Broward dog kills a cat and gets a death sentence: Fair or not?
Mercedes the dog killed Slugger the cat. The fact is not disputed by Mercedes’ owner. But the law that sentences Mercedes to death based on one incident alone is currently under review.
Because the attack happened in Broward County, Florida, the “dangerous dog” laws that apply (among the strictest in the U.S.) offer zero tolerance for pets that commit a fatal act against a “domestic animal” or a "serious" act of violence against a human.
As he sat on his porch, Slugger was mauled to death. I’m sure it didn’t take Mercedes long to dispatch her prey. And I’m sure she’s not sorry. She was doing her canine thing. A normal dog behavior for a normal dog. Too bad her owner was not doing his normal human thing by making sure Mercedes didn’t have her way with someone else’s property. Too bad Mercedes is a pit bull mix (and she's alluded to as a "pit bull" in most news reports).
Tasteless though it sounds, the issue of property is what’s driving the legal case that's ensued. Yes, “property” was lost. And “property” is what’s scheduled to be taken away by way of legal recompense. An eye for an eye...because we’re only human and that’s what we deem aceptable when it comes to property loss.
You take my X, I’ll take your Y. When cold, hard cash does not suffice, a life for a life seems perfectly OK. That’s how some of these dangerous dog laws work.
Mercedes’ owner is sorry the attack happened. He says she accidentally got out says and claims he would have taken measures to prevent a future escape and address her predatory behavior...had he been given the chance.
Since the attack happened (last November), Mercedes has been sitting in a cage. First at the shelter and now more comfortably at a local veterinary hospital. She would have been euthanized months ago had it not been for the lawsuit her owner filed on her behalf last January.
Mercedes’ lawsuit is one of five currently pending in Broward County (the neighboring county to my north). All dispute the harshness of the law, instituted in May of 2008. Since its inception, 30 dogs have been euthanized after first attacks, mostly after human bites resulted in “serious injury.”
Imagine: Your dog bites a person. It was a firm bite that occurred in your own home and a hospital visit ensued. The person bitten claims the attack was unprovoked. He also claims serious injury when a hand surgeon needs to be called in and he was unable to work for six months. Under the Broward law, any dog that bites a human for no apparent reason resulting in a “serious injury” gets euthanized. One strike and you’re OUT. What constitutes a “serious” injury is not defined by the law.
The law allows for dogs to protect their property in the event of another “domestic” animal’s encroachment. But when a fatal act of violence is committed by any dog against any animal off his property (unless he was attacked first), all bets are off.
The legal argument against such laws have attacked their constitutionality. A municipality cannot take away your peoperty without being granted the right to render it safe, first. For example, they can’t take your car just because you left it in gear and it killed a cat in front of your neighbor's house.
Property rights being what they are in the U.S., no one should be able to take your dog just because it was doing what dogs normally do when humans don’t properly care for them.
Sure, they can revoke a human’s driving privileges if he’s driven drunk. In some cases they can even impound your vehicle. They can even take your boat if you’re guilty of a BUI. But never after just one offense. It’s deemed unconstitutional based on our basic right to property. A human has to work hard to prove he’s truly irresponsible before property is seized.
That’s also the case with pets who are mistreated, neglected or abused. If no harm comes to anyone else’s property or person by virtue of the situation, an owner has to be egregiously in violation before his animal property can be taken away.
But once harm is done, municipalities like Broward can do so in the most violent of ways: By euthanizing the pet for being a one-time public menace.
Now, if there’s one thing we clamor for here on Dolittler, it’s for pet owners to be made responsible for the acts their pets commit. Don’t ban breeds, we say, address the problem at the level of the irresponsible-owner. So why shouldn’t we support a law that attempts to do so?
I’ll give you five reasons why not:
#1 Because this law ignores the reality of animal behavior. Sure, someone’s “property” was harmed. More importantly, a living, loved animal was killed. But killing a cat does not necessarily a dangerous dog make. Such predatory behavior is normal.
One might even argue that both owners were irresponsible (to different degrees) since outdoor cats are inherently more at risk of predation––something every owner who keeps a cat out of doors understands.
#2 Because one chance is not enough, given the vagaries inherent to keeping pets enclosed and the potentially accidental nature of a one-time event. You need to be given a chance to understand you have a problem with your fencing and a dog that predates on cats to address it. You deserve to be given the opportunity to take responsibility for your pet.
#3 ...especially because an animal is NOT like simple property in so many ways (which I don’t deny goes both ways in this case)...
#4 ...especially since a law written like this doesn’t address human behavior. All an irresponsible, uncaring owner has to do is throw his hands up and get another dog. Viewed this way, laws like this undermine our attempts to dispel the belief that pets are disposable...
#5 ...especially when it’s the pet that pays the ultimate price.
Ultimately, what’s wrong with this law––as for the bulk of animal-specific legislation out there––is that it continues to punish the pets, not the people.