Must check back some time on Deborah Orr’s defence of dogs in the Guardian of 22.2.14, following the killing by dogs of two babies in one week. She had 960 comments when I looked a day later ….
Referring to a six-day-old infant, Eliza-Mae Mullane, killed by her own family’s pet., Orr said:
I cannot be alone among dog-owners in having to admit that my sympathy for these families does not quite drown out a sympathy that is perhaps less natural. I feel for the dogs …
Neighbours report that in the few days that Eliza-Mae spent at home with her family, the dog, an Alaskan malamute, had been behaving oddly, running about in the streets and in and out of gardens, which he didn’t usually do. Anyone who knows dogs will recognise this – or think they do – as frantic jealousy and insecurity, the behaviour of a dog who feels that his place in the family hierarchy has been suddenly and comprehensively usurped. Other children can feel this way, too, although parents generally are more careful about reassuring siblings than they are about reassuring dogs.
When I was about 14, I went to a local farm to pet the horses. There, we found that the last of a litter of kittens was to be drowned, because a home could not be found for it. I called my mother, asked if we could have it, and she said yes. Joyfully taking the kitten home, I was devastated by the family dog’s reaction.
It wasn’t just that she snarled at the kitten in a most aggressive way, causing the kitten to spit and arch his back with equal aggression. It was the reproachful, hurt, betrayed looks the dog threw at me. She seemed to be communicating that she simply could not believe that I had done this to her, had introduced this clearly unwelcome interloper on to her territory. I went straight to the local vet and asked for the kitten to be humanely destroyed, which it was immediately – in retrospect, surprisingly, because I was only a kid. My mother, when she got home looking forward to seeing the new kitten, was absolutely amazed that I’d made this decision and acted on it so definitely and irreversibly, alone. I did it out of absolute love and sympathy for my grieving dog.
The dog in the Eliza-Mae case acted out of a storm of emotional upset. The dog in the Ava-Jayne case – which wasn’t part of that family hierarchy – may simply have acted out of aggression against a creature more vulnerable than himself. That may seem more like animal behaviour than human behaviour. But humans behave savagely to other creatures, and each other, all over the planet, every minute of the day.
In the end, the most frightening thing about dogs may not be how different to people they are, but how much they have in common with us. It’s that which persuades us that the one in our family can be trusted, that it will understand how precious and vulnerable a baby is, just like the rest of that family. The sense of security is false, and one should no more leave a dog with a child than one would with an unvouched for, unknown stranger. Tragedies happen precisely because that’s so easy to forget.