OPINION: Dog ownership comes with big responsibility

Luna, 2 ,and Anubis, 4, are rescue dogs adopted by Jenny Kim, 28, of East Point. Both dogs were attacked and bitten by a large unleashed dog in early December after exiting a nature park near Kim's home. Courtesy of Jenny Kim

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Luna, 2 ,and Anubis, 4, are rescue dogs adopted by Jenny Kim, 28, of East Point. Both dogs were attacked and bitten by a large unleashed dog in early December after exiting a nature park near Kim's home. Courtesy of Jenny Kim

Jenny Kim and her husband were leaving Connally Nature Park near their home in East Point after walking the trail with their dogs Anubis, a 4-year-old Basenji mix, and Luna, a 2-year-old, whippet mix, when a large dog came charging at them full speed.

The dog, which appeared to be about 80 to 100 pounds and was wearing a collar, began biting their dogs.

“My heart was beating so hard,” said Kim, 28. “I started calling out commands to him. We were genuinely afraid this dog would destroy us too.”

In that short span of time, Kim’s mind raced. Should she release her leashed dogs in order to grab the other dog that was unleashed? Should she toss her smaller dog over a nearby fence to put a barrier between her and the other dog? Should Kim try to fight the attacking dog herself?

They were finally able to run across the street — weaving through traffic – leaving the large dog barking on the other side.

Kim thinks the dog may live at a nearby home and was off leash when it saw them walking and came running.

“I’m still kind of down and coming out from it,” Kim said when I talked to her earlier this week, just a day after the incident took place. “He probably didn’t have the best protection and training. It is not the dog’s fault, but I would have done anything to save my dogs.”

I was in the single digits when I first asked my parents for a dog and they quickly vetoed that request. They knew I was not ready for the responsibility. I fumed for several years but in retrospect, it was a good call. During the pandemic, I ostensibly got a dog for my daughter who has also been asking for a pet, but in truth I probably only agreed to it in order to fulfill my own childhood dreams.

Since becoming a dog owner, I’ve paid more attention to pet parenting. I also feel as if I have recently seen so many reports about dog incidents that have made me wonder if people really understand the responsibility that comes with being a dog owner?

The pandemic brought many new dog owners into the pet parenting fold but many of them quickly realized pet ownership is more than slow walks in the park and furry kisses. A survey from Merck in Nov. 2020 found that 73% of those who became dog owners that year had considered rehoming once the pandemic ended.

New dog owners said they were surprised by the time and money involved in caring for a dog and said they needed better access to dog education and training. But even long-time dog owners may need refreshers on managing their dogs, said experts.

It should go without saying that pet owners would naturally assume full responsibility for their pets, but that isn’t always the case.

The Georgia legislature passed the Responsible Dog Owner Act in 2012 which revamped existing laws and was designed to protect the public from injury or death from dog attacks and to hold dog owners responsible if their dog (or other pet) attacks another animal or human.

In a 2013 interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Claudine Wilkins, an attorney and former prosecutor who founded the animal law section at the State Bar of Georgia, said Georgia was pretty far behind other states in matters related to animal law.

“Now we have a great opportunity to utilize the state’s RDOA when dealing with reckless dog owners,” Wilkins said in the interview. At the time, some counties and cities still had not updated ordinances to meet the minimum standard required by the new state law. Police and animal control needed more training on the law, she said, which could specifically be used when reckless owners ignore warnings about their dogs, when they are repeat offenders or in cases where there are severe maulings.

Pet owners could use more training as well.

“People forget that dogs are like us. We don’t always like everybody we come in contact with, and dogs don’t have the ability to reason like humans do,” said Joe Morris, co-owner of OverWatch Canine Academy. “It is the owner’s responsibility to constantly educate themselves about their dog. Reading dogs is very important.”

Kim said she was in shock when the dog approached her dogs, but her instinct to lift her smaller dog from the ground was correct.

Morris said when dogs get into fights, you want to try to pull them apart. “Hopefully they are on leashes. The mistakes people make are jumping in between the dogs like it is a bar fight,” Morris said.

Yelling at the more aggressive dog might also be effective, he said.

“We want owners to be more vigilant about what is going on around them. We get stuck in our own little world and then are shocked when something happens,” said Morris.

Once a dog has attacked another dog, the owners may look into training but the results might depend on genetics. “Does the dog genetically have high prey drive or is this nurture? If it is nurture, it can go away. If it is nature, then it can only be managed,” Morris said.

The beauty of it is that dogs are adaptable creatures. With education and consistency, they can learn to behave in most situations but it is up to the humans who own them to invest the time and money — something many dog owners may have in short supply.

When she arrived home, Kim examined her dogs and cleaned and treated their puncture wounds. She is watching them closely to determine if they need to visit the vet. Unfortunately, she does not know who the owner is so she can’t tell them about what happened but she did want to alert other dog owners.

“Everyone is struggling and dogs are the best part of us but they get the worst end of some of our suffering and negligence,” she said. “From now on, I will carry some dog spray.”

Read more on the Real Life blog (www.ajc.com/opinion/real-life-blog/) and find Nedra on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AJCRealLifeColumn) and Twitter (@nrhoneajc) or email her at nedra.rhone@ajc.com.

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