Mickey" mauling 4-year-old Kevin Vicente of Phoenix has gone viral, with over 40,000 Facebook supporters, online petitions, and protests over the dogs fate. The pit bull type dog is in the care of Maricopa County Animal Control until court decides whether to euthanize the animal. The Lexus Project, a New York-based non-profit that provides legal defense for dogs (including dogs that have killed children) has organize a legal defense team to represent the animal. Maricopa County is working with a rescue group that claims they can rehabilitate Mickey and find him owners if he's not destroyed.
According to the county report: The child was playing in the yard where his baby-sitter had taken him when he ran past Mickey, who was chained. Kevin walked within the radius of the 18-foot chain. The dog caught the boy, took him to the ground and attacked his face, according to the report. Adults were present and pulled the dog off. Kevin was treated at Maricopa Medical Center. His injuries were described by hospital staff as extremely graphic and upsetting. His face was ripped apart and bones broken. He had tissue and skin hanging off his face, a broken eye socket, fractured jaw, and detached tear ducts. He underwent 51/2 hours of surgery, and is expected to have further reconstructive surgeries. He has nightmares, and will be scarred for life. He is currently eating and breathing through tubes.
The dogs supporters are certainly misguided, on several points:
Have you ever heard "Why bite when a bark will do?" Why do some children get bit in the face and there is nothing but a 1-2 inch gash in their head? Why didn't the dog just give one bite? Why did he have to thrash half the childs face off and break bone, to the point adults struggled just to get the dog off him? There is no excuse for a dog severely mauling or killing a child, and remaining in society. It's too big of a risk.
- "He wasn't trying to hurt the child, he was just protecting his bone..." Dogs do not cause that kind of damage without intending to hurt. There are bites considered "warning bites," and this was not one of them.
- There are millions of non-aggressive dogs being euthanized in shelters every year. Why save a dangerous dog over those non-aggressive dogs who desperately need homes?
- Maricopa County Animal Control takes in about 90,000 dogs and cats each year, and half are euthanized. Why not prioritize them?
- Dogs who have mauled a human are a legal liability to re-home. There is no guarantee they will not attack again. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.
- The "SAVE MICKEY" Facebook page doesn't display the graphic photos of the boys injuries. They are hiding part of the story. Instead, they show a photo of the dog in a cage, lying on a bed, surrounded by toys. If the dog was aggressive over possessions, why would they give him toys?
- "Rehabilitated" is a subjective term. Would they be able to insure the dog will be non-aggressive for the next 7-10 years? While it can be possible to change a dogs behavior through training, that doesn't mean it should be done. It takes a large amount of effort, guidance of a professional trainer, and continual maintenance. Again, there are many deserving animals who need homes and would benefit from a dog trainers efforts.
- "It is a travesty of justice to put this family dog to death." -Brenda Hammond, organizer of online petition. Is this the behavior of a "family dog" by anyones definition? It would be fitting of a guard dog doing its job, but not a family dog.
- "...to get Mickey in a rehab situation where he can recover the abuse he suffered... I feel he's been kept outside, I feel he hasn't been well taken care of, and to me that constitutes abuse." - John Schill, the dogs attorney. By itself, a dog living outdoors with shelter and food is not abuse. Re-read the law. Come up with actual evidence of abuse before you go throwing the word around. First he's a "family dog," now he's abused because he was outside. In photos of the backyard, shelter can be seen, along with large coverings of astroturf. We know it's ideal for a dog to be socialized, trained, and part of the family, but that is not always the case. Legally, a dog living outdoors is not abuse. Regardless of the past circumstances, the dog is dangerous.
To supporters: Would you have this dog around your family? Would you allow him in the backyard when friends or neighbors come over? Would you feel safe taking the dog home? Maybe they think he can be reformed with love, hugs & kisses, and will never act naughty "over a bone" again? It is too big of a risk to take.
Why do they care about saving a dangerous dog?
Some of the support may come from those who blame the humans involved. Clearly, the humans here made some irresponsible mistakes. I blame the humans, too. Sticking to the facts we know: They allowed children to enter the area of a dog. Did they know the dog was potentially dangerous to the child? There is also a report that the dog killed another dog previously. Humans were irresponsible. But that does not undo the fact that this dog, as evidenced by its behavior, is not stable or safe in society and should be destroyed.
Humans created the domesticated dog for humans. They did not come down from outer space, and they do not live in the wild. We are ultimately responsible for them. We make all the decisions-- what color they will be, what size, what type, weather they will be born or not-- we even remove their reproductive organs if we choose to. Part of that stewardship is removing dangerous or otherwise abhorrent dogs from society.
Some of it also comes from a misguided attempt at protecting the reputation of pit bulls. But if your goal is to protect the rep of pit bulls, you should do the opposite of what they're doing.
Let me be clear, I work with a lot of pit bulls, and most of them are great dogs. I am known within my industry for training and rehabilitating aggressive dogs, including dogs who have had bite records and court-ordered training. But the unfortunate reality is that not all dogs can be saved. This is not about the breed (any breed of dog can attack), it's about the individual dog, and the level of damage done.
Here is a suggested message to the public, from pit bull lovers (and from a dog trainer/behavior specialist): This dog is not standard for a pit bull-type. Most pit bulls, even when under-socialized, are not gravely dangerous. In fact the dogs behavior is abhorrent, and he should be humanely destroyed. Again, most pit bulls are of a stable temperament and are not mauling anyone. This is not ok. It's also not ok to chain an aggressive dog, or to let children into the yard, but the incident cannot be un-done. We can't turn back the hands of time to when the dog was a puppy, and see if being reared differently would prevent this. There are legal liabilities, and aside, you cannot re-hab this and put this dog into another home, over all the thousands of homeless pits who are not mauling children and need homes. They should go try to save one them. I foster pit bulls, and they have a hard time finding homes. We don't need dogs like this out there, when perfectly social pit fosters can't get homes.
Why do dogs attack?
There are many reasons why dogs attack, and any dog with teeth is capable of biting. By federal estimates, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year. Some of those bites are minor, requiring nothing more than antibiotics and a bandage. And less commonly, they are severe maulings. In this case, we do not know for sure since it's difficult to evaluate the whole situation and the various accounts. We were not there. We only know the outcome. We can only guess that factors may have included a frustrated dog, aggression, and prey killing drive. The county report said the child initially ran past the chained dog, and once the child walked within 18-ft he grabbed the child, took him down, and than began attacking his face. The adults said they could barely get him off the child. It sounded like the child was an animal a predator was trying to kill. We don't have a full picture of the history, and we can only guess. We cannot say the dog was mistreated, we do not know. Good dogs do not behave this way, regardless of where they live or how they are treated. I can show you hundreds of dogs that were actually abused, and never bit anyone. Children should never be allowed near an unknown or questionable dog, that is neglectful. A sign "Beware of Dog" could be seen in the photos of the backyard. Does this mean they knew the dog was dangerous?
I wish Kevin a speedy recovery, and I hope he can go on to live a normal life. And I hope this never happens to another innocent child. People need to be more responsible, and proven dangerous dogs need to be humanely destroyed.
You can read more about this story here: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2582139/Petition-save-pit-bull-viciously-mauled-four-year-old-boy-44-000-signatures.html
Related article: Should dogs who have killed people be destroyed? http://www.examiner.com/article/should-dogs-who-have-killed-people-be-put-to-death