One of my veterinarian colleagues at work, an older vet perhaps not so in touch with pop culture as he should be, recently adopted one of his client’s sick pups. This pup needed special care due to his cleft palate, a congenital defect in which the embryo doesn’t fully develop, leaving a wide open gap in the ceiling of the oral cavity.
My colleague wasn’t willing to euthanize the pup (the common answer to this uncommon abnormality). He felt that with proper feeding (via esophageal tube) and surgery at four months of age, he could save the lovable creature. And so he did.
The only problem? This pup is a Presa Canario. Familiar with the breed? Last month, one of its genetic brethren attacked and killed a woman, as she showered, in her South Florida home. Another pair famously mauled a neighbor in a Northern California apartment building. This victim later died.
Shall we agree the breed has its issues? At the very least the Presa Canario has a PR problem. And now my mild-mannered colleague has become the unlikely owner of one of these…um…monsters?
Abraham is, indeed, monstrous—but not in terms of disposition. Now over a year old, he weighs about 150 pounds and stands taller than his owner when his paws are on Dad’s shoulders. He is a silly, slobbery giant who fears cats and spends most of his time stalking a new sleeping spot. Not your average TV version of the ignominious Cujo we’ve all come to expect from the Presa.
Abraham’s biological dad, however, is another story. And I wouldn’t trust his mom as far as I can spit (not far at all). But then, they were both raised by a macho, body-builder type and grew up as outside dogs expected to defend their South Miami homestead—not exactly Abraham’s plush-dog-bed puppyhood with eight daily feedings and neverending attention.
This is not to suggest that environment is everything. Genetics is a gigantic factor in the world of dog aggression. It has been proven that the tendency for aggression can be inherited. Presa Canarios, among other notorious breeds, were raised for just this—attacking and defending. It’s no shock they don’t handle an integrated human lifestyle with a pug’s easy aplomb. They are large, difficult to handle dogs selected by their owners for their outdoor displays of defense.
Does that mean they should come with a warning label? I ask this only half in jest. While I abhor the practice of breed-specific legislation that abolishes breeds in certain communities (IMHO, these laws are as ineffective as they are unjust), I believe that some dogs do warrant extra-special care.
As a public policy, aggressive dogs of all breeds need to be identified and safely contained. If our current policies are unsatisfactory in remedying the ongoing problem of dog bites and attacks, let’s blame our weak system, not the dogs and certainly not the owners of the dogs who carefully manage their responsibilities.
My Presa-packing colleague is still somewhat unaware of what the fuss is about. As I said, he’s easy-going and pop culturally-challenged (he didn’t know what a Presa was until he had already adopted one). He is, however, acutely aware of his dog’s potential to do harm. Anyone with a dog that can seriously maim or kill a human has the responsibility to recognize this and take measures to prevent casualties. If you have a dog of most any breed…that means YOU.
All dogs, like people, have the capacity to do serious harm. They, however, have an excuse: they’re dogs. We, their owners, do not. When we do not take this responsibility seriously, society should hold us accountable for our dog’s misdeeds. If this were the case in all municipalities, I posit we’d have far fewer cries for banning Pit Bulls, Presas and the like. Their owners would have been cited or prosecuted for the first offense.
My conclusion: our society is too soft on dog crime. With all the rights we believe our dogs should have (that they do not yet have the luxury of) comes the responsibility for owners to act like their dogs deserve them.