I’ve been reading about the incident which occurred in a Middleton, WI area dog park where Igor a Bull Mastiff, is said to have mauled a Bedlington Terrier. Due to her injuries, Lily the terrier had to be euthanized. This is a very sad situation. I feel terrible for both dogs and both owners, what a horrible experience! What makes it even worse, is that this is a situation that could so easily have been prevented. Instead we have one dead dog and another dog’s life or death is pending a decision by humans. How ironic that humans are the very ones who allowed this to happen in the first place.
I don’t know the rules or the layout at any other dog park than my local dog park. There are two distinct areas, one for big dogs and one for little dogs. They are not only clearly marked as such, they’re also enclosed with 10 or 12 foot high chainlink fencing. You cannot access either area without first going through two different gates. Dogs can’t open these gates on their own, entry into either side is a voluntary, intentional act based on a decision made by a human. The dog park commission set this up to be safe, it’s the people who use it who make it unsafe.
We have space violators on both sides and there is not enough patrol of the area or tickets handed out when violators are found. Whenever I see a small dog enter the big dog area I shudder. We have people who bring their dogs that really believe that when their dog is displaying aggressive, dominant behavior that it’s “just playing” so they don’t even try to control their dogs.
Humans base their decisions on human thinking and reaction which has pretty much very little to do with the way dogs think or act. By no means am I a dog behaviorist expert, but I have over the past couple of years opened up my mind to a new way of thinking. I’m dedicated to learning as much as I can about how a dog’s mind works, to understand why they do some of the things they do and how a dog and their actions are affected by humans. I really wish more people would take the time to learn because it’s an eye opener to say the least. We’d have a significant drop in euthanizing dogs just because they’ve bitten.
I wasn’t there, I didn’t see what happened but reading about the incident has got my head swimming with questions and things that I believe the officials in charge of making this decision should address before ordering this dog to be put down.
Does the Middleton dog park have any boundaries set up to keep the little dogs separated from the big dogs? I was concerned about just this kind of thing happening at our dog park because we have humans taking their little dogs into the big dog area and the big dogs into the little dog area. Do they not realize these fences were put up for a reason? Do they think they and their dog are better than the others and they can bend the rules to their liking?
I called our dog park board and asked a few questions including “What’s the board’s position if a small dog is brought into the big dog area and winds up getting hurt or worse?” I was very pleased to learn that their position is that the responsiblity for the little dog being injured or killed belongs smack dab in the lap of the little dog’s owner. The woman I spoke with also told me the same is true if you take your big dog into the little dog area and your big dog injures or kills a small dog. That then is the fault of the big dog owner. This isn’t a perfect solution as each situation really should be handled individually. At least I know when I take my big dogs into the big dog area should an incident occur involving a smaller dog, my dog will not automatically be blamed just because he’s the big dog.
I wonder why Igor’s owner Gary Lohrke, allows him anywhere outside his home without the leash and muzzle he signed an agreement to use. He understood that his agreement was only with the City of Middleton and mistakenly thought this dog park was outside the city limits. Considering there have been other incidents with Igor, basic common sense precaution would be to leash and muzzle Igor anywhere outside his home. It’s just totally irresponsible of Mr. Lohrke to decide that once the dog steps over the invisble line known as the city limits, it’s ok to remove the leash and muzzle. Mr. Lohrke’s logic in this totally escapes me.
As always, there are at least two sides to every story. Lily’s owner, Shirley Fulton, believes it was an unprovoked attack. Igor’s owner says Igor was trying to play and Lily actually was the instigator nipping and jumping at Igor’s face. I tend to side with Mr. Lohrke for several reasons, just one of them being that Lily was a terrier. Terriers are generally very active little dogs, some are literally wired to the max. Most small dogs have no fear and that attitude can really get them in trouble. My own dog was involved in an altercation several months ago and was being accused of attacking the other dog who had been superficially injured. I wanted to understand the behavior that had transpired. After contacting my vet, a professional Police dog trainer, a professional dog behaviorist and a dog rescue coordinator it was explained to me that my dog did not attack the other dog. He was defending and protecting not only himself, but me from a dog who didn’t know how to meet and greet other dogs and instead lunged at us and into my dog’s face. I know for a fact this other dog has never ever been socialized with other dogs so how could he learn? Dogs have their own Meet & Greet Ritual, if one dog doesn’t follow doggie protocal, it can cause major problems.
