By the rule of law, a dog needs shelter, food and water. By the rule of all that is right and fair, a dog needs a whole lot more.
The animals least likely to get the love, training and attention dogs need to realize their potential as companions? Outdoor dogs, who are sometimes lucky just to get shelter, food and water.
I have never understood why anyone would want to keep a dog entirely outside. What's the point? You don't get the benefits of companionship from a dog you see once or twice a day, just to throw down some food for or maybe play a quick game of fetch with. How can you know an animal you don't really live with? How can he know you?
You can't even get security benefits from the pet who roams the back yard or spends his time on a chain. If an intruder makes it inside my house, he's going to find three dogs there. If an intruder makes it past an outdoor dog -- simply by coming in a front window, perhaps -- he's home free. And don't count on outdoor dogs as an early warning system. These animals often become such indiscriminate barkers that you couldn't tell from the sound whether the dog's barking at a prowler or at a toddler riding a tricycle down the street. Besides, people who keep outdoor dogs seem to become quite good at ignoring the noise they make, much to the ire of their neighbors.
Outdoor dogs are at high risk for being abandoned. The tight, loving bond that occurs when a dog lives as part of a family often doesn't form with an outside dog, and that makes it easier to dump such an animal when he becomes more trouble then he's worth. In my neighborhood, there's a family who gets a new puppy every year, usually a mix of a couple of large protective breeds. Year after year, each of these sweet puppies is left to grow up without socialization or training. By the time he's replaced, yesterday's neglected baby has become a dangerous nuisance, unlikely to get a second chance with a new family.
Pets like these are all too common. Bored and lonely, outdoor dogs develop any number of bad habits. They dig craters in the yard. They bark endlessly, day and night. They become chewers of outdoor furniture, sprinkler heads and siding. And sometimes, without the socialization all dogs need, they become flat-out dangerous, ready to bite anyone who comes into the back yard or within range of their chain. The victim is much more likely to be a child, friend or neighbor than a crook: The dog can't tell the difference.
If you're considering adopting a dog with the intent of keeping him completely outside, please reconsider -- for the animal's sake as well as your own and that of your neighbors. Sure you'll end up dealing with fur in the house if you welcome your dog inside, but it's nothing compared to the pleasures of living with a pet who's really bonded to you.
If you have a dog that has become an outside dog because of behavior problems, find someone to help you turn the situation around. It's not true that an old dog can't learn new tricks. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist or trainer who can show you how to overcome the things that are driving you crazy, whether it's house-soiling, uncontrolled chewing or just the ill-mannered exuberance of a dog who doesn't know any better.
It's worth the effort. Once you have a dog you can welcome into your home and your heart, you'll start to reap the benefits of a relationship that's finally being realized to its fullest potential. And that's good news for you both.
PETS ON THE WEB
Blue Mountain is one of the original sites for e-cards, those animated, musical extravaganzas that are kind of fun to find in your electronic mailbox. Blue Mountain's collection of pet-related e-cards (www2.bluemountain.com/eng/pets) offers a colorful selection with a lot of variety. You can send a card to your pet's e-mail address -- my pets have one, don't yours? -- or to a pet-loving friend or even your family's veterinarian. Most selections are aimed at those with dogs or cats, but there are even a couple of e-cards for less popular pets, such as rabbits.
Like most gardeners, "hate" isn't all that strong a word to use when it comes to how I feel about snails. But I never, ever use snail bait, because it's deadly not just to snails and slugs but also to dogs, cats and birds.
Instead, I conduct regular "snail safaris" at night with a flashlight, picking up snails by the shell and putting them in a bag that I then place in the garbage bin. Another alternative to traditional snail bait is iron phosphate, which is marketed under the brand name Sluggo.
If you suspect your pet has gotten into snail bait -- symptoms include frothing at the mouth, vomiting and convulsions -- see your veterinarian immediately. Your pet's life depends on your prompt action.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I find it sad that you and many others are so upset about a stupid animal that gets killed and yet you never say a word or get together a $110,000 reward to help find any of the missing children in this country.
Like most liberal goofs, you think that animals and plants or whatever are more important than human life. This story just demonstrates how warped people's priorities have become. Get a life. It was an animal, for goodness' sake.
The guy who did this was an idiot and should be punished, but you ding-a-lings are more torn up about this dog than you would be about a human. You guys are sick. -- anonymous, via e-mail
A: I got a lot of mail like yours -- most of it unsigned -- when Andrew Burnett was found guilty recently of throwing Sara McBurnett's dog Leo into traffic after a fender-bender last year in San Jose, Calif.
I don't know about the rest of the "ding-a-lings," but this one cares every bit as much about humans as she does about the rest of the animals. There's nothing about being an animal lover that precludes you from caring about people, after all.
In fact, if the laws against animal cruelty were strengthened and vigorously enforced, it would be as much of a benefit for people as it would be for animals. That's because studies show that people who are violent against people -- from child- and spouse-abusers to mass-murderers -- get their "training" by abusing animals. Stopping animal abuse would short-circuit the careers of a lot of violent offenders.
As for the reward, the vast majority of it was in very small amounts and no doubt came from people who saw themselves in Sara McBurnett's place: scared out of her wits dealing with an angry and violent man on the side of the freeway. What this man did was as much a crime against McBurnett as it was against Leo. He wanted to hurt her, and in his out-of-control fury he did so by throwing her dog into traffic.
It's too bad that you feel differently, but someone capable of causing such pain needed to be stopped and needs to be punished. And thank heavens for those who believe in this enough to see the case through to the end. Animal cruelty is rarely taken so seriously, and that's flat wrong.
On the same subject, here's another letter from the woman who never will forget that night.
Q: The article you wrote about my tragedy with Leo was eloquent and thoughtful. Your talent for writing and your opinion will be greatly appreciated in a recommendation for the sentencing of Andrew Douglas Burnett on July 13. You may write your opinion of the defendant, and your recommendation for sentencing to:
The Hon. Kevin J. Murphy
c/o Troy Benson, D.A. Santa Clara County
70 West Hedding St.
San Jose, CA 95110
I'm sure that you share my opinion that three years is a slap on the wrist for a vicious act of animal cruelty, but at least it's a start. Let's hope it sends a message that society will no longer tolerate acts of animal cruelty, and that perpetrators will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law. -- Sara McBurnett (Leo's mom)
A: Sara, I have already sent my letter, and I hope others will do the same. In it, I admirably and with no small effort held back from suggesting a penalty that seems to me more appropriate for this man, involving a dark, rainy night and four lanes of traffic. But that's perhaps more vindictive than constructive, so let's just hope for the maximum penalty allowed by law.
Let's hope, too, that in Leo's memory more people like the letter-writer above will come to realize that animal cruelty is not only a serious crime on its own, but is also too often the prelude to crimes against humans. We need to stop treating these cases with an "It's just an animal" attitude, because these crimes are about animals and so much more.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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