Love your dog, but not at expense of fellow humans

Another View
By: Tony Hazarian, Publisher, Auburn Journal
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I can hardly remember the first time I laid eyes on Kona, but I will never forget the last time I saw him. Kona was my fiercely loyal Lab mix, a pound puppy that grew into nearly 70 sinewy pounds of canine machinery. We adopted him shortly after taking a family vacation to Hawaii. When his cocoa coat shimmered in the sunlight, just right, he resembled the lava flows that cover the Big Island. He seemed to go from gangly pup to muscle dog overnight. At his first obedience class, he saw a room full of playmates and bounded into the room, pulling me and my daughter with him. The class roared as Kona sat proudly, his long tongue splitting an infectious smile as his tail kept a thumping beat. Capable of taking full flight for a Frisbee or catching a tennis ball from 30 yards, Kona did whatever was necessary to engage me in play. That he brought back his saliva-drenched disc or slobbery ball following every toss only seemed to pull me in further. His eyes glued on me, he would listen intently to every command in order to have me throw again. Roll over. Sit. Down. Spin around. He would do it all for me if asked, as long as the reward of retrieving remained. While I try to keep those moments alive in my heart, the one I most remember is the one that still haunts me. On Memorial Day weekend in 2007, I had my otherwise healthy and happy buddy put down. His increasingly aggressive behavior was more than I could handle, and after several training attempts failed to alter his unpredictable character, I felt I had no choice left than to put him in a safer place — for me, my family … and him. It was a heartbreaking decision, and I can still recall taking him by the leash through the side door at the vet’s office. He never liked visiting the vet, and this time was no different. As an attendant took the leash, Kona fought hard not to go through that door. In our final moment together, both of us overwhelmed by fear, Kona looked back at me, his big brown eyes asking “Why? What did I do?” The next several hours were a blur of guilt, tears and contemplation. Did I do the right thing? What could I have done differently? Was there a training technique that would have been the breakthrough for us? My questions were understandable, and human. But Kona wasn’t, and it was that fact that provided me peace. No dog is worth the cost of a human life or a significant injury, such as those inflicted on a teenage male by a pack of pitbull terriers in Downtown Auburn last week. If my experience is any indication, this was not the first time these dogs acted in a violent manner toward a human being. Dogs are aggressive by nature, but training and consistent discipline help a dog understand his or her place in the family hierarchy. Dogs should not be considered an equal of other family members, for in that perceived equality a dog will look to move up in the pecking order. Kona suffered from dominance and protective aggressions, two of seven recognized canine aggression forms. Looking back, Kona exhibited some of his aggressiveness at an early age, whether it was growling at my young daughter or protecting a favorite toy or bone. Over time, Kona became “my dog,” and would take his marching orders from me. It wasn’t so easy for my ex-wife and my daughter, who could never quite crack Kona’s genetic code for obedience. In his adult years, Kona’s exuberance and energy level required constant exercise — something I wasn’t able to give him as I moved into a new phase of my life. He was happiest on those days he ran until exhausted, but those days were harder and harder to find. When Kona acted out toward some friends and family members, I took notice. I scoured the Internet and tried a variety of training methods. I consulted the experts at the Placer SPCA. I considered hiring an animal behaviorist. Before that could happen, he snapped at me in the vet’s office during a routine exam. He continued growling if I got close to him. I knew we had a serious problem. More than two years later, I stand by my decision for euthanasia. I also realize I wasn’t the dog owner I thought I was. What I believed was Kona’s pure adoration was really him seeking equality in the family hierarchy. When I encouraged him to chase squirrels along the back fence, I was just feeding his aggressive tendencies. So, if you believe you are a responsible dog owner, take a look in the mirror. Is that the person you see, or the one your dog sees? Make sure you know the difference.