A very relieving happy ending for the Smith family of Kentucky seems imminent, with the release of their infant son, injured after having been carried off into the woods by the family dog. But before expanding on this story and topic of my personal comment on this week's Pet Chat Radio, a quick reminder of my upcoming appearance on Dr. Arlene Barro's talk radio show, Win Without Competing, my role will have changed, as I will be the one being interviewed live by host, Dr. Barro. The live broadcast will be Wednesday, August 12, 2009, and you can listen to it at:
Moving along to my personal comment this week, which is related to the infant kidnapping by the family dog in Kentucky, using the same terminology that most media outlets are using in reference to this story. If you are not familiar with this story, you may access my original report on this story from the Archived Broadcast section of Pet Chat Radio's home page, and select the July 24, 2009 broadcast.
The truth is, this was not a kidnapping, but a dog simply acting in a manner of instinct, which was to carry her “pup” off to a place to care for it. With a human infant not being a puppy of course, she inadvertently caused this infant great harm. Now that we know that the infant is home and expected to make a full recovery, I feel more comfortable about commenting on the situation.
Let me begin by stating that my thoughts and prayers go out to the Smith family, that their baby does in fact make a full recovery and goes on to live a happy, care free life, and that the family can pull together to put this traumatic ordeal to rest. As a parent of a toddler, I know the love one feels for a child, and know the fear and stress one feels when a child is sick or injured.
Moving forward, while I am certain that the Smiths learned a painful yet valuable lesson here, we should all take away some lessons as well. First and foremost, is that, no matter how people like and part of the family our pets may be, instinct sometimes takes over, and that instinct can be dangerous to small children. As such, infants, toddlers, and small children should never be left unsupervised with a family pet, even for a second. No pet should ever have free access to a small child when a parent is not around to control and supervise the situation.
When my wife and I brought our little baby Austin home 14 months ago, when he spent his first 5 months sleeping in the bassinet attached to the side of our bed, no pets were allowed in the bedroom, for fear that a curious dog may jostle the bassinet, or a curious cat may get in bed with the boy. Once he moved to his nursery, he slept and continues to sleep with the door closed, and with a child safety device on the door handle so a a cat cannot turn the handle and let himself in – yes, our Devon Rex, Mo taught himself how to let himself into any room in the house by jumping up and pulling down the handle with his paw – very funny, amusing, and frankly, quite impressive on the part of our cat, but not allowed or acceptable when it comes to him potentially jumping into the crib with our little boy.
Play between Austin and the dogs is always closely supervised so that we may quickly step in, in the event that a pet acts inappropriately toward the toddler, or if the toddler starts to get too rough or grabby with the pets. When we cannot actively monitor the situation, the baby either plays in his play pen, or the dogs are locked out of the living room with baby gates.
These are precautions every household with pets and small children that interact should take. One lapse of judgment or attention, can lead to dangerous, even tragic circumstances, I don’t care how perfectly gentle your think you dog is.
The other lesson I think we should take from this incident, is that wolves and wolf hybrids should not be allowed to be kept as pets, and certainly should not ever be purposefully bred. Let me be clear that while the domestic dog was descended from the wolf, wolves are NOT dogs, as much as they may seem to be. They have a deeply ingrained wild instinct, making them difficult to train, ready engage in testing with dominance behavior, unpredictable, and often acting on strong instinct, as was the case with Dakota the family dog, herself a wolf hybrid. For these reasons keeping wolves and wolf hybrids as pets is illegal in many states, and for good reason.
That said, it is not the fault of these animals that they were born as they and with us now, and these animals deserve guardianship. However, potential homes for these dogs should be carefully scrutinized, with potential guardians interested in rescuing one of these dogs well versed in canine behavior, and live in a home with no young children, which is the type of home that Dakota will end up in.
Roger Welton, DVM