It was hard to overlook the images from Ferguson, Mo., of a police dog lunging at the crowd as a policeman held him back. Not only does this bring back images of the race riots of 50 years ago, it also conjures up thoughts of slavery, Nazi Germany and Guantanamo. And it is fostering another generation of people who have a great fear of dogs.
I have a pet-therapy dog, and we visit hospitals about three times per week. The dog is a 125-pound Newfoundland, a gentle giant. A dog doing pet therapy gives no consideration to age, sex, race or wealth; he is there to give comfort to anyone who wants or needs it. This can be a small thing like a tail wag to relieve tension. Or it can be something bigger, like licking the hand of an abused child, making a breakthrough on a teen who is not communicating with anyone, comforting a crying doctor who just lost a patient or being with a child in the last few days of his or her life.
I see no good purpose in using dogs to frighten crowds. It isn’t going to win their minds or change attitudes. But it may cause them to arm themselves for protection from the dogs. And it is likely to build a hatred and fear of dogs.
In doing this, the police make my volunteer work as part of a pet-therapy team that much harder. The magic that a therapy dog can do, especially with children, is obliterated if children (or the children’s parents) are so afraid of dogs that they won’t even let a dog approach. How terrible that the police are building such a horrendous image of dogs such that some people literally scream when a big dog comes into the room. Dogs are generally gentle creatures, but they certainly can be turned into weapons of terror, as has been demonstrated again in Ferguson.
I moved South Carolina 13 years ago and found that the fear of dogs is much greater here than it was up North. I am guessing that much of this fear is driven by mean-looking dogs being used by police in crowd control.
There are valid uses for dogs in police work, such as drug sniffing or entering a building where an armed suspect is hiding. Let’s restrict police work for dogs to those areas, not crowd control.