Meryl Streep claims,
Dingoes ate my baby! in the 1988 film A Cry in the Dark.
Although many can see the humor in that line, aggressive dog attacks are
no laughing matter. What may not be as obvious is the aggressive worldwide
campaign being waged against those considered responsible for these tragedies
literally hitting dog owners where they live.
In 1997, while living in Rahway, NJ, my husband Mike was contacted by
a former girlfriend regarding custody of her Rottweiler, as she was financially
forced to move to an apartment complex that did not welcome pets. The
last thing this world needs is another junkyard dog, and, despite many
hardships, we have never regretted the decision to take Apollo into our
Rottweilers are beautiful, engaging animals, descended from mastiff-type
dogs used to herd cattle for those pesky Romans stomping all over Europe.
These mastiffs bred with farm dogs in the southern German town of Rottweil,
giving us the breed we know today. Sleek, shorthaired, black and tan Rottweilers
are classified as working dogs give them a task, and
they go to it. Extremely trainable, they were recognized as police dogs
in 1910. Modern times have found them excellent pet therapy candidates,
and many are trained for service to the disabled.
Yet, the breed is intimidating well, if a 27-inch, 100 lbs muscular
beast with huge jaws makes you nervous. Friendly Apollo made Mikes
landlord so nervous, the boy and his dog were thrown out in the middle
of the lease, prompting the first of many mad scrambles to procure living
quarters. We finally landed a run-down flat a few blocks away, with an
ostensibly flexible landlord who, unbeknownst to us, had just sold the
building. Our new landlady was not amused, but by the time we relocated
in 1999, Apollo often played with her children in the backyard.
We welcomed Mikes job transfer to the Tidewater section of Virginia
for a number reasons, not the least of which was the possibility of gaining
financial ground. Through a generous relocation package, we expected red
carpet treatment and smooth passage into unknown territory. The carpet,
however, was ripped out from under us when Mike told the relocation agent
we had a Rottweiler. A few weeks prior to the September move we deduced
that we had been blown off. I spent six straight hours on the phone calling
every apartment complex in Tidewater, and got my answer the ominous
voice from Snoopy Come Home, intoning NO DOGS ALLOWED.
Or, more precisely, OUR dog was not allowed, and what kind of people were
we to own such a dog? Oh, NO, the abrupt, judgmental, uptight
voices said, we dont allow THOSE dogs. I tried the state
and local government, the real estate consortium, and was left cold. Each
click of the receiver left me feeling more and more like a criminal.
Close to tears, I finally connected with a sympathetic real estate agent
who owned a Rottweiler. She explained that since Rottweilers, along with
other aggressive breeds such as German Shepherds and Doberman
Pinschers were commonly used in local drug trafficking, they were unofficially
blacklisted. She told me that most renters lie about owning a pet. How
do you hide a huge black dog? The thought of moving all the way across
country just to get evicted did not appeal.
Every divination we performed on the matter, nonetheless, pointed south.
Stifling raging doubt, we dutifully climbed into the car on a sweaty August
day and drove to even sweatier Hampton to survey the landscape. Mike left
a message for our useless relocation agent, letting him know we would
not be ignored. That, however, made it all the easier for him to be out
of the office when we arrived. His frightened young secretary thrust a
copy of the relocation folder at us and backed away. We spent the expense-paid
evening at the Hampton Holiday Inn pondering our existence.
Morning dawned, along with the realization that we had run out of options.
Frustration transformed me into a shrew by the time Mike pulled up to
the 7-11, to get more and more rejection from local newspaper classifieds.
Pacing the steaming asphalt, I heard a ringing in my ears Mikes
phone. Sure, the man told Mike, pets are ok, as long
as youre not talking about a horse! Rottweiler? I had
a Rottweiler, our future landlord said.
We drove through the scariest, seediest section of Newport News to a sprawling
two-story house, with a spacious yard fringed by a grove that would make
any Druid proud. The street was quiet, the landlord eager, the rent more
than reasonable. We spent the night at the very scary King James Motel,
and signed the lease the next day. We thought the rest was history. Moving
day landed us in Newport News with a crash a beer bottle slammed
to the sidewalk in front of what proved to be a crackhouse across the
street, now filled with an audience for our dog-and-pony show. Step right
up, folks, see Whitey in captivity.