It sounds like Lily’s owner does not understand that what Lily was doing can be construed as an attack by the dog being nipped and jumped at. Igor doesn’t know that Lily is smaller than him and Lily doesn’t know that Igor is bigger than her. Size has no bearing in the dog world, dogs don’t know what size is! They only recognize one another as dogs. Fights are not always started by the biggest and strongest person. It’s sometimes the one you’d least expect to cause a problem that throws the first punch and the melee begins.
If you are being poked in the face, are you not going to protect yourself? Even if someone starts poking at you in fun you may put up with it for a few minutes but this gets annoying real quick. You may ask the person poking you to stop several times, if they don’t you’re going to take some kind of action.
During all the activity, Lily’s owner is obviously and rightfully stressed tremendously. Here’s this 130 pound dog with her tiny dog in it’s mouth. Absolutely a frightening situation and one where Lily’s owner is going to try to save her dog. She jumps in with her cane and starts hitting Igor and probably screaming at him to drop her little dog. Her friend is slapping Igor in the face with a leash. What these people are doing is doing is human nature. What they didn’t realize is that their actions escalated the situation! The humans actually helped kill Lily.
At the very bottom of all of this is Igor, who either did actually jump into the group of little dogs to play and got provoked by Lily, or his prey drive kicked in. In the animal world “prey drive” is not vicious, it’s instinct. If these were cats and mice, would you blame the cat for attacking the mouse? No? Why? Because that’s what cats do, right? People seem to have no trouble accepting that their cat kills mice. Well, folks, dogs have a prey drive, too, and it’s stronger in some dogs than others. People don’t think of dogs in the sense of being an animal, but the bottom line is they are animals first and foremost.
This is a perfect explanation for why our dog park has two separate areas and why if your dog park doesn’t, it should. The rules need to be enforced and violators should be ticketed. Fines should be hefty in order to help prevent things like this from happening.
Most loving dog owners don’t think of their dogs as dogs in the true sense of the word. They think of them as part of the family or like a child. When little dogs bark, snarl, growl and act sassy it’s considered cute. When a big dog does the same thing, it’s considered mean and vicious. It’s not fair that the big dogs take a bad wrap and the little dogs get off scott-free just because of their size. They key is that the behavior is the same in both dogs! There is no such thing as “little dog behavior” and “big dog behavior.” Dog behavior is dog behavior. Don’t excuse the little ones and punish the big ones for displaying the same behavior.
So, now I see the board has decided that Igor should die. There was someone willing to pay to have Igor transported to DogTown where he could have been rehabilitated or lived out his life. This would have removed Igor not only from his irresponsible owner’s care but from the area and wouldn’t have cost the city of dime. This positive action would have taken care of everything including not punishing Igor for being a dog and having the misfortune to have an irresponsible owner.
Igor did not choose his life or his owner. He didn’t choose to be in the park, be provoked by another dog and to have that dog’s human escalate the situation by reacting in what is a normal human way for someone who doesn’t understand what was really going on. Humans chose this all for Igor who was just being a dog and now humans are recommending his death.
According to the newspaper article, Igor had bitten a gal by the name of Michelle. There are no details of the circumstances surrounding that bite. Maybe Igor really was trained to be vicious, I don’t know. I do know that dogs are not born vicious, that humans prey on dogs who just want to please their masters and humans make them vicious. Blame here may lie directly on Igor’s owner, but with not Igor. There is enough questionable information available for me to come to the conclusion that Igor’s owner is not responsible enough to own a dog. I haven’t seen any talk of ordering him to not own a dog.
Maggie Fulton and others who think like she does are wrong. You can stop dogs like this, there is help for them. Send Igor to DogTown. Igor does not have to die.
Here is some additional reading you may be interested in. The articles are in no particular order, I add them to this list as I find them.
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