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Thoughts While Strolling (13)

April 21, 2008

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Recipe for Disaster. Because it bans dogs, leashed or unleashed, from its parks, Croton has long been recognized as the most dog unfriendly community in Westchester. Several months ago when dog owners started agitating for a more enlightened policy toward “Man’s best friends,” Mayor Schmidt announced that the village board would take a hard look at the Croton’s village code and see whether changes are in order.

Well, the Schmidt mountain has labored and produced another mouse. Once construction has been completed, Croton is planning on opening the River Trail along the Hudson to leashed dogs under restricted circumstances. We are tempted to exclaim, “Big deal!” Nevertheless, dog owners should be grateful for such a small crumb after so long a wait. As some readers have guessed, one of the reasons this writer does so much strolling in the village is that our dog, virtually a member of our family, accompanies us. It goes without saying that we would prefer to be able to include Croton’s parks (not its ball fields) in our itinerary. That would be preferable to being consigned to walking in the hazardous gutter.

Instead of continuing to put pressure on the Schmidt administration to relax the foolish injunction against leashed dogs in parks, a small group of dog owners is now pushing for the village to set aside an area to be fenced off and made into a so-called “dog park” in which dogs would be allowed to “play.” The argument always advanced is that “dogs are pack animals.” This is a most peculiar line of reasoning that only holds water if you can think of a pack that includes smaller dogs like Yorkshire terriers and dachshunds together with large dogs like Rottweilers, Irish wolfhounds and German shepherds.

The idea that dogs need to play with other dogs is a classic example of anthropomorphism—the attribution of human motivation, characteristics or behavior to animals, especially pets animals. It also reveals a remarkable lack of knowledge of the forms that dogs’ play behavior takes. Puppies begin to play as soon as they can walk. Littermates commonly wrestle and chase each other, pulling and biting on ears or tails. Through play with littermates, pups learn just how strong they are. By the time it is weaned, each puppy will have formed an impression of its own abilities and its social standing among its littermates. This forms the basis for adult behavior, such as attempts to achieve dominance over people and other dogs. Play allows a young animal to practice important life skills without adult consequences. For example, by tolerating dominance behavior in young puppies, an owner may encourage later inappropriate behavior in an adult dog.

Now, put one or more dominant dogs, usually males in a fenced area and problems will quickly develop when they contest with one another for dominance or try to exercise dominance over other dogs. The play biting on ears and tails of puppyhood has given way to more serious attacks intended to draw blood.

A registration book should be maintained to identify owners of problem dogs (with driver’s license or photo ID) in the event of an incident at which animals or humans sustain injuries. What is surprising is that the dog park idea is being pushed despite the mounting evidence that fatal injuries have been sustained by dogs and serious injuries by humans in such facilities. The Internet is replete with accounts of dogs being killed and humans being injured by hostile, aggressive dogs in dog parks. Wise owners should learn how to separate fighting dogs and should carry a stout stick or cane and water spray bottles or even cans of pepper spray to be used on dogs engaged in fights that are inevitable in such situations.

If Croton accedes to this ill-advised clamor for a dog park and sets aside a fenced-off area for this purpose, we would never allow any dog of ours to utilize such a facility. It is indeed a recipe for disaster. Here are some of the dangers a dog park can present:

(1) Hostile, overly aggressive and unruly dogs. Many owners of certain breeds relish taking their dogs to a dog park to see their dog assert its dominance over other dogs. At the very least, there should be one dog park for large dogs and another for small dogs. An alternative would be to stagger the hours at a single dog park to ensure that large and small dogs do not use the park at the same time. Dog parks are no places to bring puppies that can experience traumatic incidents that will scar them emotionally for the rest of their short lives..

(2) Diseases and Parasites. Our dog’s veterinary bills are not small, but represent the least we can do as part of our compact to protect this important member of our family. They include an annual physical checkup with fecal and urine samples tested; protective immunizations and boosters, including rabies, distemper/parvo/hepatitis, leptospirosis and borrellia (Lyme Disease). The latter vaccine produces a level of immunity in a dog that sterilizes the bacteria as the tick feeds, and before it can entire the bloodstream if the dog. The sterilized tick will not transmit the disease if it happens to bite another family member.

