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26 January 2008

Remembering Lucy: A Vicious Dog

I suppose those in my neighborhood who remember Lucy think of her as a large vicious dog. I remember her as a dog who didn't take well to teasing. I also used to think of her as a victim, but now I feel that in some ways she was a hero.

I hadn't thought of her for a long time, and only recently, with the attention paid to the escaped tiger at the San Francisco Zoo, did I begin to think of her again. It took me a while to remember her name. It was the revelation that the young men teased the tiger, triggering an aggressive reaction that they surely now regret, that reminded me of Lucy.

Every day on my way home from school, I would make a point to pass her dog run. Her owners lived in the corner house, kitty corner across from my house. Along the dirt sidewalk at the side of the house bordering the street was Lucy's run.

As a puppy Lucy would run with the gamboling, clumsy gait of one whose feet and head were too big for the rest of the package. She was white and black, half German Shepherd and half Husky. At first, she ran with all the puppyish enthusiasm one would and should expect from a family pet.

That soon changed. Even though her owners put up plastic slats so that people couldn't directly see or touch Lucy, the damage had been done and continued to be done. People entertained themselves by kicking Lucy in the face when as a young pup she came with her sweet, excited bark up to the wire mesh fence. They waited until she was close enough, wanting to sniff their hands and meet these new people. They then kicked her in the face and laughed.

Lucy, of course, remembered these people. She grew up to be a big dog with an authoritative bark and a snarl. She didn't wait to bark when she came to the fence; you could hear her rushing up with an angry declaration. Yet when I lifted my voice above hers, greeting her, she quickly changed. She became docile, and instead of barking, she made that grunting sound dogs make when they want to be scratched in just the right place. My hand was small enough to squeeze through the wire mesh.

I always saved part of my lunch for her and she always remembered. On those rare occasions when she darted past her owners and got loose, I never had anything to fear. She would approach with a wide grin, wagging her tail. Even if I didn't have a treat, she would lean against me to be scratched in just the right place. My mother and sister were also not afraid of her even though we weren't particularly friendly with those neighbors.

One day when I was older and (I think) away at college, Lucy got out. There was a pedestrian, a man, and she attacked him. He was not badly hurt, but Lucy was put down. And that is the tragedy dogs and so many animals face: they often suffer for the misdeeds of humans. I do not know if the person she attacked had previously teased her, but it did seem to be a pastime of the boys and men who passed through our neighborhood. Lucy also seemed perfectly capable of differentiating between people. Maybe that scare stopped that pedestrian, and some others, from teasing dogs in the future. Fear will sometimes do that. I know one case in which a dog bite did stop two boys from teasing dogs thereafter. If so, then Lucy died an unfair and unfortunate death, but she died a hero if she prevented even one person from teasing a dog again. And one person certainly has the ability to tease more than one dog, cat or other animal.

I have seen neighbors teasing my own dogs, throwing things, imitating a bark. They do it to get the dogs' attention and make them bark, yet then they complain when the dogs do indeed bark. I used to live in a neighborhood where a man would walk his little Pomeranian and allow it to bark at larger dogs on the other side of the fence. Some dogs, like people, are braver when their opponent is behind bars. All of this teasing agitates the bigger dog, and who knows what might happen in the future? Sometimes the larger dog gets out at the wrong time and the smaller dog ends up dead. I know of one such encounter between a Pomeranian and a large white dog who happened to be off of his chain one day. One shake and the Pomeranian was dead.

In the case of the tiger, Tatiana, both a human and the big cat ended up dead.

If you check with any zoological garden, you'll see that they specifically request that visitors do not tease the animals. On the San Francisco Zoo's own website, there's a whole page devoted to zoo manners.

RESPECT THE ANIMALS! The magnificent animals in the Zoo are wild and possess all their natural instincts. You are a guest in their home. They are sensitive and have feelings. PLEASE don't tap on glass, cross barriers, throw anything into exhibits, make excessive noise, tease or call out to them.

Why should this be necessary?

Because bad things have happened and continue to happen. A baby wallaby was kicked to death at a British zoo. One American zoo records visitor problems that led to the death of animals:

About a dozen [deaths] were traced to moronic visitors.

Among the tricks of such visitors which killed some birds and badly injured some small mammals were the following: Throwing broken glass, poisoned or tainted food, indelible pencils, lighted cigar and cigarette stubs into cages or fenced enclosures, driving pointed sticks through the bars at animals tame enough to come within reach; breaking the bones of birds and mammals with stones, cutting wire fences, bending back the cut threads and frightening the animals so as to drive them into the projecting ends.

Several birds died with fish-hooks in their throats or stomachs. Two boys were caught trying to hook bear cubs with heavy fish-hooks. A gang of boys cut a hole into the wire fence of a grey wolf den, coaxed the parent wolves aside with sausages, and stole two cubs. The stolen cubs were recovered, the boys traced and punished.

And then there was the penguin baby penguin stolen a few years back, certain to die without the special diet and care it required.

I don't feel particularly sorry for the three young men in San Francisco. They were reportedly drunk on vodka in a public place. They were also high on a controlled substance (marijuana). They obviously didn't care too much about the legality of the matter, and they weren't particularly interested in animals. They didn't follow the appropriate behavior for the zoo as described by that particular zoo. One even climbed up on to the exhibit, going where visitors are quite obviously not supposed to roam. If the tiger hadn't attacked, these men would have returned to their car, probably had a few more drinks, and then driven home--endangering people who chose to responsibly spend that Christmas Day sober. If they had been sober, they might have realized a bit sooner the danger they were in and been able to communicate more quickly and effectively.

I am sure they thought themselves amusing. They didn't feel ashamed at their boorish behavior and how it infringed on the enjoyment of other people. They didn't think how being drunk and high might endanger other people. They were thoughtless, and I would guess this wasn't the first time they had behaved in such a manner. I would guess zoos weren't the only place they felt free to tease the animals. Would they have also thought it funny to tease a dog like Lucy? Why not? What was to stop them? Like Lucy, Tatiana was killed when she reacted as one would expect.

Yet perhaps Tatiana was not only a victim of her own instincts, but also the hero. She prevented these men from getting back in their car, getting drunker, driving drunk, and perhaps ruining the day and even the life of another person or animal.

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