DEAR DR. FOX: Earlier this summer, a new next-door neighbor moved in along with a beautiful black pit bull. My family and I have not formally introduced ourselves or spoken since his move-in, and we want to give plenty of space and time to let things happen naturally.
One weekend shortly after settling in, this neighbor spent time and effort building a 10-foot-by-10-foot fenced pen with an open ceiling and a concrete base in his backyard. In the mornings before work and on my days off, I can easily see his dog from my dining room window, alone in his pen.
Over the past few weeks, I've observed the neighbor's dog with growing concern. I often see him yelping and whimpering after hours of being locked up with no one caring for him. The long summer days turn into evening, and the dog is usually left alone overnight in a shelter too small for him, nothing to play with and no other beings to engage with. I can recall at least two evenings of thunderstorms when he was left outside overnight. Several evenings of his yelping caused other dogs across the neighborhood to bark and howl late into the night. His pen is rarely cleaned, and he is not often taken for walks.
With such minimal attention, I am puzzled by why the owner owns this dog to begin with.
I feel compassion for this dog, and I have explained what I've seen to my friends who are pet owners. They encouraged me to contact animal control to intervene. Braving the idea that it could trigger an uneasy start to a neighbor relationship, I felt I had to do what was right and called them one afternoon. After a visit from animal control to his home, it seems that the owner's behavior has not changed. With some online research, I found that it might be risky for the pet to be taken in by animal control due to stressful conditions at shelters and the chance of being euthanized. Other articles mention that minimum care varies state to state, which could spell little or no intervention by the authorities.
I feel stuck between a rock and hard place of not knowing what to do, and I find myself stressed and uneasy each time I hear him yelp and whine. -- B.C., Clinton, Maryland
DEAR B.C.: Your detailed account of your neighbor's gross neglect of his dog and courageously contacting animal control, which evidently made no difference, is frustrating to say the least. Ownership of pit bulls is banned in some municipalities and they, like all dogs, can become dangerous when not properly socialized and cared for. I would prefer bans on all people like your neighbor to prohibit them from keeping animals!
Call animal control and ask what its assessment was and if the dog's vaccinations are up to date. You may not get satisfactory answers since some animal control agencies have no laws or local ordinances to give them any teeth. Quality-of-life criteria need to be incorporated into animal-protection laws.
Animal control and the police may not be your best local resources. Take video documentation and record as best you can when the dog is fed and if water is always available; measure the size of the kennel or shelter that is too small for him. Share this with local chapters of organizations like PETA or the Humane Society of the United States.
But first, perhaps you can offer to help walk the man's dog, saying he must be very busy and asking if it would be OK for you to help care for the dog. Would your family mind you bringing the dog into your home? The dog may need to be bathed.
Keep me posted, and I wish there were more good neighbors like you.
DOG VIRTUES AND HUMAN EXPLOITATION
In my professional opinion, most dogs embody more of the finer virtues that we admire in good people than I find in most of my own kind. This is surely why Australian aborigines contend that the "dingo makes us human." It is also why so many people regard their dogs as family members.
But this emotional bond is exploited by the multinational pet food industry, which is still selling junk food and treats that continue to sicken millions of dogs, and sponsoring dog shows and adoptions to boost ownership and sales. Even more un-dogworthy are those who treat dogs as disposable commodities, mass producing them in cruel breeding factories called puppy mills and selling them in pet stores, online or by dealers and dubious "rescue" organizations. In her unforgettable and thorough book, "The Dog Merchants," Kim Kavin documents this national disgrace and international atrocity.
I highly recommend this book to all dog lovers -- especially for those who are considering purchasing or adopting a puppy or adult dog via the internet and paying in advance with no guarantees of health or even receiving the dog or puppy of their choice. I also suggest getting involved in helping save man's best friend from such exploitation.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)