Following on from my last blog on humans, animals and the language of life and death, I thought I’d expand a little on the issues surrounding dangerous dogs, and that most outcast of all animals, the banned dangerous dog.
According to the UK government website, it is against the law to own certain types of dog. These are:
- Pit Bull Terrier
- Japanese Tosa
- Dogo Argentino
- Fila Brasiliero
It’s also against the law to:
- Sell a banned dog
- Abandon a banned dog
- Give away a banned dog
- Breed from a banned dog
If you are in possession of a banned dog, either knowingly or unknowingly, there is very little you can do. You cannot keep it, you cannot get rid of it – indeed the dog is condemned to death from its very birth. To explore the unique position held by the banned dangerous dog, we can conduct a simple thought experiment…
The dangerous animal and the dangerous dog
Consider another dangerous animal, for example a lion or a tiger. There can be no mistaking that these are dangerous animals, but they do not occupy the same space in (Western) public perception and the law. In most cases, if you see a lion in the wild you definitely shouldn’t kill it, unless in the most extreme of circumstances. Here the right to kill is associated with action on the part of the animal – an action that doesn’t necessarily have to be related to its nature.
Compare this then with the dangerous dog. These creatures have no say in their genetic make-up – nor do they have any say in their owners who may for the most part be considered responsible for their behaviour and their very existence (by supporting breeders etc.). But unlike the lion or the tiger, the dangerous dog can and will be killed not for its actions, but for its mere existence.
In these cases the execution of said creature is a pre-emptive punishment that doesn’t necessarily have to relate to any form of harm caused by the creature in question. Aside from animals farmed for meat, I think of no other creature on this planet that is so exposed to death on account of its birth than the banned dangerous dog. Only the badger and the fox are so exposed in the UK, and even then not with the same blanket ruling – badgers due to countryside politics, and foxes for no reason other than representing ‘good sport’.
In many respects the singling out of banned dangerous dogs is a form of animal-racism of the very worst kind; a racism built not on the creature itself, but on the transference of guilt away from the human and onto the animal.
But is the animal really at fault? Would these breeds have emerged naturally in the wild?
Again what we find here is the ever-problematic distinction that we draw between the human and the animal. Either the human is separate from the animal, and thus the animal is free from guilt (and should not be punished), or the human is on the same level as the animal with all the implications such a philosophy may have.
What is most telling for me in this strange animal-racism is the language that implies an escalation of the law; even an excess. To quote directly from the government website: ‘Whether your dog is a banned type depends on what it looks like, rather than its breed or name.’ The site also states that if your dog matches many of the characteristics of a Pit Bull Terrier, it may be a banned type.
To be a ‘banned type’ will automatically condemn the animal to capture, imprisonment and eventual execution on account of its existence if it is judged to be banned and ‘dangerous’. But it doesn’t even need to be a ‘banned type’ – it can even just look like a banned type to risk death.
Here then we move beyond the madness of condemning a banned dangerous dog to death, to opening up the possibility of killing any dog based on what can essentially be subjective grounds. The rule then implies not just the difference between humans and animals (here, dogs), but the dominance of humans over dogs, and the guilt that dogs can assume on behalf of our own human actions.
There are a number of interesting, and indeed quite startling implications of the above escalation, and we can see parallels with certain historical moments where human law has escalated and revealed to us the difficulties and paradoxes inherent in the human-animal distinction. I would argue here that we need to look far more closely at how we animalise marginalised groups such as the homeless, and how this marginalisation can lead us down very dangerous paths. Similarly, I would question the transient and often contradictory relationship we hold with our animal cousins. On the one hand they are our friends, our pets, our companions – but they also often our enemies, and in some cases for no reason other than being the victim of their birth.
And what’s our human response? Confinement and execution without trial. After all it’s far more acceptable to kill a dog than kill a human, despite the human cause.