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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Community Interview

Pets'--and Neighbors'--Rights

August 26, 2000|MAURA E. MONTELLANO

A Temple City dog-cat encounter made headlines last week that raised issues about whether a dog has the right to "defend" his territory--in this case, a fenced yard--and whether cats should be allowed to roam freely.

According to news accounts, a 4-year-old Akita named Niko clamped his jaws around the neighbor's cat, Matthis, when it entered the dog's fenced yard. Niko's owner, Gertrude Hay, screamed for him to set the cat loose. Her neighbor, Barney Ross, heard her scream and scaled the fence between their yards. He tried to pry the dog's jaw open. When that failed, he poked at the dog's eyes, but the dog refused to release the cat. He then shouted for his girlfriend to bring him a knife and used it to stab the dog, managing to make Niko drop the cat. Later, the injured dog was taken to a pet clinic where he died from the stab wound to his jugular vein. The cat sustained minor injuries and survived.

Hay may file a civil lawsuit, saying the neighbor is guilty of trespassing and killing the dog, who was in a fenced yard. Ross may countersue over injuries he sustained. He could face a charge of cruelty to an animal. If guilty, he could face imprisonment and a fine of up to $20,000.

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MAURA E. MONTELLANO spoke with Ricky Whitman, director of public relations at the Pasadena Humane Society and SPCA about how pet owners can safeguard their pets.

This is a dreadful situation. I can't think of a worse situation for neighbors and animals. You want to get along with your neighbors, and you want your animals to get along. This sounds like the worst-possible scenario.

A number of things could have been done to prevent this. Water is very good to separate animals, both cats and dogs. Turning the water hose on them will work. Sometimes with dogs, you can pick them up by their rear legs and it throws them off balance and they will drop whatever is in their jaws. You can also just scream and stomp your feet. It will get their attention and get their focus off what they are doing.

Some dogs are more prey-driven than others. They will chase small animals, like cats and squirrels and rats. For example, most small terriers were developed to chase rodents. It's inherent and you can't take that out of them. They can't tell the difference between a rat or a cat so they will chase those too. Sometimes it's breed, sometimes it's temperament.

I would encourage people to keep their cats inside, although most don't like to do that. Cats are free-roaming in our society. But there are ways to keep your cats inside and humanely set up parameters to keep them in the yard. There are cat patios that attach to windows and back doors. That way your cat can go outside and you maintain its safety. You want to supervise it as well. For dogs, most cities have as part of their municipal code that dogs be under control. They must be on a leash at all times when you're walking them or they must be in a fenced yard.

These two people, the neighbors, had some history and did not discuss the problems their animals were having. As pet owners and neighbors, they had some responsibility to each other. Pet owners in general have responsibilities with their pets.

Each city has its animal control department and if you suspect a dog has killed a cat, it can be reported and a file will be kept on the animal. This way if there are any more incidents it is known that there is a problem.

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