By now, this image should be familiar to most people who follow ‘dog news’ and most people who don’t.
Christian Cooper, a senior biomedical editor at Health Science Communications and – joy to the hearts of nerds everywhere – a former writer for Marvel Comics, was birdwatching at “The Ramble”, a section of Central Park, on Memorial Day. The Ramble is clearly posted as an on-leash zone.
When Cooper saw an off-leash American Cocker Spaniel running through the brush and disturbing the birds he was hoping to spot, he asked the owner to put her dog on a leash. She refused. Then things got unhappy.
From the above video description: Central Park this morning: This woman's dog is tearing through the plantings in the Ramble. ME: Ma'am, dogs in the Ramble have to be on the leash at all times. The sign is right there. HER: The dog runs are closed. He needs his exercise. ME: All you have to do is take him to the other side of the drive, outside the Ramble, and you can let him run off leash all you want. HER: It's too dangerous. ME: Look, if you're going to do what you want, I'm going to do what I want, but you're not going to like it. HER: What's that? ME (to the dog): Come here, puppy! HER: He won't come to you. ME: We'll see about that... I pull out the dog treats I carry for just for such intransigence. I didn't even get a chance to toss any treats to the pooch before Karen scrambled to grab the dog. HER: DON'T YOU TOUCH MY DOG!!!!! That's when I started video recording with my iPhone, and when her inner Karen fully emerged and took a dark turn...
(fun fact: throwing treats is one strategy to stop a charging dog in its tracks so you can get yourself and your dog out of the situation)
A Word on Racism
Of course, I have never experienced the above. Oh, I’ve been sworn at, spit at, and physically threatened by people who I politely asked to put their dog on a leash and that the area they were in was an on-leash area.
I’m Weird-Al-sour-cream white and nerdy, so I’ve never had anyone threaten to call the cops and tell them a white woman was physically threatening them. I’ve also never lived in an atmosphere where I felt that the police would not only assume I was the guilty party; they were a risk to my life and safety.
For someone to respond so malevolently to a simple request to put her dog on a leash is a sign that we need to start leashing this attitude. Maybe add a shock collar.
Why More Amy Coopers Need A Metaphorical Bitchslap
Every time I see Amy Cooper sling her American Cocker Spaniel around like a jug of wine she’s too drunk to find the mouth of, my palm itches a little. The bitchslap, however, has already been administered. She’s lost her job, she’s lost her name, she’s lost her dog. For once, the kind of behaviour that she engaged in actually had consequences for the dog owner.
In communities all over the world, careless and entitled dog ownership causes tragedy every year, yet the law has yet to catch up on what has never been a dog problem.
People choose to own dogs or not. They choose to control dogs or not. They choose to pursue activities that make their dogs better canine citizens or not. They choose to research behaviour and training or not. This power of choice is the greatest freedom that we have, so why are we letting people abuse it and then keep the greater part of punishment for the animals that are their victims?
It’s time to adjust the way society treats people who choose to put others at risk via their dogs. It’s time to stop giving people a pass for ‘not knowing’ their dog is a potential danger or stressor.
How The Hell Do We Do This?
So glad you asked. I have a number of ideas.
- CITIES: support your Animal Control Officers. Budget for better funding. Budget for city-supported information sessions. The City of Calgary is currently reviewing their Responsible Pet Ownership Bylaw – check out part of their questionnaire (closed now)
- SCHOOLS: make time for animal representatives to come in to talk to children about dog safety and how to take care of pets.
- DOG PEOPLE: advocate for your community to support better enforcement of leash laws, safe off-leash areas, reasonable animal control policies, educate lawmakers on what the most serious problems are.
- KENNEL CLUBS and DOG GROUPS: Get out, make noise! Get a committee involved with promoting responsible dog ownership and reaching out to those with low resources with help. Advocate for well-rounded laws that actually make a difference, not knee-jerk laws that only convince the loudest people that ‘something is being done’.
- BREEDERS: Your dogs are only as good as your dedication to soundness, health, and temperament. Your buyers should understand and respect the process of responsible breeding (you do health-test and take puppies back, don’t you?) and their role in bringing up a well-rounded dog of this type.
- SHELTERS and RESCUES: should exercise caution when adopting. It’s always a matter of chance, but a good application is a start. Also, be aware of the bylaws in your area. They should form part of the adoption package.
- EVERYONE: Write letters! To your city, province, and national representatives. Post on social media about the need for a group effort to change the way we look at dogs and dog owners. Support animal control initiatives and humane pet keeping. Even if you don’t like dogs, it’s worth your while to support policies that lead people to observe leash laws and train their animals.
Do you have ideas? Let me know in the comments.