Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Attack of Killer Dogs Comes Down to Human Negligence

As the title of our blog suggests, we are big dog lovers. We also are great admirers of people who care for dogs--and other pets--in loving and responsible ways.

That's what makes a recent story here in the Deep South doubly heartbreaking.

Sherry and Lothar Schweder, an older couple who lived near Athens, Georgia, were killed by a pack of wild dogs. The story is tragic on multiple fronts. In addition to what must have been a horrific death for the Schweders, all 16 dogs in the pack were euthanized.

The story also is filled with irony. The Schweders clearly were animal lovers; They had 27 pets--seven dogs and 20 cats.

In fact, they apparently chose to live in a rural area so they could have plenty of room for their animals. Authorities in Oglethorpe County, Georgia, are evaluating the Schweders' pets for adoption.

Authorities believe Sherry Schweder, 65, was walking along a country road near her home, in search of one of the couple's missing dogs, when she was attacked by the pack. Lothar Schweder, 77, got in his car and went looking for his wife when she did not return home. He saw her body near the side of the road, and when he got out of the car to investigate, the dog pack attacked him, too.

Here is an Associated Press video report.

The Schweders sound like they were a delightful couple, the kind of folks I wish I had for neighbors--although 27 pets would be a bit over the limit allowed in our subdivision. She had worked at the University of Georgia library for more than 30 years. He was born in Germany, worked in corrections in Kansas, and taught German at the University of Georgia before retiring.

Who is to blame for this tragedy? Well, that's not easy to figure out. The dog pack apparently regularly convened at the home of an elderly man who lived not far from the Schweders. But it looks like the dogs did not actually belong to him.

It appears the man noticed the dogs near his property at some point and started feeding them. He moved recently because of an illness but would return every other day to feed the dogs. Authorities have determined that no criminal charges will be brought against the man.

What can explain the brutal attack? An Associated Press report provides some insight:

Dogs are so much a part of American life—valued members of or even substitutes for human families—that it can be easy to forget they are still animals with teeth and the ability to use them if instinct demands it.

Add the lack of an owner and steady meals, and dogs can quickly begin to resemble their wolf ancestors, teaming up in packs for hunting and protection. They may look like pets, but behave like predators.

Our view is that, somewhere along the line, a human's negligence led to these deaths. Someone failed to have their dog or dogs fixed. Someone allowed their dog or dogs to roam. Before long, you had a pack, filled with domesticated dogs that had become dangerously feral.

Here in Alabama, I've heard stories about hunters who, when they have a dog that is ineffective in the field, will let it go to fend for itself. The dogs in the Georgia case did not look like hunting dogs, so I don't think that was a factor there. But it shows how irresponsible some people can be with "man's best friend."

I've heard it said that humans chose to domesticate dogs and cats, so we owe it to them to provide responsible care. Someone failed to live up to that responsibility in Georgia--with tragic consequences.

Bob Barker, of The Price is Right Fame (and a proud product of Springfield, Missouri), is an eloquent spokesman for animal rights and responsible pet ownership. I believe he has been quoted as saying that one of his goals is to be able, at his own funeral, to rise up from the casket and say, one last time, "Spay and neuter your pets!"

If Barker pulls that off, I hope I'm there to see it. Hopefully such a dramatic event would help spread the word--to rural Georgia and beyond.

The Schweders almost certainly would approve. Their funeral was yesterday in Athens, Georgia, and here is a line from their obituaries:

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Madison/Oglethorpe Animal Shelter or Athens Area Humane Society.

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