A bad situation all around

Dog with news anchor, seconds before he bites her

You may have seen on this morning’s newscast a story coming out of Denver, wherein a KUSA news anchor was bitten in the face yesterday as she did a segment on “Argentine Mastiff” Max, who was rescued by firefighters after falling through the ice on a local pond.  Because the broadcast was live, the bite was captured on film and is, inevitably, viewable all over the internet.

This incident just makes me profoundly sad on so many levels.  Sad for the folks watching the news when what should have been a feel-good story took a dramatic turn for the worse, sad for the newscaster who will now carry physical and emotional scars for life, sad for the dog who is now in quarantine and whose future is uncertain, all because of something that should never have happened in the first place.

Someone for whom I don’t feel particularly sad?  Max’s owner, who let him down multiple times and in multiple ways.  He let him down by letting him off-leash — in violation of local leash laws — to run out on the frozen pond to “go do his business.”  He let him down by failing to vaccinate Max in accordance with local rabies vaccination laws.  He let him down by agreeing to appear on television with the dog, placing him a strange and stressful situation.  And he let him down by failing to protect him from that situation, forcing Max to protect himself.

I watched the video.  If you know anything at all about dogs and about their body language, you could see that bite coming from a mile away.  The news anchor, a stranger to Max, was all over him.  Touching him all over, leaning into his personal space, holding his head between both of her hands, and ultimately leaning her face into his, presumably to give him a kiss.  This dog was licking his lips, panting, yawning, trying to pull his head away, and finally giving her the side eye and showing his teeth seconds before the bite occurred.  He was plainly telling her in no uncertain terms to back the hell off.

The news anchor, who was apparently not dog savvy, didn’t see those warning signs.  Max’s owner, who was holding his collar at the time, DAMN WELL SHOULD HAVE.  Live and on-air or not, he had a duty to both Max and to the newscaster to assure that the situation would be safe.  He failed.  Epicly.  As a result, the dog bit.  I think it’s important to note that Max didn’t continue to try and go after her, didn’t latch onto and maul her.  He bit her to get her out of his face.

As anchors on KUSA sister station WZZM pointed out, there has been plenty of criticism of the news anchor for the role she played in the bite.  One of them, a gentleman who had suffered a dog attack as a child (like, way to be unbiased, WZZM), said, “Don’t blame the human for this.  None of us are given classes in how to treat dogs.”

He has a point.  We’re NOT given classes in how to deal with dogs, or cats, or any other kind of domesticated animal, nor are those classes likely to land on a public school curriculum any time soon, much as we may wish otherwise.  Common sense (which is so clearly NOT AT ALL “common”) would seem to dictate that someone planning on getting close to an animal to do a news segment on it would try and educate herself, but that didn’t happen.  The dog’s owner — the person who had a duty to educate both himself and anyone else coming into contact with his dog — dropped the ball.  HE’S the human to blame.

So instead of a feel-good story about a dog rescue that went well, what we can take away from this incident is a valuable object lesson:  As dog owners, we have a duty to our dogs to assure that this kind of situation doesn’t happen to them.  What kind of a dog can/will bite?  Any dog with teeth.  Some are more easily tipped over the edge, but any dog is capable of biting given a bad enough set of circumstances.  They depend on us to keep those circumstances from occurring.

Let’s not let them down.




Posted on February 9, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. There are sometimes opportunities for dog owners to take their animals into classrooms to educate children about dog etiquette. It’s something I’ve been considering doing.

    • Dayna Dawn Small (AKA Dayna Barter)

      That would be awesome! I’d love to say I would do it too, but then I’D get in trouble for biting the children.

  2. And that’s why the AKC Canine Ambassador program is so vital!!! It teaches children and also many adults about how to properly meet, greet and be around a dog. We use examples that the kids totally understand, such as do you like a stranger to come up and kiss you, pinch your cheeks, give you a hug or pat you on the head? All kids these days have been taught “stranger danger”, so it’s easily transplanted for them to apply it to a dog.
    This past year I easily taught over 1500 kids and the adults with them, many of which wished they had been taught these simple things before they put themselves in a dog attack/bite situation.
    Unfortunately the dog is the real victim in the end, though I feel sorry that the reporter now has to deal with the injury, but it could have been prevented…by a human.

  3. This dog was licking his lips, panting, yawning, trying to pull his head away, and finally giving her the side eye and showing his teeth seconds before the bite occurred.