Surely nothing so far in this tale would encourage gentle readers to embrace
this noble breed. Indeed, it begs the question why own a dog at
all, much less a Rottweiler? That should raise the hackles of animal lovers
everywhere. I cant explain my love of creatures, great and small,
to the rest of the population. I can only tell you why I love Apollo.
I treasure the memory of our first meeting, when he recognized me from
some previous incarnation and promptly settled all 100 lbs of himself
into my lap. I thrill to the freedom from social restrictions that allows
me to wrap my arms around something lifesize, warm, fuzzy and solid, other
than my husband. I delight in the goofy antics and facial expressions
resulting from Apollos utter disregard for his own size he
once nuzzled Mikes glasses clear across the room, and was so overjoyed
to see my pregnant friend Yvonne that she hit the floor hard. She cracked
up, in a good way. I encourage our psychic bond although early experiments
left Apollo a little confused when I mentally called him from his warm
spot on the bed and didnt have a task for him to perform. Most importantly,
he kept us safe during our year-and-a-half in hostile territory, earning
the designation ghetto dog.
The United States Department of Health and Human Services, Center for
Disease Control records an annual 334,000 victims of savage dog bites
annually. This statistic competes with the proliferation of breed-specific
rescue organizations. Check any resource at your disposal for the Rottweiler
Rescue organization near you. I recall sitting in a restaurant looking
at photos of our overgrown puppy. A waitress caught sight of Apollos
huge head and spoke of driving 40 miles one way to rescue, sight unseen,
a Rottweiler bitch who had been beaten, shot twice and left chained to
die in a snowstorm. It was the waitress second Rottie rescue. Oh,
theres a reason why these dogs were ranked second most popular by
the American Kennel Club in 1996, sadly in spite of fellow bleeding-hearts.
Rottweilers are favored by less-than-committed dog owners, abused until
they are just the right shade of nasty.
All of this should be enough to raise ire. My naïve response
if owning a Rottweiler is a crime, come an git me, coppers. Surprise
in a parallel universe, Id be wearing a fashionable neon orange
vest and stabbing litter outside the Eiffel Tower. France enacted breed-ban
legislation in 1998. In 2000, dog-loving residents of Portland, Oregon
wore red and black ribbons as part of a campaign opposing Germanys
breed bans. England and Canada are following suit.
Only a matter of time before Mike and I become guests of the state of
Virginia? The American approach is far more insidious. Money talks in
this country, notwithstanding the value of human life. As a 10-year veteran
of the insurance industry, I can tell you that the cost of a bodily injury
claim will reach the $1 million mark before the victim gets into her semi-private
room. Ah, we are litigious! Insurers dont want to pay those claims,
so pressure is brought to bear on the lessors. No, the Ream family is
far more likely to end up homeless.
Nothing written here is meant to desensitize the horror and tragedy of
being torn limb from limb. I fully agree that wild things should not be
roaming the streets. May I have the sheer hubris to assert that animals
are not the only predators we have to fear? Our children are attacked,
kidnapped, murdered while they wait for the school bus, our elderly, in
their homes. While responsible pet owners are vilified and harassed, is
enough being done to eliminate the element which makes it necessary to
employ a crime deterrent? All dangerous two-legged creatures should be
taught to sit, stay and fetch, since no restriction has been placed, thus
far, on breeding them. Until that happens, dogs have it all over them.
I have been biting my tongue on this issue for a long time, and now I
can taste blood. We all know what thats supposed to mean.
The prospect of homelessness again reared its ugly head this May when
our landlord informed us of his plans to sell the house. We looked into
apartments again, claiming we had a Labrador. They wanted a note from
our veterinarian would a note from my mommy suffice? Apollo
is a very nice doggie. Hmmm. Surely, renting another house
filling out form after form in triplicate, asking for everything from
my mothers maiden name to my political affiliation, only to get
turned down because we were not on welfare or in the military. By this
time, we were willing to sign a blood oath and hide Apollo in the closet.
