Thursday, August 6, 2009


Thirty-three-year-old Diane Whipple was exhausted. It had been a long day and she’d just picked up her groceries for the week. As the elevator climbed up towards her floor she shift ed uncomfortably… The grocery bags were heavy and she was alone in the elevator. She would need some help but didn’t want to ask her neighbours. She didn’t like them too much, neither them, nor their mean dogs. The elevator-speaker chimed… Diane had reached her floor. As the door opened she saw her neighbour and smiled a half-smile… then she saw the dogs, huge beasts weighing about 50 kgs each, straining at the leash. As soon as she saw them, she shrank back in fear. The dogs seemed to pick up her sense of dread and became more aggressive. Diane tried to avoid eye contact and tried to shuffle away without further aggravating the dogs that were snarling and snapping ferociously. Their owner tried to calm them down and pull them away but the dogs were too strong. They pulled and strained at their leashes till a horrified Diane saw them break away and charge towards her. For ten horrifying minutes, the dogs tore into Whipple while their owner struggled to pull them away. Diane Whipple died a terrible death. The owners were jailed and fined and the dogs, Presa Canarios (a powerful breed of dog used for herding cattle and guarding property), were executed.

Now if you hate dogs and can’t figure out why they are called man’s best friend, I can see you going ‘there… I told you so… they should be put to sleep. The whole lot of them’. But if you can’t bear the thought of not sharing one’s life with a canine friend I foresee two possible responses. If you’re the type who can’t stop mothering and pampering her pet (it’s usually a ‘her’ in such cases… ‘mothering’ comes to them more naturally), you’d probably be pretty horrified to learn that a ‘dog’ could actually kill but you’d probably tell yourself that Buddy would never do such a thing. He is cho chweet. Funnily enough, the owner of the two Presa Canarios that killed Whipple, Marjorie Knoller, said the exact same thing – “I had no idea… how can you anticipate this… a dog that is gentle, loving and aff ectionate could do something so horrible, so brutal…?” And if on the other hand you happen to be one of those pseudo-macho types and happen to own a Presa, or something similar like a Rottweiler or a Neapolitan Mastiff , perhaps you feel a hint of pride, “Gosh, I own a dog that could kill? That is so… er… cool!” Well, if you felt either reaction, then you must know that you don’t deserve to keep a dog. And it is owners like you who give dogs a bad name, validate the fears of the dog haters and are responsible for creatures that have unfortunately become, or could become possible threats to people in your neighbourhood.

Some facts. Dogs are wolves. Period. Centuries of domestication and selective breeding have turned them into polite and patient partners in progress but inside that cuddly exterior, most breeds of dogs are still animals that could kill to live in the wild. Of course, dogs have been great partners in our mutual evolution. Dogs chose to be our partners when their wolf ancestors started following our nomadic hunter-gatherer forefathers. This proximity led to a shared lifestyle where eventually these ‘wolves’ started helping us with our hunts in the hope of finding scraps from our spits and before we knew it, man and dog had become the best of friends. But that word ‘friend’ is misplaced. Dogs don’t want to be our friends. They want to be led. And if in any home a dog does not find a leader, there is bound to be trouble. A dog, like a wild wolf, needs to be part of a pack. When we bring a pup into our homes, that little creature seeks out its place in the pack and in the absence of discipline and leadership, because it is genetically programmed to seek hierarchy and order, it assumes leadership of its human pack. Once a dog assumes pack leadership, owners would be left with a dog that is at least disobedient and perhaps even dangerous…

Now if you are the ‘mothering’ type, we’ll talk later, perhaps in a future issue, but know this… a dog wants to be treated like a dog, not like your ‘baby’ and in all likelihood your dog is either neurotic or obese or both and you’re probably killing it, literally, with all that saccharine-sweet affection. If you need something to ‘baby around’, make your own… or at least find another person… Your dog is happy being a dog. And even that cute Pekingese is NOT YOUR BABY. It still is a little wolf at heart. But for now, I will try and share my concerns on this increasing trend of keeping big powerful dogs as symbols of status and pride.

I was walking with my dog, a female Rottweiler, through a busy lane in Khan market when a man approached us. He patted the dog and asked if she was “tough-shuff hai ki nahin…?” I politely inquired what he meant and he shared his concerns… “I had a Doberman once. It was useless… nice to everybody. Anybody could come and pat the dog and he wouldn’t say a thing. So I encouraged it to be aggressive. I stopped letting others meet the dog, kept it chained through the day and let it roam at night. I had to beat and bully it to make it bark and snap… Arre, Doberman bhaunkega nahin toh faayda kya? What good is a docile Doberman… Then one night when I returned home rather late, the gate to the house was locked and I had to climb over it; the dog was loose and guess it mistook me for a thief and took a chunk off my bottom… useless dog. I think I’ll get a Rottweiler now, but yours is too soft . Tez nahin hai…” I half wished she would take out another chunk and even out this gentleman’s bottom but she just ignored the man. Such people shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near dogs.

Unfortunately a lot of us use these big powerful dogs as symbols of machismo, just like tattoos, fast cars and big bikes. We abuse them and hope to compensate for our shriveled manliness with an aggressive dog instead. The Presas that killed Diane, as well as most Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and German Shepherds that have caused human fatalities in India and around the world are actually victims of such twisted ownership. These powerful animals need constant leadership and discipline from their owners that both channels and controls their instincts and makes them into loyal companions who would willingly lay down their lives for their ‘human pack’.

It is important to emphasise that these breeds are not killer breeds but merely powerful animals with strong drives which when abused and misdirected, become far more lethal than smaller, less determined breeds like Pugs and Beagles. Kennel Club registrations all over the country show a disturbing trend of more and more people purchasing big and powerful guarding breeds like the Mastiff s and Rottweilers. Some pick them because they need a dog to guard their new riches. And a rare few, because they have researched the breed, admire it for its history and attributes and find it compatible with their lifestyle choices. But most, and this includes friends and colleagues, pick them for their formidable looks, massive size and sheer macho appeal. They do not realise that most of these breeds were bred to walk for miles and fight off wolves, bears and thieves while protecting their flock and people, wrestle with bulls, fight armed gladiators and wild animals in the coliseums of the Roman Empire, or hunt big game. A sedentary life with a 20 minute walk twice a day is a life of frustrations for these powerful creatures. And especially with such dogs, it is important to ensure that every human family member, from the eldest to the youngest infant, is above the dog in the ‘pack hierarchy’. This can be done by ensuring the dog always eats last, never pulls on its leash and listens to instructions. (If you want to know more about the methods, pick up any of Cesar Milan’s books). Without the above precautions, every family that owns such dogs is sitting on a ticking time-bomb.

I truly admire these big dogs like the Rottweiler. For every Diane Whipple there are countless legends like the one about a Rottweiler protecting his injured master from about 20 miscreants whom he held at bay during a riot in Germany. Or you might’ve heard about one that woke up its sleeping owners in the Australian outback during a forest fi re. I know that when I walk down a dark alley with my dog I’m safe; I know when the dog sleeps on the porch at night, my family is safe. But I know this on the basis of a relationship and trust built over long walks and painstaking role and rule definition. If you own or hope to own such a dog, you owe that to your family, your neighbours, the dog and yourself…


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