My meeting with Captain David Allison of the Roseville PD was fruitful and quite enjoyable. Despite my enduring poor opinion of the Animal Control officers he supervises, an opinion reinforced by his account of their report on the incident in which my wife was injured, I found him to be decent, careful, and professional. Consequently, he is invited, as is the Roseville town attorney whom I suspect may give this blog a read or two, to respond to this post if he finds my account of our meeting lacking in accuracy. [I promise to post your response. Please include your professional email address and phone so I can verify your comment.]
As I expected, there were few points of agreement on the incident itself, thanks to the failure of the animal control officers to interview anyone at the scene except for supporters of the German shepherd that ran down my wife. Captain Allison characterized the dog’s impact as a “bump,” based on the comments of witnesses with whom he spoke by telephone, contacts all provided by the A.C. officer on the scene. The witnesses were comprised of the dog’s owner, the head of a German shepherd rescue organization, and an attorney who works for the state, some of whom (by the Animal Control officers’ account) were heckling me while I tried to wrap my shell-shocked mind around the laissez-faire dog park regulations in Roseville as explained by the officer. The captain even quoted them as having been yelling, “Hey! It’s a dog park!” Chalk it up to having spent too many years as a parent and teacher of teenagers, but I just didn’t hear the dog park mob. Somehow, I am not surprised that the interviewed witnesses were careful to describe the impact as an inconsequential bump, a “bump” that wound up with my wife on top of the dog, probably with her badly broken foot beneath it. How interesting that the people actually close to the incident didn’t wind up in the report, the ones who told me they were scared to death and that my wife was rammed by the shepherd. The witnesses clearly have an agenda to preserve, and the interviews ended when the A.C. officer heard what he wanted to hear from those near the dog, friends of the shepherd owner, at the opposite end of the park.
One point on which there was easy agreement was that the shepherd was not being vicious. I observed to the captain that the small dog being chased by the shepherd might have a somewhat different take on the event, but at least we agree there was no one bitten and bystanders didn’t hear growls.
My goal for the visit, however, was not to establish any kind of official veracity – I knew I wasn’t going to get that. My two brothers-in-law are cops, I’ve worked in education for twenty-three years and EMS before that. I know how institutions work, and they work first to take care of themselves. Clients are second (if they’re lucky). No, I was there to ferret out the social underpinnings and community norms for dog park regulations that apparently are quite tolerant of dog behaviors that result in human beings being injured or killed for the sake of dog and dog-owner pleasure.
Captain Allison believes that the regulations in Roseville mirror those of other the other communities I cite. When I pointed out that the Roseville regulations fail to make dogs responsible for all injuries to people, he said they did, but then he qualified his statement to include only vicious injury. Our conversation revealed that the community norm, and the intent of the regulation, is to protect the right of dog owners to let their “dogs be dogs,” free to not control dog behavior within boundaries that would prevent injury to people; for example, calling a pursuing German shepherd away from a group of bystanders, not to mention away from its prey item. As I said, we had a great conversation. It was a classic exchange in which we both tried to find the bright line that separated us, and our conversation succeeded.
That bright line became most apparent when he provided an example, and here I will attempt a quote. We were trying to pin down what I meant by the idea that dog owners should control their dogs’ behavior. He said, “OK, so if I was from me to you [about 8 feet] with my dog, and he ran and jumped on you and knocked you down, would you say I wasn’t controlling my dog appropriately?” I said, “Yes.” He disagreed, and characterized that particular dog-act as being acceptable in a dog park, and something dog park users should come prepared to deal with. Bingo – flashing bright line.
I think there’s another point to be made here. One of my closest friends owns a chihuahua, has owned them all his life. Every single one of them has jumped on me, for about 20 years, with all its might when I visit him. “Hi, Ohura!” I say as she flings away off my leg. Ohura weighs about 3 1/2 pounds. Ohura doesn’t need to be trained, except to not bite or pee on my friend’s carpet. Such enthusiastic behavior is acceptable, in the house, or in the dog park. The dividing line exists among those who agree that dogs living amongst people need to not injure them. Dogs weighing such that their behavior in a public place would injure the people who pay to support those places need to be controlled, in the dog park or otherwise. Most people with such dogs, who are unwilling to provide training to control those dogs and then use that training to keep people and other living things safe need to keep them out of public contact. Period.
So, the bottom line is that in Roseville, CA, there is an acceptable risk of injury or death by letting “dogs be dogs” as long as that “being-ness” is not observable as clearly “vicious.” So your dog is aggressive and violent? No problem. Just don’t let it growl at me while you’re in the process of mowing me down and crippling me, and you’re in the clear. Visitors to Roseville dog parks beware: you are stepping into a dog-first culture here, and unlike many communities in our region and across the nation who expect dog owners to control dog behavior to maintain a safe environment, even in the dog park, all bets are off in Roseville. Listen to the Animal Control officer carefully when he tells an injured woman on the way to the hospital, “You know, unfortunately, if the dog wasn’t being vicious, then there’s nothing that can be done.”
With a bit more honesty or experience, he might have said, “Nothing will be done for you in Roseville.”
Now, take a look at the comments on this rating of Marco dog park, also in Roseville, CA. Along with Bear Dog Park where my wife was injured. Better rating there, but note the comments on “rambunctious dogs” and “grumpy seniors.”
Then have a gander at the rating of this dog park in Davis, CA, 35 miles west on I-80.
Anyone care to comment on why these come out this way? Might we suppose it’s a factor of dog owners taking responsibility for their dogs in one place and not another? Is Roseville asking for the logical consequences of establishing a public nuisance?