Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Man's Best Friend Dangerously At Large

This is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, and curiously, coincides with a blog post I had already chosen.
We are casually shopping for a big dog now.  Something with a formidable appearance but one that knows who the Alpha dogs really are JOTOLR, out here on this farm (MM and me).  We have placed several calls to prospective vendors--including "Free to Good Home."  Our last yard guard was a free-to-good-home and was one of the best dogs we have ever owned.  Keir was half German Shepherd and half Alaskan Husky, and he was all black.  His sense of humor was one of his best traits.  As he grew older, one of his least favorite jobs was to be pegged out on a fenceline and guard against deer coming into the garden overnight.  Being black, he learned he could simply disappear after sundown, and then sneak back to the porch well after we had gone inside.  After a few incidents like that, we got smart and caught hold of him BEFORE the sun went down.  He was an omnivorous eater (an Alaskan trait, we are sure!) as he would consume the raspberries off the vine, along with new sugar peas, and corn on the cob. What we had thought was a marauding raccoon, turned out to be Keir, with corn in his teeth and guilt written all over his furry face! 

Best personality one could ever imagine.  Defensive of us, not "friendly" but not aggressive.  He was a passive yet imposing and watchful presence whenever anyone showed up here, and few hopped out of their cars before we came on the scene.  He wasn't free to roam, he was on the hook overnight or fenced inside our yard.  Overall, he was just the kind of dog anyone would hope to have.  Alas, he was 13 when he left us for the Great Dogbone in the Sky.  So now, we've let grief play out long enough and have begun the search for another.

In three of the phone calls we've made so far, we have encountered this phrase:  "Oh, this dog needs lots of room to run..."  Many of you will be familiar with our "Great Turkey Massacre" of last winter when a couple of dogs who apparently needed "room to run" let loose on our turkey flock and killed five in a horrific display of wanton violence.  But you would not know about our experience when we were just starting out in the sheep business years ago here in West Virginia, when two German Shepherds --each with a collar--descended upon our ewe lamb flock of fifty yearlings which were enclosed IN THE BARN and tore those ewe lambs--our new breeding stock, which we had driven to Texas and back to purchase--all to pieces .  We spent three days--three SOLID days--sewing sheep scalps and deep bodily gouges back together in 18 degree weather in January. It was a gory mess.   We lost--if I remember correctly--8 ewe lambs which were too ravaged to be saved; and we sewed up another 30.  Again, an assault by neighborhood dogs needing "room to run."

So, I cringe every time I hear that phrase and the sound of barking in my meadows brings out the worst in me. 

Roving dogs are not just a problem in rural America.  They're a problem worldwide.   As I said, this is National Dog Bite Prevention Week in the U. S.  Over four and a half MILLION people in this country suffer dog bites annually.  Roughly 800,000 bites are serious enough to require medical attention.  Postal carriers and parcel delivery service personnel on foot are especially vulnerable. 

Here are the fifteen worst cities for dogbites in this country:

#15-- Seattle
#11--Portland OR and Minneapolis MN(tied)
#7--San Antonio
#6--St Louis
#4--Los Angeles
#3--San Diego

These findings were based on a recent study of the number of dog bites of U. S. Postal workers each year.

Dogs at large inflict great harm.  They do NOT need unsupervised "room to run."  And the key word, here, is "unsupervised."  To turn a dog out on the neighborhood and let it do its thing whatever that may be--breeding the neighbor's prize-winning female, chasing wildlife and killing their young, challenging human beings and mating with NOT representative of the way to treat a valued pet.  I cannot count the number of times I have heard this:  "My dog is always on the porch.  Never leaves home."  How many people go outside and check, at 3:00 a.m. or would be concerned that at that moment--providing they checked--didn't see their dog.

I firmly believe in training dogs.  I've trained close to ten dogs for detailed, command-based livestock work.  They were and are some of the best-behaved dogs one can imagine.  I would love to show you, dear readers!  When I say, "Sit,"  they sit.  Promptly.  When I say, "Come," they come.  Promptly.  And I know full well that were they to be "free to run," I would be inflicting serious harm to others regardless of our dogs' seemingly sweet natures.  So, they are kenneled until wanted or needed; they get Frisbee outings four times a day, plus socialization as we invite them to share our porch "living room" on a regular basis, and "civilize" them as they grow from puppyhood to adult. But I would never turn them out intentionally to "run."  That is not to say that making the transition from puppy to adult, isn't fraught with transition control issues.  My Cade loves water.  She disappeared the other day.  Went to the pond on her own to splish and splash to her heart's content.  Grrrrrrrrrr. How do you tell your young dog that's a no-no?  Heel her the next time, all the way to the pond and all the way back....from now on.  Habits build well-behaved dogs. 

Finally, this is the time of year when wildlife nestlings are emerging.  It's a scary time for the parents, and especially the ground nesters like the whippoorwill, grouse, turkey, woodcocks and quail.  These are mostly engangered, now.  Coyotes have wiped out populations of these gentle birds.  They need all the help they can get in order for us to be able to continue to enjoy them.  So, please.....pass the word:  responsible pet ownership goes hand in hand with keeping your beloved canine friends under control. 


  1. Oh, so true. I just cringe whenever I see a dog running free near the roads. Good luck on finding a farm dog.

  2. Here loose dogs in the countryside get shot. Loose dogs,not strays, are more common in cities where people let them out and then hope they come back! I hope you you find yourself a suitable dog. Do you have breed rescue societies in the US? They are quite good here if you are after a particular breed.

  3. Wonderful post, Elora. We try to warn folks new to the country that dogs chasing livestock WILL be shot around here -- and for good reasons.

  4. NCMW, thanks much! Good to hear from you, esp. with those beautiful companions you share with us (gorgeous dogs)!

    Ruta, good suggestions! And interesting "take" on roaming dogs in North Devon UK! Thanks much, girl....BTW, your veg garden is looking good. We're still too wet to plant, here!

    Thanks, Vicki! We're taken our share of punishment from the neighbors for our similar stance, over the years. But since we came here in the early '70's others have experienced what we have and have "come 'round" to seeing the light, as it were...!


  5. I clearly remember the German Shepard incident like it was yesterday. A terrible day. We have two chocolate labs. Worthless as guard dogs, but the best companions I have ever had. We lost our first one to a car a year after we came to the hills. I was devastated, utterly detroyed. I lost a creature I could communicate with in a simple glance or the faintest twitch of my eyebrow. We always have two so they keep each other company. Our eldest is getting on and it won't be long for her. We'll start a search in due time. We are dog sitting for my daughter. She adopted a Border Collie pup out of the clear blue sky. He's much smarter than our labs, mischievious and energetic. We're trying to convince her to let us keep him becuase he'll be miserable in town. Time will likely let that play out, hopefully at not too much expense for him. I know he'll drive her crazy. They need A LOT of attention and activity lest they turn problematic out of boredom.