Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Dog! My Ducats! My Duty to Myself.

Earlier this year a bill requiring ALL DOG OWNERS in the state of New York to successfully complete an obedience class with ALL DOGS OWNED or risk losing the animal, was introduced in the New York state legislature. Seriously:

Section 4 Amends Section 118 (1)(h) to allow a dog to be seized should any owner fail to complete a basic obedience course with his or her dog.

Justification: The goal of this bill is: to minimize vicious dog attacks, the destruction of property and unnecessary human or canine deaths; to better acquaint dog owners with their dogs; to teach dog owners proper obedience techniques, which will help owners to have better control of their dogs; and to minimize aggressive dog behavior and negligent dog owner behavior. 
Does the government need to force a dog owner into obedience classes in order for the owner to become better acquainted with his dog and techniques to control it?

Happily, the bill was recently defeated, but its mere introduction shows how deeply many of us have succumbed to the idea that government can and should attempt to control all human activities marginally identified as potentially dangerous through arbitrary regulations rather than ensure the protection of our individual rights through the prosecution of objective laws. In fact, in that bit of sleazy justification, this one states that this burdensome requirement is being done in the name of protecting property and human life.  


I wonder about the real threat to property and life from owned, but untrained dogs? As a dog enthusiast, it seems to me that mostly packs of feral dogs and those specifically trained to attack are a danger, not the owned, but untrained ones; in that alone, this proposal misses the biggest portion of the potentially dangerous dogs. But further than the menace posed by specifically trained dogs is that they are a distinct value to their owners and are most likely treated as such (e.g. handled deftly, careful not to fall foul of local laws and risk seizure or destruction of their investments). Still, I'll readily admit that there are bad people who train killer dogs and let them out into the world. These people must be identified and punished for the damage done by their dogs. This proposal will not do that.

So how much damage and how many deaths occur from owned, but untrained, vicious dogs each year? And, with regard to curbing these destructive or tragic events, reported as the justification for this new law, by what means and how often are the owners prosecuted for the damage done by their dogs? Finally, how does that prosecution of the actually responsible parties compare to the toll of time and money taken from each potentially responsible dog owner should the proposed bill pass? Not that one human life should be sacrificed for lack of time and money, but no proposal can guarantee the prevention of even one such lethal attack! 

It is an impossible and wholly undesirable position to charge the government with protecting us from all potential harms at the actual expense of our right to choose how we live (i.e. spend our time and money). This is a very real danger of our increasingly regulatory state.

Treating every New York dog owner as the bearer of a potentially lethal weapon and forcing him to undergo training is wrong; it considers every dog owner guilty unless he holds the correct government papers. It is similar to the basic gun safety class in Massachusetts. There is no way that I would have attempted to shoot a gun without that class, just as I would never let my killer Pug loose on an unsuspecting world. It was in my own best interest to become better informed about them, so I did. 

There is, however, a large portion of the population that is knowledgeable about firearms, and another which is well-informed about dog training, neither of which need to take the time or expend the funds for a basic class in those fields to satisfy some meaningless exercise in government force. Furthermore, a person bent on murder will never be stopped by legal requirements of gun ownership just as an irresponsible dog owner will not magically become responsible by some got-my-paper-and-I-was-free legally required dog obedience class.

Proposals like this bill do not protect human life and property; they merely bring us one step closer to an all-powerful government making collective decisions for its foolish and lowly subjects under the bloated and specious banner of general welfare. In fact, I would go further and suggest that, when enacted, proposals like this actually encourage negligent behavior. As government veers further from protecting our individual rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in favor of ways to regulate our collective, one-size-fits-all health and happiness, it assumes a responsibility for our choices which, in turn, relieves the individual of not only the ability, but also the necessity of choosing.

At this point, I suppose I should be happy that it was only a dismissed-as-overreaching state proposal rather than an embraced-as-necessary federal one. For now.

n.b. For more exploration on how general welfare relates to General Welfare, see here

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