Nelson: It's time to jail owners of vicious dogs

The response from defenders of such breeds is always the same: there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. If that is indeed the case, then it should be the owner who pays the price

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When it comes to asinine phrases, “don’t worry, he never bites” is right up there with, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

Because dogs can and will bite — it’s their nature to do so, being descendants of the grey wolf — even if they’re called Fluffy, wear socks when it’s freezing outside and have pride of place in their owner’s wallet the way kids’ school photos once did.

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The number of dogs that have tried to take a piece out of me is certainly in the high hundreds, although only two were able to sink their teeth into flesh.

So, in a world teeming with self-labelled experts, I’d claim to be somewhat of one myself when it comes to the aggressive habits of canines. This knowledge was hard-earned over 20 years, during which I ran enough miles in training for various road races to have twice circumnavigated the globe on foot. And often, when running past someone out walking a dog, the animal would lunge at me.

Runners quickly understand, as do posties, that you must pass beyond the distance of the attached leash. Miscalculate, as I did on those two occasions, and get ready to be sewn up and given a week’s worth of antibiotics from your nearby health clinic.

The interesting thing is, if you stop and question the owner about this attack — because that is what it is — it quickly becomes your fault. In fact, I’d wager many dog lovers are already composing hate mail for my future reading pleasure as well as angry missives to the Herald editor demanding my dismissal. (I’m not on staff, so that route’s a bit pointless.)

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They’ll argue I startled the dog, so what did I expect? Gone is the previous fatuous claim that their beloved pooch would never bite anyone, to be replaced with a searing indictment about my stupidity in running past the animal in the first place. Such reasoning was once common in sexual-assault cases, in which the victim was deemed partly responsible for the attack because she dressed in an attractive manner.

Still, they are right in a circuitous way, even if the logic is twisted. In the end, when it comes to dogs, you’re the one needing to be careful because it’s your hide at risk. And some risks are a lot more dangerous than others. Which is why I never ran past a pit bull or one of those associated mastiff-like breeds. Turning around and retracing your steps might seem a little cowardly, but considering the damage these animals can do to a human body, such discretion is indeed the better part of valour.

Tragically, we’ve had yet another example of the ferocious power of such animals with the recent death of an 11-year-old boy in Edmonton. In this sad episode, the dogs were Cane Corsos, a breed with the dubious distinction of having a jaw capable of inflicting even more damage than that of the average pit bull. (Some towns in Alberta have outlawed such dogs, but not here in Calgary where city council seems too preoccupied with the dangers of plastic spoons and paper bags to bother tackling that contentious question.)

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Anyhow, the response from defenders of such breeds is always the same: there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. Well, given how many times I’ve evaded lunging pooches, there must be a huge assortment of bad owners out there.

But if that is indeed the case, then when one of these mastiff-type animals kills or maims some innocent victim it should be the owner who pays the price — and not one involving some picayune fine for violating a tepid bylaw. They should be charged with manslaughter or aggravated assault and thrown in jail.

After all, it’s never the dog’s fault.

Chris Nelson is a regular columnist.

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