Airport regulations, gun bans and dog bans

I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s new book, What the Dog Saw, and a chapter titled Troublemakers (What Pit Bulls Can Teach Us About Crime) resonated with some of my thoughts in previous postings.

Gladwell writes about troublemakers and how the powers-that-be deal with perceived threats to the public.

Specifically he relates an incident in Ottawa, where three uncontrolled pit bulls attacked a young child and in the following media uproar, the provincial legislature chose as their solution to prevent further attacks, a ban on the ownership of the pit bull breed.

But Gladwell  points out that the danger of dog attacks isn’t confined to one breed and that at different times other breeds have been considered and demonized as ‘dangerous’ dogs. Notably German shepherds and Dobermans, but also Rottweilers and others.

He also notes that a dog’s behaviour is directly related to how it is raised and how it is treated.

Where once German shepherds and Dobermans were valued as guard dogs and socialized as such, now it is pit bulls that fill that position. They have increasingly been associated with the ownership by outlaw bikers, marijuana grow operators and various other misfits and anti-social individuals.

But what really interested me was Gladwell’s analysis of the Ottawa attack, the dog owner’s previous history and the eventual political solution.

Jayden Clairoux was attacked by Jada, a pit-bull terrier, and her two pit-bull–bullmastiff puppies, Agua and Akasha. The dogs were owned by a twenty-one-year-old man named Shridev Café, who worked in construction and did odd jobs. Five weeks before the Clairoux attack, Café’s three dogs got loose and attacked a sixteen-year-old boy and his four-year-old half brother while they were ice skating. The boys beat back the animals with a snow shovel and escaped into a neighbor’s house. Café was fined, and he moved the dogs to his seventeen-year-old girlfriend’s house. This was not the first time that he ran into trouble last year; a few months later, he was charged with domestic assault, and, in another incident, involving a street brawl, with aggravated assault. “Shridev has personal issues,” Cheryl Smith, a canine-behavior specialist who consulted on the case, says. “He’s certainly not a very mature person.” Agua and Akasha were now about seven months old. The court order in the wake of the first attack required that they be muzzled when they were outside the home and kept in an enclosed yard. But Café did not muzzle them, because, he said later, he couldn’t afford muzzles, and apparently no one from the city ever came by to force him to comply. A few times, he talked about taking his dogs to obedience classes, but never did. The subject of neutering them also came up—particularly Agua, the male—but neutering cost a hundred dollars, which he evidently thought was too much money, and when the city temporarily confiscated his animals after the first attack it did not neuter them, either, because Ottawa does not have a policy of preëmptively neutering dogs that bite people.

On the day of the second attack, according to some accounts, a visitor came by the house of Café’s girlfriend, and the dogs got wound up. They were put outside, where the snowbanks were high enough so that the back-yard fence could be readily jumped. Jayden Clairoux stopped and stared at the dogs, saying, “Puppies, puppies.” His mother called out to his father. His father came running, which is the kind of thing that will rile up an aggressive dog. The dogs jumped the fence, and Agua took Jayden’s head in his mouth and started to shake. It was a textbook dog-biting case: unneutered, ill-trained, charged-up dogs, with a history of aggression and an irresponsible owner, somehow get loose, and set upon a small child. The dogs had already passed through the animal bureaucracy of Ottawa, and the city could easily have prevented the second attack with the right kind of generalization—a generalization based not on breed but on the known and meaningful connection between dangerous dogs and negligent owners. But that would have required someone to track down Shridev Café, and check to see whether he had bought muzzles, and someone to send the dogs to be neutered after the first attack, and an animal-control law that insured that those whose dogs attack small children forfeit their right to have a dog. It would have required, that is, a more exacting set of generalizations to be more exactingly applied. It’s always easier just to ban the breed.

Which is exactly what the Ontario provincial government did: banned the breed.

So while I rant on about the stupidity of the ongoing airport security upgrades, which do nothing to improve security, but everything to inconvenience the traveling public, and Canada’s vindictive firearms legislation that does nothing to address crime and/or violence, but seems to be all about restricting and penalizing the law-abiding, it appears that the problem is the inability of those who run our lives to address the real issues with real solutions.

Christie Clark, who is an ex-provincial politician in British Columbia and who currently has a radio talk show out of Vancouver, made an on-air remark recently, saying that politicians don’t need to actually do something, but they need to look as though they are doing something.

That has been a long-time belief of mine, but it was surprising to hear an ex-politician make the statement.

Of course, anyone who has dealt with the upper levels of the bureaucracy in any level of government eventually comes to terms with the realization that their function is to arrange meetings and then more meetings, but never actually come to a final conclusion, unless it fits their own agenda or comes down the chain of command from their particular political minister. Who also  makes few decisions unless they are approved or initiated from a higher power – nominally the Prime Minister’s office federally, or the Premier’s office provincially.

All of which would make it a fair statement to say that most individuals or groups that are looking for serious input on issues are spinning their wheels if they are spending most of their time trying to convince bureaucrats or even a minister – most of whom are more concerned with photo-ops, rather than issues – of the value of their position.

In any event, Gladwell’s analysis (read the whole article) explains much of the reason for many of the stupid laws we have on the books.

Remember: It’s not what you do, it’s what you look like you’re doing.

Damn, we’re in good hands.


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One Response to “Airport regulations, gun bans and dog bans”

  1. Dumb laws « Totalrecoil Says:

    […] occasions I have lamented about the stupid laws that get passed by elected officials (here and here are just a couple of instances). Which is why I was pleased (and amused) to see Chris […]

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