Wednesday, February 24, 2010

In defense of Spork

I find myself getting caught up in new issues and causes on an almost daily basis since I've begin social networking. The latest is the case of Spork, a little Doxie who bit a veterinary technician, and who has subsequently been labeled a dangerous dog.

As with most things on the Internet, there's a lot of misinformation, hysteria, emotional outburst and a lot of weirdos have crept out from under the rocks they should really stay under.

But I digress....

It's wasn't easy getting through to the heart of the matter, but from what I've pieced together, Spork was at the Jasper Animal Hospital, where he's a regular patient, for a bit of dental work. The technician either reached to take him from the arms of his owner, or leaned too close to the dog's face with a pair of scissors and Spork bit the tech on the chin. The wounds were serious enough that the tech required a trip to the hospital and treatment from by a plastic surgeon.

The veterinarian says the dog had been nervous in previous visits, but that the dog did not have a record of aggressive behavior.

The incident was reported to officials by the hospital where the tech was treated - a legal requirement - and an animal control officer was sent to investigate. Spork's owners, Tim and Kelly Walker, received a ticket charging them with owning a "vicious dog" and have spent over $6,000 defending him.

Colorado state law prohibits animal care workers from filing charges against animal owners, but Lafayette officials say city laws permitting such charges apply.

The technician decided to "pursue charges" (one report says "file a report with the Police Department") an action the veterinarian supported, although he claims the veterinary hospital "has not advocated for, or participated in any way in subsequent decisions by the City of Lafayette to prosecute Spork's guardians".

A hearing is scheduled for sometime in April to decide Spork's fate.

If you're tempted to side with the technician in this case, here are a few things you need to keep in mind:

- Animal-care professionals know that animals frequently react badly (bite, kick, scratch or head-butt) when nervous or stressed.

- One of the earliest chapters in vet-tech text books involves safely restraining and handling nervous and/or potentially dangerous dogs.

- Many Dachshunds (along with many other little dogs) have a track record of being snappy.

- Experienced dog handlers never try to take an unfamiliar dog, especially a nervous dog, out of the owner's arms.

- You never stick your face in a dog's face unless you trust them explicitly.

- Legalities aside, if you work with dogs, and especially if you've actually been trained to work with dogs, you know the risks and accept them as a normal part of the job.

- An animal (or a person) is most dangerous when cornered.

Why this case is important...

Despite my concern for a little dog and the distress his family is experiencing, there's one reason every animal owner should be concerned about this case - it sets a dangerous precedent. It opens the door for other animal care professionals to pursue charges against owners if a pet injures them, whether the animal has a track record of "aggressive" behavior or not.

What you can do...

Following the story on Facebook or Twitter is fine, but if you're as concerned as I am, write to the veterinarian (snail mail) and to the Lafayette city officials. You might also consider making a donation to help cover the Walkers' legal costs - if such a fund is established, I'll be sure to post it.

What I don't recommend...

If you write letters or post to the fan page, please, resist the temptation to rant or name-call, as many of Spork supporters seem tempted to do. If we're going to save Spork, indeed if we're going to change the perception of dogs and of dog owners, we must remain rational and unemotional.

In particular, although I disagree with the Veterinary Technician's actions and Veterinarian's support, I don't believe that personal attacks will convince them to change their minds about pursuing the charges against Spork and the Walkers. I'm sure this person feels pretty trapped right now, and may even regret their actions. Let's give them some room and a few reasons to back down from what must be a very uncomfortable situation.

Facebook: Save Spork

City of Lafayette contacts

Jasper Animal Hospital
1361 Forest Park Cir Ste 107

, CO 80026

Right Juris: Spork

Veterinarian's press release

Dr. Dodge's Editorial Letter, 25 February

Pet Docs on Call: A veterinarian's perspective

Animal Law Center (ACL) Tim and Kelly Walker's statement

Police report, including vet bill (ouch!)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"It's been told a photograph says a thousand words. This one united a thousand hearts." Thus starts an article on a remarkable rescue story, the story of Nico.

I wish the pictures, before and after, could touch everyone's heart.

I won't talk about the photos or the dog or his rescuers. I will talk about all the hundreds of thousands - millions - of dogs and cats and other animals who are in the same situation Nico was in, and who could have the opportunity for the same happy ending. The problem is, we won't see their faces. We won't know their names, species, or breeds, we won't hear their stories - we won't even know how many of them there are.

For most of them, we don't want to know their fates - a bullet in the head in Alaska, the gas chamber in Michigan, a puppy mill in Missouri, a dog-fighting ring in Georgia, laboratory experiments just about everywhere. There will be too few happy endings.

Nico is now an official poster child for millions of homeless and unwanted animals. But these animals don't need to be homeless. Without doing a lot of fancy math, I figure that if every single-pet home took in one "Nico", the overpopulation problem would be just about eliminated. If all the cats and dogs were fixed, the future problem would be prevented. If everyone turned from the cute puppy or kitten in the pet store and found a "Nico" in the local shelter who needed a bath, a few trips to the vet, a bit of EFFORT, I would be out of a job - and so would the backyard breeders, "free kitten" farms and puppy mills.

Nico's story says in two pictures more than any words can say - even the most dejected and miserable creature can triumph, given a home and someone who cares.

So for all the Nicos and Nicas that won't have their pictures go viral, please, open your heart and your home to a homeless animal.....

Update, 31 August 2010: Nico has been diagnosed with an aggressive cancerous tumor in his ear, and will start treatment soon. Please keep him in your thoughts. You can follow Nico on Facebook, he may be deaf, but he's a great typist!.

Petco Scoop: Nico's Story

Nico's Facebook Page