Dog trainers blame owners
by Vickie Elmer
"It's something that's always on my mind," says Robin Ashlock.
Ashlock, owner of Peaceable Pets, a dog-walking and dog-sitting service, keeps an eye out for dogs that might menace or attack dogs she's walking--even as the aggressive pet's owner stands by. "People underestimate how badly their dog is beating up the other dog," she says.
Though it hasn't happened to Ashlock, dogfights can end up in a trip to the veterinarian. "Sometimes it's just some broken teeth--they bite each other," says James Clarkson, who owns the Westarbor Animal Hospital. But a few dogs require surgery for a punctured lung or an abdominal cavity torn open.
Though health codes prohibit all but service animals in restaurants, dogs show up almost daily at downtown's outdoor cafes and restaurants, snoozing or waiting impatiently while their owners sip beer or share stories. But it's "asking a lot of the dog," says Ashlock, to sit still for an hour or more with food all around, children reaching for them, and no one paying attention to their mood or needs. So she's not surprised that when other dogs pass, barks or even bites may ensue.
Another dog walker, Lee Taylor-Belcher, says she also sees conflicts, thought not as often as Ashlock does. But the exceptions can really create havoc. Dog trainers blame owners for much of the conflict, noting that people talking on phones or chatting with friends while sitting in outdoor restaurants often don't watch their dogs' behavior.
Some owners act like their pet is "just a cute little man in a furry suit," says Ashlock. "No, he's a dog."
The Ann Arbor Police Department received 456 complaints about dogs in 2008. Deputy police chief John Seto notes that police are usually called only if a dog is badly injured. Most of the time, says Seto, "they get separated and move on."
[Originally published in September, 2009.]
On September 18, 2009, Kiki Markovitz wrote:
With all due respect, I totally disagree with Ms. Ashlock.
I was born and raised in Europe and lived more than half of my life in Vienna, Austria.
We always had animals -- especially dogs -- that we took everywhere with us, to cafes, restaurants, inside airports, and many other public places.
I was really shocked when I came to the United States to see how restricted the lives of animals and dogs have been in this country.
Let me state at the outset that I am not one of those snobby Europeans who thinks that everything in Europe is much better than in the United States. Quite the contrary: I love this country, prefer living here, and I find many things to be far better here than anywhere in Europe. Alas, attitudes towards dogs happens not to be one of them.
There should be no reason at all not to take one's dog inside a restaurant. I know that there exist strange regulations by various health departments on account of the alleged unsanitary conditions that dogs supposedly represent. I do not want to regale you with the countless times in which I saw many a more disgusting, unkempt and unruly person intruding upon many a restaurant's public space to the nuisance of its patrons. And surely you would not argue to have these folks barred from restaurants.
You also indicate that with all this food around, it is a challenge for dogs to remain under the table, that they get bored and only wait for an opportunity to start a fight.
Because I am a firm believer that American dogs are no different from their European counterparts, I wonder why this should be the case here in the United States when it never happens in Europe. Of course I had witnessed dogs growling at each other in Viennese cafes and Berlin restaurants and Parisian bistros, so what? If the person accompanying the dog is in full control -- as every such responsible person should be -- nothing ever happens, the dogs get calmed down and all is well. I traveled with big dogs all across Europe and took them to every imaginable public space without incurring any problems or difficulties at all.
I am always sad to see people leaving dogs in their cars in the United States -- even in the heat of the summer -- or at home for many hours all by themselves, often in confined kennels, simply because people cannot take dogs to restaurants and public spaces.
As a dog trainer, you should be encouraging people to take their dog wherever they can and have them sit in cafes when the weather is beautiful and outdoor life is blossoming in a lovely town like Ann Arbor.
I really hope that there will come a day when people -- even in the United States and even in an allegedly liberal and self-acclaimed tolerant town like Ann Arbor -- will treat their animals as their equals and not feel compelled to hide them in public on account of outdated concepts that have ruled these animals' lives for far too long. For there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. And lest you dismiss my views as that of a radical animal rights person and/or PETA member, I am neither.