Saturday, 26 July 2014

On "M13" & BaoBao

I had an anonymous comment early this morning (so presumably from someone across the Pacific) concerning the accidental death of M13's dog "Baobao". Apparently he was getting a lot of stick in the comments about taking his dog on a scooter with him. I used to enjoy watching M13's youtube uploads regularly some years back and I had since forgotten all about him. From the video description...
"BaoBao just finished doing a 1500km tour on my scooter....only to fall off unexpectedly and for no reason when I was buying lunch and while I was doing walking speed through an intersection. There was only one other vehicle anywhere near me....and its rear tire went over BaoBao's back crippling her and smashing her pelvis. She would have needed extensive surgery and with no guarantee of being able to walk ever again... she was almost 17. Over the next year or two she would have aged/worsened a lot. So I made the call to put her down while she was still "herself" and not in too much pain."
It's very sad of course, and I'd have struggled emotionally with that decision myself, but the rationality of it is clear. Sometimes you just have to take tough decisions, go through with them and live with it afterwards. That's life.

On the actual accident itself, I'm sure M13 will have his own thoughts in hindsight as to whether he could have done this or that differently. For my own part, whenever I take Tinkerbell with me on a longish trip somewhere (e.g. to the beach or the mountains), I use a harness and lead to keep her tied to the bike between my feet. With the other dogs I can also put both feet to the front of the bike to fence them in using my legs as makeshift "guardrails", though admittedly I cannot do this with Tinkerbell as she always stretches to see where we are going. There is no perfect solution though as all I am doing in effect is trading one set of risks (e.g. her falling off the scooter) for another set of risks (her inability to get clear of the bike should we suffer a collision and the bike take a tumble).

It seems natural to claim that putting the dogs in a car is safer than taking them with me on a scooter, since a car obviously eliminates the risk of them falling out of the vehicle and also offers the protection of a cage in the event of a collision. That is true, but again this may simply be the act of trading one set of risks for another; whilst the protective value of a car against small collisions is positive, its' value in the event of very large collisions (e.g. a freeway pile-up) may be negative in that escape is so much more difficult if not impossible. Another example might be parking; the small size of a scooter means that it is possible to leave the road and park on the relative safety of sidewalks and paved recesses in public parks; with a car, this is not possible and you are often left with no other choice than to open the tailgate into oncoming traffic - which requires more training for the dogs to wait and not leap out as soon as it's open.

Of course the other thing to bear in mind here is that safety is not the only value at stake. There are always trade-offs.

I walk my dogs at two local parks; the first one is a relatively short distance away, but rather than walk them to that park I prefer to drive them on the scooter; the second one is just behind my house so is even closer and I walk them to that park. I use the scooter to take my dogs to the first park because I want to minimize their exposure time to the road and because I want them to have as much time to run around freely in the safety of the park as I can afford. The reason I walk them to the second park is because the distance is very short meaning that there is almost no time-saving to be gained from using the scooter. However, I walk my dogs to the second park without leads; I have trained them to stay close to me and wait when I tell them to (there are two exceptions to this: Black & White, who was already mature as a stray dog before I adopted her and so has become accustomed to navigating the roads and alleys on her own, and Wanwan, who is so excitable that I carry him under one arm and don't let him walk on the road by himself). In both cases however, the values at stake and their evaluation are entirely mine and my responsibility only.

The accusations that M13 was "reckless" in taking his dog on a scooter with him seem to me to be impertinent. Accidents will happen, and none of us are infallible. We do not need laws to punish people who take their dogs to park on scooters on account of the reactions of a bunch of self-appointed banning-fannies. Without me (and my scooter - which I bought expressly for the benefit of Tinkerbell), all of my five dogs would likely have died painful deaths from disease or worse some years ago.

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