Thursday May 17, 2012
Guardians of my life
By ANTHONY THANASAYAN
In the right hands, so-called dangerous dogs can turn out to be precious pals.
I WAS in my car with my one-year-old Doberman, Zhar, last week, when I heard the horrid news. My service canine companion and I were visiting a good friend in Petaling Jaya when I received an SMS. Yes, it was the one about the dog-mauling incident in Subang Jaya, Selangor, in which an elderly jogger lost his life as a result.
At first, the media put the pooch down as a “pit bull”. Then the truth came out later. The breed was apparently a miniature bull terrier cross – a dog listed by the Department of Veterinary Services as a restricted breed. What this means in simple English is that the bull terrier is not a dog for just anyone.
Whilst expert sources overseas agree that the breed isn’t for first-time pet owners, they are quick to point out that these special terriers – once used as fighting dogs – possess many positive characteristics.
Above all things, they are said to be highly affectionate and friendly dogs with a wonderful sense of humour, and relish company.
Bull terriers also have a physical strength that matches their intelligence. They need to be kept active all the time.
With such enviable traits, it is no wonder why bull terriers – together with pit bulls – are increasingly being used as therapy and service dogs for the handicapped in overseas countries.
So what went wrong in the Subang Jaya incident?
There could be a number of reasons:
> Unscrupulous breeding such as mating certain aggressive-natured or shy animals with each other.
> Wrong training and trainer. I am told by experts that only dogs with a good temperament can be trained for guard and protection work, never fierce or unpredictable animals.
> Irresponsible owner. Dogs should never be allowed outside their owners’ premises unleashed, let alone a canine trained as a guard dog. The animal will be forced to make decisions by itself.
I am reminded of an incident in 1994 when an elderly woman was killed by a Rottweiler in Kuala Lumpur. That incident drew the same negative reactions.
Suddenly everyone, including myself, was terrified of Rottweilers and thought of them as nothing but killer dogs.
My fear and prejudice were based on my ignorance of the breed until I ended up with one a few years later. It was quite by accident when I wheeled into a pet shop looking for a German Shepherd and came out with a Rottweiler pup named Vai, because there was no other dog available.
I recall being terrified over my decision.
Many of my friends were of no help either. They told me that Vai would either have me for supper or pull me off my wheelchair when we went for walks.
But it turned out to be the best “mistake” I had ever made in my life. Vai was the best prescription that any doctor could have given me to help with my disability.
The so-called “killer dog” refused to see my handicap. He insisted on depending on me for everything – from his meals to his bath and taking him for walks. So much so I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with life.
And just like the many stereotypes that exist about people with disabilities, Vai helped me dispel all the myths about so-called dangerous and ferocious Rottweilers and other breeds when one cares enough to treat dogs right with plenty of affection.
Of course, Vai was fiercely loyal in taking care of me.
He would bare his fangs and growl whenever strangers approached me. However, within moments he would be licking them all over the face when he realised they had no intention of harming me.
I used to take advantage of this by wheeling to a nearby park at 2am in the morning.
Anyone who uses a wheelchair will know how exhilarating such a “freedom exercise” can be when you are stuck in a wheelchair.
And there were a couple of times when I was confronted by bullies on the road while driving.
I wish you could have seen the look on their faces and how quickly they took off when they suddenly noticed a huge black and rust-coloured canine emerging from the backseat to have a clearer look at the situation.
Vai died a couple of years ago of cancer at the age of 13. Now it’s Zhar’s turn to play guardian in my life – something the remarkable Doberman is managing with flying colours.
And let me say this in parting: I have been keeping dogs for more than a decade and never once have my dogs walked on the streets or neighbourhood without me by their side and keeping them close on a leash.
To the able-bodied pet lovers out there, what’s your excuse?