The logical conclusion - jump ahead on our financial timetable and purchase
a home. Immediately affordable pre-fab modular. Approved for house
but not land it would have to go in a park NO DOGS ALLOWED.
I came home after the initial meeting with the pre-fab dealer to a sight
that frightened me more than any threat yet encountered - my broad-shouldered,
big-hearted husband reduced to tears. The gods demand a sacrifice,
he said repeatedly, staring at me with vacant eyes. As a child, Mike had
yearned for a pet. As a grown man, he was still being denied. Our
family has to come first, he explained, convinced we would have
to find a home for the dog.
Mike was right. The gods did demand a sacrifice. Our family does have
to come first. Our family consists of myself, Mike, Apollo, and kitty-cat
Agnes. I explained to my husband that we would not be buying a home at
this time. We would live in a cardboard box if it came to that, wherever
we could stay together. That was the sacrifice. My description of the
curtains I would draw around our cardboard box windows finally evoked
a smile. We choked back our fear and kissed the matter to the Gods.
It can be argued that owning a pet before owning a home is irresponsible.
No disagreement here I had to hunt for my first few pet-friendly
apartments, and when my English Springer Spaniel went to another plane
of existence I decided not to own another dog unless I owned a homeand
then Apollo romped into our lives. From where we stand now, it would be
more irresponsible to give him up.
According to the 1990 U.S. Census Supplementary Survey, there are 35,435,515
renter-occupied housing units and 69,288,326 owner-occupied housing units
in this country. The CDC estimates 53 million dogs owned in the U.S. Not
all homeowners have pets. Some four-legged tenants are enjoying the view
from the balcony. Thus, we finally found a place to call home, through
fellow dog-owning Pagans. When we cased the apartment complex, we saw
people walking Mastiffs, Rotties, German Shepherds all living together
in harmony. Its a dont ask dont tell
kind of deal. We signed a lease that allows the complex to throw us out
with five days notice for any reason. The only time we have to hide Apollo
in the closet is when the dishwasher breaks down.
Homeowners, beware as reported May 1, 2001 by The Daily Press of
Southeastern Va., a homeowners insurance safety inspection was conducted
for the Dodson family of Newport News. One month later they received a
letter from their insurer, Nationwide, advising coverage would be discontinued
unless they got rid of their mixed-breed Rottweiler, Hope, who was inside
the house at the time of the inspection. Martha Dodson had adopted Hope
after finding the malnourished dog tied to a tree. Nationwide backpedaled
and the Dodsons still have their dog, insurance and mortgage. Insurers
refusing to cover certain breeds of dogs, published Feb.1, 2001
in The Boulder News, makes interesting reading, as does the June 1, 2001
report, A community approach to dog bite prevention, the American
Veterinary Medical Association, Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine
Interactions proposed media campaign watch for it! At this
writing, the list of insurance-blacklisted breeds includes American Staffordshire
terrier, boxer, pitbull terrier, chowchow, Doberman Pinscher, Great Dane,
Rottweiler, Siberian Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Akita, wolf hybrids, and,
of course, Dingo.
I submit that pet restrictions, blacklisting and breed-bans are discriminatory.
Its the stuff class-action lawsuits are made of. Or am I barking
up the wrong tree?
For now, the living is easy. Apollo spends time with the love of his life,
Yvonnes new baby, Alana, being careful not to slap her silly with
his huge tongue or knock her over with his big butt. If ever again faced
with homelessness, a change of haircolor, a case of Miller High Life,
a few packs of Camel non-filters and some Dinty Moore stew, and we can
go on the lam in style, blasting King of the Road from a hot-wired
RV like true enemies of state or, maybe, invoke squatters
rights on the far side of the moon. Mike has dubbed Apollo the Anne
Frank of Virginia. Hey, we thought the Dingo line was funny.
Websites of interest:
www.post-gazette.com/pets/19990217pets.asp Con www.workingdogs.com/doc0084.htm
Info American Rottweiler Club www.amrottclub.org
More sarcastic than my story Wolfes Lodge Letter to Ban Rottweilers
POETRY & STORIES