Shoot the dogs. And I owe an apology to Dallas City Council member Ricky Callahan for making fun of him a couple weeks ago when he said the same thing. It should not have taken the horrific story of Antoinette Brown to get me up to speed.
Brown is the 52-year-old lady savagely attacked by loose dogs in Dallas a week ago, bitten 100 times. “They ate her like they was eating a steak,” Brown’s mother told Sarah Mervosh of The Dallas Morning News. Yesterday, after Brown had been kept alive for a week in a medically induced coma at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas, she was removed from life support and died.
I wrote about stray dogs in Dallas a couple weeks ago, saying we should lock up the owners who let them stray, instead of the dogs. I still hate the fact that some human beings are so feckless and callous in their treatment of animals that they allow them to run loose and wild in the streets, but I look back at that column I wrote saying blame the people not the dogs, and I cringe for the callousness it expresses toward Antoinette Brown.
This lady and loved-one of others was walking the streets of our city when she was attacked like prey in the wild. If I go scolding people for being bad pet-owners, that isn’t going to do Brown one ounce of good. Her neighbors heard her screaming for her life while the dogs tore her apart. This is a question of simple but major priorities, and, man, did I ever get my mine wrong.
Once the dogs are out there, loose and packed up, then it’s game-over for pet-ownership policies. Something decisive needs to be done right away, and it seems to me the presumptions always have to be on the side of human beings. If somebody thinks those dogs are a threat, then those dogs are a threat, and if the only practical way to get them under control or off the street is to shoot them, then they should be shot.
By the authorities. Please. Don’t get yourself caught in this legal briar patch. I wrote about Texas laws on shooting dogs a year ago , and the laws are a more tangled web for civilians than you might anticipate. Unless you are saving somebody from active harm, you need to leave the shooting to somebody with a badge.
And please don’t think I am cavalier or trying to act tough about shooting dogs. It breaks my heart to think of any dog shot to death on the street, because I know that you and I, as the human stewards of the animals in our midst, are at fault whenever a dog comes into harm’s way. I don’t think anybody could beat me by much in a dog-loving contest.
But I also know dogs. My experience as a newspaper reporter has taught me that the bond of civilization for even us humans is much thinner than what we tend to assume, but it’s gone from dogs in the blink of an eye when they go loose. Take as few as three or even two treat-begging lovable pets and let them run as a pack one evening: by midnight they can be wolves. Any of them.
Now add this to the picture. The area where Brown was attacked in South Dallas is a half-depleted wildscape of scraped and vacant residential lots caught midway between nature and dystopia. I know the experts say that the vast preponderance of loose dogs are escaped pets, but I can’t help noticing a consistent profile in the loose dogs I see in this area and in much of southern Dallas, as if they are the product of many generations of self-selected breeding between pit bulls and wild Australian dingos.
Maybe they were somebody’s pets some day, but when they break out of that tangled brush and trash between the houses, especially if they are headed anywhere toward me, they look more like wolves than pets.
National trends in dog bites are either difficult to identify or not all that dramatic. A State Farm Insurance study three years ago put Texas at fourth in a list of states with the highest number of dog bite claims, but those counts looked like they may have reflected population size and expanse of territory as much as anything else.
On the other hand, the picture seems quite clear on Rutledge Street and in other large stretches of our own city’s poverty-stricken southern sector. The brutal hand of urban failure has left angry scars. Wherever she was headed when the dogs emerged, Antoinette Brown was charting a course through every conceivable threat and peril, human and not, that a city must host if it can no longer expel them.
That is part of what is so utterly sickening about this woman’s fate. Given that we cannot provide her with any of the other basic standards of security and well-being cities are supposed to provide for each and every citizen, can we not even protect her from marauding animals?
Councilman Callahan was probably speaking a bit expansively some months ago when he seemed to suggest aerial hunts from helicopters, but I see now better than I did a few weeks ago the more important urgency of what he had to say. I now hear him saying that we need to take the stray dog packs out of the picture. We know that trying to catch or trap then is of limited efficacy.
A few years ago the city manager of the community of Ferris, south of Dallas on Interstate 45, was roundly criticized by animal rights advocates for authorizing – well, ordering – local police to shoot all stray dogs on sight. In Dallas a policy for shooting dogs probably would have to be couched and presented carefully so that our more sensitive urban souls could absorb it and see the need.
A recurring and distressing theme in the news is the police officer who seems to have shot a harmless pet because he or she didn’t know how to deal with a dog. The Texas Legislature last year took that problem enough in earnest to pass new legislation requiring Texas law officers to take “canine encounter” training, teaching them things like what it means when a dog has it ears sucked against its skull and is growling with its teeth bared. Something tells me most cops know most of that without taking the course, but at least the requirement shows we take our pets seriously in Texas.
But guess what. My own beloved pet, who now cannot sleep anywhere but crushed against my side when she hears thunder, was running loose in Kiest Park in Oak Cliff when a dedicated rescuer trapped her after a month of trying. She was running with other dogs that the rescuer guessed were siblings, all probably escaped from a backyard breeder.
She was an adept hunter and scrounger, not at all above keeping people at their distance by biting them. She was a taker of squirrels and a dart-and-biter of people. I’m never sure how to define “wild,” but it seems to me in the relative context of a city she was wild. Not stray. Wild. Another wonderful rescuer kept her for a year and somehow tamed her before I got her and began ruining her with treats.
In a pack and under the right circumstances, could the dog that is now my loving and mainly obedient pet have attacked Antoinette Brown and ripped her apart like a piece of meat? Yes. Any dog is capable of that. They are dogs. Not people.
I do not have the right, no one has the right to put the life of a stray dog above the life of a human being. I certainly know what I am saying here about my own dog. I am saying that the cops or animal control officers should have had the right and standing orders to shoot my dog and her siblings, because they were loose and had threatened people. I know exactly what would have been lost had that happened.
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But what I want, what you want, what we all want is a way to go back in time and take back what happened to Antoinette Brown. We don’t want that ever to happen to another human being in our communal midst. And, listen: we know that it will happen. It absolutely has to happen again if we leave in place the set of circumstances that caused it to happen to Brown.
At least since 2008 when current Dallas County Commissioner Elba Garcia was on the City Council, probably longer, council members representing the areas of the city most afflicted have been pleading for help. A number of measures have been tried. Nothing has worked. Something dramatically effective must be done in order to rescue the next Antoinette Brown from being eaten alive like a steak by dogs. There’s a way to do it.
Is the shooting of dogs in our city a harsh and painful price to pay for human safety? Yes. No. It’s a fair price. It’s the right price. It’s also a very clear and definitive way for the city to state the issue. Keep the dog properly and lovingly: you have our blessing as a community.
Let it run from you, and we’re going to shoot it. We must always put people first.