The search warrant issued against the VA property formerly owned by Michael Vick but currently owned by the group Dogs Deserve Better provides details on the alleged animal cruelty with which the group’s founder, Tamira Thayne, has been charged:
“Animals are being maced and tased on a regular basis.”
“There have been several dog fights and injured animals are not being vetted.”
“Dogs are being crated in unsuitable size crates for a minimum of 19 hours a day.”
While the latter two allegations are self-explanatory for the average pet lover, I was deeply troubled by the allegations of macing and tasing dogs. Although I have no specific information on the individual pets at Dogs Deserve Better, I know that some sanctuary groups specifically take in dogs with behavioral issues who can be too much for most people to handle. I wondered if either mace or tasers could possibly be appropriate in some circumstance I could not envision due to my lack of experience handling difficult dogs such as these may have been. So I asked Steve Markwell of Olympic Animal Sanctuary for a comment on the use of either weapon since he has extensive experience handling all manner of dogs with behavior issues including ferals and dogs who have killed. (And to reiterate, I have no information about the behavior of the dogs at Ms. Thayne’s home beyond what’s been reported in the media.) This is Steve’s response:
We do not have tasers, stun guns, cattle prods, mace, pepper spray, or any, similar items in our facility, nor do we advocate using them on dogs for any reason. There is a minute chance that a taser or stun gun would be useful in self defense against a serious dog attack, but the dangers of over-reliance on such items and of using them incorrectly far outweighs their benefits. In the case of mace and pepper spray, they are as likely to intensify an attack as to discourage one, and the risk of self-injury is quite high, especially indoors. The best course of action in a dog attack, if escape is not an option, is to learn how to restrain the dog. Appropriate restraint is the most effective way to minimize injuries. If one lacks the physical strength to restrain the dog, adopting a defensive position, ‘turtling up,’ may be the best option.
In terms of training, the aforementioned items are never appropriate. No one who works with dogs should put him or herself into a position where these things would ever be considered an option. If used to ‘correct’ an animal’s behavior, one can expect that behavior to further deteriorate. These are extreme examples of the ‘positive punishment’ quadrant of operant conditioning, in which an aversive stimulus is introduced to discourage the repetition of a behavior. Unfortunately there are other mental processes at work that tend to result in the aversive stimulus becoming linked to various other stimuli. This is all the more true when more brutal forms of punishment are employed.
There seems to be an endless supply of ‘extreme’ dog trainers and handlers for whom adrenaline and dominance are the goal. The entirety of their motivation and subsequent approach is inappropriate, unethical, and ultimately ineffective. A focus on the health and safety of the animal will always yield the best result in terms of its behavior, as well as the health and safety of the handler.
(Thank you Steve. This is good information to know, especially for those of us unaccustomed to handling dangerous dogs.)
While executing the search warrant at Dogs Deserve Better, authorities reportedly seized nine cans of mace and a taser:
The mace cans were found in several locations including a closet and in drawers of the kitchen. In addition, investigators found an invoice for the purchase of the mace.
Employees who declined to be identified responded to the cruelty allegations, telling WTKR:
“No, we were not tasing dogs. The batteries in the TASER were dead when they tried it, so how is a dog supposed to be tased if the batteries are dead in one they found in the back of a drawer?”
They would not comment on the mace that was found.
I will update this post if new information becomes available today.