    You probably mean a very specific thing when you say “licking his lips, panting, yawning”, but to those of us who are newbies in the doggie world, I just don’t think they mean the same thing. Neville does all of these things when I get home from work, and it’s pretty clearly not a sign of aggression … unless we’re talking “aggressively seeking belly scratches.” Pulling his head away? He kind of does that, too. He’ll turn around so I can scratch his butt instead of his head, or bury his face in my leg so I can scratch the back of his neck.

    The only thing in that description that screams “aggressive” to me is showing teeth, and as a guy who was hospitalized for a dog bite … you can’t always see that coming fast enough. At least I couldn’t. AJ said she could tell when our previous, angry, rescue dog was getting ready to come after me, but I never could.

    I haven’t seen the video, but I don’t know that the reporter, even if she took the time to read up on signs of imminent doggy danger, would have known it was time to get away. The owner, on the other hand, really should have. That’s why we were so careful when Wishy was around other people … even our vet.

    • Dayna Dawn Small (AKA Dayna Barter)

      You’re right, Thomas, those things probably don’t mean much to people who are not “dog-experienced.” Like you say, dogs do that stuff all the time; it’s more the combination and the way in which he was doing it that signals danger to those who are familiar with body language and behavior. And I want to be clear: I do not see this as an aggressive act. The reporter was making this dog stressed and uncomfortable and, as far as he was concerned, she was paying no attention to what he was clearly telling her until he did the canine equivalent of bellowing at the top of his lungs. All of which speaks to the point that, while the reporter didn’t pick up on his cues, Max’s owner should DAMN well have realized that his dog was reaching critical mass on his discomfort, and done something to remove him from the situation.

      And maybe he wasn’t dog experienced either. But if that was the case, the onus was on him to learn these things, especially with the type of dog he chose to own.

      There are some good reference materials on-line and some good books on the topic to help out with interpreting canine body language and behavior in general, but for a close-up and probably more meaningful lesson, watch Neville in a situation which you know is likely to cause him some stress, such as the vet’s office. All breeds and all dogs are unique, but the longer you have him and the more you observe him in different situations, the easier it will be for you to hear what he’s telling you about how he’s feeling.

    • I think it’s also important to point out here, Thomas, that those are not signs of an aggressive dog, but rather signs of a stressed out dog. And yes, sometimes even when I’m playing with or greeting my dogs they display these signs (albeit on a milder level) and I know that I’m coming on too strong and back off.

      I haven’t watched the video because I probably couldn’t stomach it, but I’m sure what I would see is a dog who was clearly saying, the best and loudest way he knew how, please get out of my space. Any dog, anywhere, if stressed enough and not given a break or a place to escape WILL bite. This dog, in fact, is incredibly *unaggressive* because he went through every method of communication he had at his disposal before biting. It breaks my heart that this dog will be put down (I’m assuming) for something that was not one iota of his fault.

      It also makes me sad that people don’t take the time to learn more about dog body language if they are going to own or be around dogs. And I’m NOT pointing fingers here, it took me having an easily stressed out dog for me to finally get my butt in gear and do that. But when you think it about it, you wouldn’t jump into a car without knowing the basics, so why can you own a 100 lb animal with teeth without at least knowing some basic body language. That may not be how I felt when I got my first dog, but the longer I’m in the dog world and the more stupid things I see people do, the more I believe this.

      It’s bad enough to the point that I worry about having my dogs in public anymore for fear of what stupid stuff people will do. I almost never let people who aren’t dog-savvy or with children dog sit anymore after one of my friends told me that she punished (read: smacked and crated for an entire day) her sister-in-law’s dog who bit her 14 month old child who she had left alone with the dog (read: poking and pulling). The amazing thing was this dog didn’t even break skin on the child. What wonderful restraint on the dog’s part, and yet she was punished! We are idiots when it comes to animals, and it’s sad. And that is my rant…

  4. The whole story is very tragic and it just gives fuel to the dog-haters out there. It truly was the owner’s fault, but I guess he couldn’t pass up his 15 minutes of fame 😦

  5. I saw this story this morning on the Today Show. Good for them – they immediately had a dog trainer on after the edited video (they didn’t show the actual bite) ran, who defended the dog totally.

    Hopefully this episode will turn into a “teachable moment”, and Max will be released from quarantine to go home to a wiser owner.

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