From gritty bars to the courthouse steps, a great cry of the collective human heart went up in Dallas last week for a dog named Lamb of God, slated to be killed by the city because she bit a child badly. But this really is not open for debate.
The dog is the pet of a homeless man who hauls it around wobbling from the handlebars of his bike on the streets and alleyways of the Deep Ellum entertainment district. He keeps the dog strapped inside a milk carton and ties funny hats and sunglasses to its head. He’s using the dog as a prop for begging.
Do you mind if we refer to the dog here merely as Lamb? I think the full name may prejudice the case a bit.
The city will probably kill Lamb this week, but only if a tangle of conflicting court rulings is unknotted. The argument against killing Lamb is straightforward — that the dog never had a chance. The homeless guy who was her master abused her all her life. Tying her in a box, using her like a fake oozing wound to get money out of suckers on the street. That life guaranteed the dog would come out nuts.
She is nuts. In a written statement of findings, a Dallas Animal Services veterinarian said the dog is volatile and extremely dangerous. The child who was bitten in the face required multiple stitches.
I don’t think people caring about the dog automatically means they don’t care about the kid. In fact, my own two-bit theory has always been that all of our care and compassion for small creatures come from the same place in the heart whether the creatures we care about are small and human or small and something else.
The problem is that some of them are human and some are not. Normally, we always know that kids come first. We know that anything that threatens a child’s life must be removed from the presence of that child and every other child, one way or another.
I am absolutely a dog person. Sometimes I feel that I might have been a dog in another life. Sometimes I think I might be one in this life. I know dogs pretty well.
I know the first thing that occurs to a dog when a stranger puts his face close to the dog’s face is that the stranger is going to bite. Watch the eyes. The initial emotion is fear.
In a trained and well-loved animal, trust and even affection can overcome that initial flash of fear and surprise almost immediately. First, nature tells the dog, “Bite him! Quick! Before he gets over on you!” But then training and habituation may tell the dog, “No, no, it’s only a human. They almost never bite, and if you stay chill, sometimes they’re good for a cookie.”
Then we try to imagine the life of a dog tied inside a milk carton on a bicycle careening through sidewalk crowds of drunks at night, her vision uncomfortably occluded by stupid human hats and sunglasses. That dog has got to be scared out of her wits half the time.
Gavin Mulloy, a Deep Ellum artistic director, was kind enough let me use some photos he shot of the dog and her owner, Sean Baugh. In several, we see Baugh taking money with one hand from a sidewalk bleeding heart while his other hand is firmly clamped to the dog’s muzzle. The body language of both man and dog are unmistakable. Man wants money. Dog wants to bite somebody.
The other side of the equation is the children. Small children always want to put their faces in the faces of dogs, especially when the dogs are the possessions of adults. Most of the signals children get from adults are to the effect that dogs can be trusted, that they are cute, small and warm, like children.
You may have noticed that even on first meeting, some children hug other children. They live in the nation of gentle and small, so I guess maybe they are happy when they meet others of their nationality. Maybe they think dogs are their countrymen as well.
Unless a kid has been very specifically warned by adults about strange dogs — and sometimes even then — a child’s overwhelming tendency is to put his little face next to the dog’s face. That’s such a recipe for disaster. If I’m Lamb, I’m thinking, “Oh, good, small and slow moving. I can get this one.”
Somewhere out there, someone is asking, “Where is the dog’s owner in all this? Isn’t this his responsibility?” Yeah, right. Please take another look at Mulloy’s pictures. Let’s do ourselves a favor and not even bring up the word “responsible,” OK? You can look at some people, and it’s as if the authorities came along earlier with an indelible ink pen and wrote across the forehead, “NOT RESPONSIBLE.” Take your cue.
Part of the extreme frustration of people on the streets of Deep Ellum is that they saw all of this coming. The regulars and the people who work there didn’t think this guy’s act was cute. On the hottest nights and coldest days, they had to watch this man rolling up and down the street, basically torturing the dog.
They tried to get Lamb away from him on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, Dallas just doesn’t have an effective way to rescue pets from bad owners unless the owner is violating specific provisions of the city’s pet laws. Anyway, I see dogs every day suffering the indignity of hats, bandanas and other insults to their canine character. I just hope they get to sleep on the bed for that.
It’s not a bad thing that people want to save this dog. It’s an expression of care, compassion and responsibility for a small creature, a desire to protect and show mercy to a vulnerable being. But c’mon. The dog bit a kid in the face. The dog wants to bite people all the time.
One of our dogs, Dorothy, was a biter when we got her. My wife always insisted she didn’t really bite. She nipped. I said, “OK, but if we ever wind up in court, that is not going to be our defense.”
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She got over it. Dorothy, that is. And she never broke skin. She really only did a herding-dog kind of nipping at the heels. She was a rescue. They found her roaming wild in a park. For the first year we had her, she was so terrified all the time that she jumped straight up in the air from a dead sleep if you dropped a wire hanger on the floor.
We love the dog, but until she tamed down, we never let her within 10 feet of a kid. We told everyone, “Do not touch the dog. This is not a nice dog. You may have a way with dogs, but not this one. Stay away.”
Eventually, she stopped biting and became safe for strangers to approach. But we always knew that if this dog ever really bit somebody, the dog went down. We prepared ourselves for that, and it made us more vigilant to make sure it didn’t happen.
Lamb bit a kid in the face. Multiple stitches. That’s it. There are no second chances. Once a dog does that, the dog has got to go down. Is it fair? Is the dog being held responsible for her owner’s sins? Fair and responsible are human qualities. Dogs aren’t fair. Dogs aren’t responsible. They’re dogs. They bite a kid, they go down. That’s very sad, but it’s not optional.