I never asked why my paternal grandparents decided to move to western Kentucky. Maybe I just assumed. In the mid-20th century, they were the definition of hillbillies — dirt-poor folk out of Harlan County with a mess of kids and all the strange dialect and mannerisms of Appalachia.
What I do know is that they probably had a different parental style than what my parents would eventually pass on. You’ve heard the stories. My dad, aunts and uncles ran outside barefoot, walked two miles uphill in the snow to school, drank out of a water hose and caught “crawdads in the crick.”
Whether those values are dated isn’t really the debate, but I can safely say that, by modern standards, they probably made terrible pet owners. Dogs ran free, and heck, if you got bit you got bit. What’d you do to the dog to make him bite ya?
I can’t say that for certain about my grandparents, but my uncle most certainly wouldn’t be lauded for his pet-minding skills were he alive today. I still remember sitting in his house playing Nintendo while he and my dad talked when his dog started growling at me. Being quite young, I was naive. Dogs were good, just protective. All I had to do was be non-threatening, offer a hand to sniff and the problem would go away.
That’s when the dirty rat bit me on the leg. My trust was shattered, falling like shards of glass alongside my tears and blood. They seized the dog, and since I wasn’t bleeding profusely enough to maybe die, limped home to a linen wrap and a liberal application of Neosporin.
This was the 90s, so nobody called animal control and the evil pooch was allowed to die of old age, although my spiteful side hopes it choked on a bone. Heck, calling someone to get the dog wasn’t even an option. That’s just how it was. I think my uncle laughed at me next time I saw him.
The old saying “once bitten, twice shy” is certainly applicable. I was incredibly wary around dogs for a while after that. It took me getting a pup of my own to really get over it, even if it wasn’t my last encounter with a mean-spirited dog.
I wrote all that to say this: Through my youth, I’ve been bitten, I’ve been chased, I’ve felt in danger from other people’s animals. Through these encounters I’ve noticed no real correlation between their breeds and their nature. What I have known, though, are bad dog owners. Those were all of the same breed.
If my anecdotal evidence makes you scoff, then consider that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has specifically come out against breed-specific legislation like that certain members of the community are asking Hopkinsville City Council to consider against pit bulls.
There is no evidence that this kind of law makes any difference in the safety of community, or does anything to protect against dog bites. It may have the opposite effect.
As you know, people aren’t exactly fond of the government telling them they can’t have something. It wouldn’t work with guns, it’s not going to work with Fido. This kind of potential legislation takes the focus off the owner and makes the dog responsible. It’s silly.
There are effective options available, many of which Hoptown has already taken: licensing laws, laws that require owners to control their animals, leash laws and so on.
It’s not as if this hasn’t been tried before, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals contests that the rise in pit bull popularity only began because of breed-specific legislation that failed in the 1980s.
In this state you can also go after irresponsible dog owners both civilly and criminally if their negligence results in injury. You’re also legally allowed to kill any dog you see attacking a person.
You could argue that the penalties should be increased, or that the jail time should be longer, but given what we know, it seems as if the city is doing the best it can when it comes to limiting incidents of dog bites. The answer isn’t more legislation that has been proven to be ineffective, even harmful toward the goal of reducing animal attacks.
You can’t tell people you think will make bad dog owners they can’t own animals any more than you could tell prospective awful parents they can’t have children — and for the same reasons. The truth is, there are just some things you can’t legislate, and that’s this week’s small victory.
JESSE JONES is the editor of The Eagle Post, a member of Paxton Media Group. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.