Thursday, 4 August 2016

"The Dissident Pet Owner"

The Taipei Times runs a brief report today by Chen Wei-han on a newly launched "awarness campaign" intended to promote proper pet care. It is, in my view, yet another example of well-intentioned activism that simply has't been thought through...
"Artists, animal welfare campaigners and government officials yesterday launched an awareness campaign to teach pet owners the correct way to take care of their animals amid the increasing popularity of pet ownership."
This should have been written as "... to show pet owners the best ways to take care of their animals...", with the emphasis on the plurality of "ways". The reality is that, like a lot of things in life, taking care of animals requires you to make the best trade offs you can afford to under the circumstances. The idea that people should adopt a "correct way" to take care of their pets is a dangerous and stupid naivety.

And this idea is easy to dispute, for a start, because there are different kinds of pets with different needs, even within a given species. For example, four of my six dogs are perfectly served with a large communal bowl of water refreshed two or three times a day, whereas the other two are not and instead require either watered down milk or the leftover broth from after I have cooked their meat in order to prevent dehydration. As another example; Tinkerbell needs to be walked on a leash and given more time and patience due to her deteriorating physical condition, whereas Pups needs to be let off the leash and given freedom to run around and exercise. My second oldest dog, Black & White has a dominating presence and so I tend to walk her separately from Pups, Coco and Erhjen in order to prevent her from "winding them up" and getting them too excited. I do not treat all of my dogs equally and identically. They are all different and so require slightly different administrations.
"Many owners fail to fulfill the basic needs of their pets, such as giving them appropriate food and daily exercise..."
True, but the indictment as expressed there is too narrow and absent any context. There are lots of stray dogs in Taiwan, all of whom need a home, and though I hesitate with the following generalization out of hope for exceptions to the rule, there are lots of wealthy people in Taiwan too and yet it seems to me that most of those people either already have "Asian women's dogs" (i.e. the little Poodles, Shibas, Chihuahuas and the like), or simply would not adopt a "dirty street dog" under any circumstances. It follows that most of the people who might potentially adopt the stray dogs are people on modest to lower incomes and will not therefore be able to afford the "most appropriate" food. And how is that to be defined? Personally, I do not regard the dry food, or "kebble" sold in the supermarkets and specialist pet shops as "appropriate" food. Instead I give my dogs fresh meat and offal (and sometimes bones), usually poached but sometimes steamed along with some potatoes, greens and my leftover guava cores (Wanwan in particular loves those guava cores). However, it is expensive by most people's standards; I spend between NT$6,000 and NT$8,000 a month on food for my six dogs.

What about exercise? Again, with many of the people most likely to adopt a stray dog in Taiwan being on modest or lower incomes, they are also likely to have less free time due to the necessity of working. Some so-called experts recommend walking a dog every two or three hours, but since most of us work shifts of six hours, eight hours, or even longer sometimes, that isn't always possible without the help of family and friends. In my own case, I am fortunate enough to be able to walk my dogs three to four times a day, which for a sixteen hour day, not counting eight hours for sleep, allows me to take them on a walk about once every four or five hours. If I'm doing a reservoir trip up north, or have some other pressing and non-typical errand to run, the pattern will be very different. I know more than a few Taiwanese dog owners who can only walk their dogs twice a day with a lengthy wait of eight hours or more in between while they go to work. Are these owners "irresponsible"? No, of course not; they are simply making the best trade-off they can afford to do under the circumstances.
"Many pet owners walk their dogs without a leash, and some leave their pets in cars unattended. Many believe those behaviors are harmless, but they are actually dangerous,” James said."
I recall some years ago before the current skating rink was built in the middle of Xiaodong road park, an incident with a local woman. She (or perhaps her son) had recently acquired a young, very large, muscular and aggressive mix-breed dog (maybe part Boxer) whom she took to the park one day. At the time, there were several stray dogs of varying ages who could occassionally be seen resting beneath a tree or lying under a hedge. This woman took her dog to the park and let him, un-neutered, off the leash; I could immediately tell from the dog's body language and posturing with other people's dogs that there was going to be trouble and so I took Tinkerbell (at that time I only had her, and no other dogs) back to the scooter and tied her up. I then heard screaming, and ran back into the park to find this large, new dog simply murdering one of the stray dogs with the woman and all the other dog owners simply standing around not doing anything. I ran across the field to stop it and though he let go when he saw me coming, it was too late. The woman still didn't leash her dog and he came back for a second bite, and I simply wasn't fast enough to stop him. At that point, I totally flipped my lid and told her if she didn't get him back on the leash, that I would kill her dog with my bare hands myself because he was an unpredictable danger to my dog and all other dogs. Her son then arrived and wanted to have a go at me, completely ignorant as to what had happened. There would have been an out and out fist fight right then, had not passers by intervened and the cops arrived.

Yet there is an enormous and categorical difference between that incident, and me walking little Erhjen or Wanwan off the leash. They have been neutered, aren't aggressive, are well used to the company of both people and other dogs, and are generally obedient to my commands (within certain parameters; my biggest problem is other people offering them food or treating the public park like a trash can and dropping food waste on the ground). To equate an out-of-control liability with one of my dogs just because both are off the leash is nonsensical. Moreover, allowing my dogs some time off-leash in the field at the back of the park is the easiest (i.e. most economically efficient) way of allowing my dogs to have the exercise they need. I cannot pretend the danger of one of my dogs biting a child is absolutely zero; the child might be unsupervised (absent minded parents glued to their smart phones) and might attempt to play with or strike the dog in a manner the dog interprets as threatening. However, I think the risk is sufficiently low that it is a trade off I am willing to make.
"Owners are urged to microchip and vaccinate their pets, provide appropriate food and timely medical care and avoid keeping pets in a cage for too long."
Only a Taiwanese would put their pet in a cage or a box.
"Civilization has evolved to the point where animal abuse and neglect cannot be justified. Being a good owner means being responsible and registering your pets. People cannot abandon pets just because they do not love them anymore,” Council of Agriculture Minister Tsao Chi-hung (曹啟鴻) said."
Rubbish. It has nothing to do with the "evolution" of civilization. You are obliged to take care of your pets today as best you can because it is the decent thing to do, and always was the decent thing to do irrespective of the "evolution" of civilization. As for registering your pets on a government database; the presumption behind that - that you cannot be trusted not to abandon your pets and therefore require government oversight - is an insult to all those people who love their pets dearly and would fight for them against overwhelming odds.

1 comment:

  1. I am also against the idea of buying a dog as there are stray dogs here even breed dogs like German shepherd or Belgian shepherd and golden retrievee and Weimar too!! I think they are weird here with their miniature dogs, dress their dogs and put them in strollers for baby, completely stupid for me. Once a colleague told me that she abandoned her old dog in the mountains because he was too old and pees everywhere in the house..Unbelievable!!


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