We know that many dog owners expend as little as possible on their dog’s health, only arranging for the rabies shot required by law. We are not about to endanger the pet whose presence in our lives means so much to us by unnecessarily exposing him to communicable diseases and fleas, ticks and parasites that other dogs may harbor. We owe the dog we adopted no less care than the child we might adopt. It is only a small part of the debt we all owe to animals for the cruelties mankind has visited on them over the centuries.

(3) Careless or belligerent owners. These are perhaps the worst threats of all to public safety. We know of no way that community dog parks can anticipate the problems brought about by owners with little concern for the rights of others. And there is no way that a community can sponsor and set up a dog park on public land and then deny responsibility for what happens there.

Many dog owners make the mistake of bringing their dog’s favorite toys to the dog park. Owners should be discouraged from bringing their dog’s favorite toys. These have sparked dog fights. As soon as another dog grabs the toy (it can even be a simple object like a tennis ball) and runs with it, trouble ensues. Your sweet, gentle dog can get mighty unhappy if another dog runs off with his favorite toy, even if it is only a tennis ball—but it is HIS tennis ball. And would you believe that some pet owners bring food to dog parks and try to distribute it there? Mayhem is hardly the word to describe the result.

So, before Croton springs for a dog park (as contrasted with opening its parks to dogs on a leash), we hope the mayor and trustees will look carefully at the checkered history of dog parks across the country. These simply haven’t turned out to be the heavens on earth their promoters touted them as being. Knowledgeable dog owners shun them like the plague they can quickly become. Readers can verify these statements about the dangers of dog parks by simply googling the words “dog park dangers.” Read some of the heart-rending stories of small dogs that were attacked and killed by large dogs. Are you hearing this, Mayor Schmidt?

Two-tone Tonsorial Note. What’s with the present trend for two tones of facial hair? It’s turning up more frequently these days especially among public figures and has stolen attention away from poorly fitted hairpieces.

Consider Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Most of his head hair is gone. What remains is a rich dark brown, right down to his sideburns. But there his beard mysteriously blossoms forth as a white Santa Claus beard that leaves little doubt that the brown head hair is the result of a dye job. See for yourself:

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke

Then there’s John Bolton, who looks like a walking “Got Milk?” advertisement. A former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, his abrasive personality, however, doomed his chances of being confirmed as Ambassador to the United Nations. George W. Bush was forced to settle for an interim appointment for him as Permanent Representative to the U.N. that did not require Congressional approval. His temporary appointment expired in 2006, and a Democratic majority doomed his chances of ever being confirmed as Ambassador to the U.N.. His head hair is thick and luxurious, now a nondescript, mostly dark pepper-and-salt combination. But it his moustache, which looks more like a white Groucho Marx fake, that catches our attention. See for yourself:

What bothers The Stroller about these guys in public places is that when we look at them we can’t help applying the acid test and ask ourselves, “Would we want to buy a used car from either of these guys?”

The classic case of mismatched head and chest hair is that of burly actor Claude Akins.

As his acting career waned he found new work as the spokesman for AAMCO transmission repair shops. They dressed him in a tough-guy black leather jacket with open shirt displaying a thicket of chest hair. The problem was that the hair on his head was an intense shoe-polish black while his chest hair was as white as the driven snow. This was before the days when two-tone hair was acceptable, and AAMCO quickly substituted a different Claude Akins commercial sans the exposed chest hair. Unfortunately, we have not been able to find a copy of that commercial.

On April 22, 2008 1:19 PM, Bill Burton said:

Please bring your four-footed friend to the Ossining Dog Park for an extended period during high-traffic times (mornings on weekends, for example) to see how a user-managed place runs. (Unlike certain other dog parks, Ossining’s does not discriminate against non-residents.)

My experience is that, while it is not without its flaws, the place is remarkably free of hazardous events.

Our Dog Park has 2 sections: the larger area, for all comers, and the “shy dogs / small dogs” enclosure for the self-same dogs.

There are, alas, some irresponsible people who use the place, but the regulars are pretty good about talking to the problem owners and either getting them to see the light or getting them to stay away.

Check out our website: http://ossiningdogpark.homestead.com/index.html

All best, Bill Burton



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