Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Perspectives on South Euclid's Dog Park

On March 11, a Chihuahua died after it was mauled by a Siberian Husky at South Euclid’s Dog Park. The Husky’s handler (cousin of the owner) has stated the Chihuahua instigated the attack.

Followers of the dog park’s Facebook page were informed of the incident within hours of its occurrence. After three weeks of silence, the local media finally chimed in, with multiple articles from the Plain Dealer, the Sun Messenger, and numerous TV stations.

I’d like to take a moment to respond to the articles and some of the comments. Although I am a patron and supporter of the dog park, I do not represent FIDO in any official capacity and speak only for myself.

I am not familiar with Sigma Orion, the Siberian Husky involved in the incident. I had seen Rizzo at the dog park, and never found him to be aggressive – if anything, Rizzo was a bit portly and was plainly an older dog who had cataracts. He was not a snapper, which is a characteristic of many Chihuahuas (a breed I’ve had a great deal of experience with since childhood). My dog, a retriever/collie mix, got along fine with Rizzo. At the same time, I must question the wisdom of bringing an elderly, partially blind dog to a park with canines of all breeds/sizes. Would you take your fragile, impaired grandparent to participate in a contact sporting event?

Not that I’m comparing dogs to humans. It’s important to remember that dogs are animals first, companions to humans second. I learned this last year when my usually friendly canine, on a leash in my backyard, spotted a rabbit in “his territory”. He took off, snapping the leash in two (nearly pulling my arm off), and before I could begin to respond, he had the rabbit in his mouth and was bringing his prize to me. (I was able to get him to drop it and the rabbit scampered away.) At certain times, canine instincts will take over. Ultimately, it is up to humans to decide if their dog is appropriate for a dog park. And let me be clear that I blame this incident on human failing. Too often people forget that dogs are not accessories, they are living creatures and have needs along with instincts - not all of which are constructive. This is not only an issue at the dog park, but in residential areas. In September 2010, my spouse and I were walking our dog down Francis Court when two Rottweilers, who were not properly secured, attacked our dog. Only quick thinking and a helpful neighbor were able to prevent the attack from going too far, but the Rottie’s owner was nowhere to be seen.

The full truth will never be known (and we should keep this in perspective: this is not a human murder, a dog was killed by another dog). But it’s plain that the Husky’s owner was not being fully attentive - as is corroborated by several witnesses. This is a problem at every dog park I’ve been to and South Euclid’s is no exception. Frequently I’ve had to inform chatting humans that their dog has pooped and they need to clean it up. Also, many people do not understand that dogs can engage in rather aggressive play: chest bumps, tackling, even occasional nipping or play growls. This is not fighting – the closest parallel to humans is wrestling. It’s part of the canine social structure and if you don’t want your dog to participate in that, don’t take them to the park. Many do not understand the difference between wrestling and real dog aggression, so they panic when they witness this behavior , shout and chase the dogs, and up the tension level. (By the way, there is a sign at the dog park that outlines the rules and explains canine behavior.)

Three examples of canine play.

The Sun Messenger article implies that the effort to build a section for small dogs is in response to the incident. That is not true. Efforts to raise funds for a small dog area have been underway for over a year. Of the three major dog parks located in or near Cleveland (Tremont, Lakewood, South Euclid), NONE has a separate area for smaller dogs. I'd also like to ask those who have criticized the South Euclid Dog Park for its' lack of separate areas: Have any of you even donated a dime to FIDO? Operating the park isn't free, nor is it paid for by government funds.

A commenter noted that dog parks are only good for passing along fleas, worms, and getting your dog impregnated. Unless you intend to breed your dog, it should be spayed or neutered – period. If you don’t and your dog is impregnated, it’s YOUR fault, If you can’t afford the operation, don’t get a dog. There are some three million dogs euthanized every year, and proper attention to this one procedure would go a long way to alleviating that problem. There are various treatments to prevent transmission of fleas and heartworm, and it should be a normal part of any dog’s handling if that dog spends time with other animals.

It’s frustrating, but hardly surprising, that some commenters are using this story to take pot shots at Sunny Simon. So many of the commenters at are trolls, but that’s no different from many websites that allow anonymous comments. I’m sure others will put the blame for this incident on the mayor, city council, and police department - even though they are blameless in this matter.

Some have suggested shutting this dog park down. How many dogs have been killed in the dog park since it opened in 2005? One. How many humans have been killed in South Euclid during that time? Dogs are not the problem, humans are. I know of no one who has left the area because of the dog park’s presence here. But I know of at least two people who chose to move to South Euclid, in part, because of close proximity to a dog park – Dan & me.

[April 6, 2012 NOTE: It has come to my attention that there was another canine fatality in 2010, a small breed killed by a Labrador. My opinion remains unchanged that, with proper precautions taken by vigilant humans, the dog park is a wonderful place.]


Terry Miller said...

I like your outspokenness and directness! Read your posting on the dog park. Good for you.

Anonymous said...

I like your post, and I couldn't agree more on owner's responsibility over their own dogs and respect toward others. I visited the park tooday with my dog where I acounter a quite aggressive dog who was preventing all the other dogs from enjoying the time in the park. After few of those outbursts, I addressed the owner of the dog to recall and control his dog. He refused and used many choice words, that are not appropriate to repeat. It was up to me to seperate and prevent his dog from attacking other dogs. The dog did listen (way better than his owner) and it was sad to watch him, because I bet he is a sweet dog that was not properly trained how to play, so instead he was bulling other dogs.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the misinterpretation of big dog play. People always blame the big dog. The little dogs run around and bite and try to alpha the big dogs and people think its funny. It's not. A small dog bit my shepard and my dog could have killed him. He did not. It was still his fault in the eyes of the people bc they all had small dogs. Now he does not trust small dogs.

Hank Drake said...

Just a reminder: Anonymous comments are generally not posted. I've made two exceptions here but future comments will require a name to be posted.

Hank Drake said...

Anon2, I think generalizations about large and small dogs are unwarranted. I can tell you from personal experience, the two Rottweilers that attacked my dog were hardly small - and they were entirely unprovoked. (My dog, at 60 pounds, is not exactly tiny either.) Ultimately, as Anon1 points out, the responsibility lies with the handlers.