"The wild animals answer, consciously, no question about their conduct. But once in a while some human belonger to silences who has a heart, that watches and receives, gets an answer."
– Sundown, by John Joseph Mathews
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In spite of his love for us and us for him, Otis did not love the rest of the world. He presented with aggression towards people both outside and inside our home. We had to put him to sleep last week.
It's taken an unusual emotional toll on me. One day I think I'm fine; the next I'm not—I can't eat, I can't sleep, I can't concentrate on work. I think a lot about what it is we as a society now expect of dogs, the stress we put on them to measure up to sometimes-impossible standards of behavior, the laws that try to hold them—and us—up to these standards. And then sadness turns to anger.
Growing up, I was surrounded by dogs, not all of them nice. A constant refrain among adults was, "You leave that dog alone. He'll bite you and you'll only have yourself to blame." We never thought anything of it. A dog was allowed to be an individual, allowed to have its likes and dislikes. Only if it turned out to be an unmanageable problem, only if it failed in its ability to work, did my father or one of the ranch hands take it out into the hills to be shot. But that rarely happened. Even the most surly dogs managed to fit in with the groove of day-to-day life.
Take a dog like Otis (who, by the way, was not a pit bull, but a mix of what our vet thinks was American Bulldog and perhaps Dogo Argentino), though, and put him in the hands of the wrong kind of person (Otis's previous owners), and you have a problem, not an asset or even an individual. You have, according to courts who adjudicate in our increasingly fear-based society, a monster. The solution is zero tolerance.
Had we known Otis's history (which I only found out after the fact and at great insistence with the shelter), had we realized that territorial aggression cannot be tested for in a shelter environment but only manifests once a dog bonds strongly to its people and place, we would never have adopted him. But so many shelters, under increasing pressure to MOVE dogs, do not test correctly and refrain from providing potential adopters with the information they need to make safe, educated choices.
One way or the other, Otis was going to pay the price for this neglect. One way or the other, Otis was always dead dog walking.