Under the law, Dogs (and other pets) are legally defined as property. ‘Property’ is typically defined as an inanimate object, not a living thing.
By defining dogs as an equal ‘property’ to household ‘things’ means that a dog often must endure dire conditions before the law can intervene. A dog placed into a dangerous environment is far more likely to become dangerous than a socialized, well cared for animal.
Food. Water. Shelter. A dog with such basics is not considered to be in ‘danger’ because according to law his survival needs are being met. While one dog may react differently than another based on the exact same stressful conditions, any animal behaviorist or individual that has dog experience can attest to definable conditions that correlate to a dog becoming ‘dangerous’. Keeping a dog tethered and kept without basic socialization are probably two of the biggest contributors to ‘dangerous dogs’.
We must examine what commonalities ‘dangerous dogs’ share. One progressive ordinance implemented in the city of Albuquerque is a zero tolerance policy for chaining or otherwise tethering dogs. Dogs that are tied up are more at risk to display aggression because they recognize their vulnerability in being unable to get away from a potential threat. Such dogs are not necessarily inherently aggressive, but the act of trying a dog is a big one in contributing to dogs being defined as a ‘dangerous dog’.
‘Dangerous Dog’ policies fail community. The reason being that the law does not ask a critical first question, “Why do dogs become dangerous?” and “What policies can be enacted to minimize the risk of a dog becoming dangerous in the first place?”.
In my state, New Mexico, there are no existing regulations for ‘commercial breeders’. This means a surplus of puppies are easily available without regard to the kind of homes they will have, or how many times they may be ‘re-homed’.
While we cannot regulate, nor legally define morality, communities can and should ask why an issue exists in the first place before addressing treatment.
As long as dogs are legally defined as mere property, there is an inherent disconnect. On one hand dogs are equal to any inanimate object. On the other, their behavior is being regulated.
Cities take the time to define what constitutes a dangerous dog without regard to examining the conditions that create a dog as defined under law as a ‘dangerous dog’.
By regulating commercial breeders (i.e, puppy mills and backyard breeders) communities can take one step forward is curbing the massive surplus of unwanted, abandoned and neglected dogs in their state.
As long as dogs are defined as property, dogs will continue to experience conditions that cause dangerous behaviors. It also places more burdens on animal shelters to find resources to rehabilitate dogs and homes for difficult to place dogs.
We need the law to see dogs as more than property in order to begin the paradigm shift of how dogs are seen in our communities across America. While no law can completely eliminate all ‘dangerous dogs’ or all ‘animal abuse’, such a progressive measure has incredible potential to alleviate the root cause of what causes dogs to become ‘dangerous’.
Let us not confuse idealism with an objective effort to identify the root cause that makes a reactive policy necessary.
As an individual who has worked with many shelter/rescue dogs and witnessed the wholehearted efforts of those working in animal welfare, it is obvious that policies need to empower our community to do more for dogs.
Every person already working to help dogs in need is making a contribution to a kinder world for dogs and all animals. Even if you only help one dog or introduce one person to a new way of thinking about dogs, you have made a difference. All of us must meet the challenge in being more effective stewards to the dogs in our communities.
Next up: How can we change the bad rap of the word ‘activist’?!
Placing Rescue Animals in the Spotlight
We are an animal photography image bank, greeting card line, creator of good cause campaigns and outreach consultant based in Albuquerque, NM