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 October 2009 - Nr. 10

My Dog Teaches … About Schadenfreude

Hunny by David McKagueIn some ways, English is a remarkable language. If we don’t have a word for something, we think nothing of importing from elsewhere, which is why the English language has considerably more words than any other. "Schadenfreude" (pronounced shaw-den-froi-duh) is one of those highly descriptive words imported from German.

It means "finding pleasure in another’s misfortunes". It is the stifled laughter we might experience when we see someone stumble and spill coffee over himself. It is the guilty pleasure we may experience when a rival fails at some endeavor. It is the laughter on America’s Funniest Home Videos when someone has obviously hurt himself in some silly way. Perhaps it explains the intense media and public interest when a celebrity falls from grace.

For many dog lovers I have talked to, the recent tragic event involving Michael Bryant is a delicious case of Schadenfreude, as the former Attorney General of Ontario has been charged with dangerous driving causing the death of a cyclist. In an ironic twist of fate, he finds himself on the other side of media spin – in the very uncomfortable position of being tried in the media and the court of public opinion.

For those who may not remember, it was Michael Bryant who used his position as Attorney General to champion the concept of using the media to ostracize certain members of society and then using the law to minimize their rights. It was he who vociferously declared that all pit bulls are dangerous and must be eliminated from the province – despite the fact that he could not pick one out from photos of a dozen or so dogs and on numerous other occasions displayed ignorance of his targeted wrath.

Under his direction and with blatant disregard for any true data, law-abiding and responsible owners were criminalized for the type of dog they owned. Owners of "pit bulls" found that their family pets were labeled "vicious" and were a "menace to society". Pit bull owners were "drug dealers, dog fighters and criminals". Neighbors were encouraged to report pit bull owners to the police; in fact, some municipalities obliged by turning over lists of "pit bull owners" to our men in blue. Some pet owners found themselves fighting for their dog’s lives. Others, unable to cope with the societal pressures, simply gave up and turned their pets over to be destroyed.

Never mind that pit bulls are known among dog experts to make poor guard dogs because they are so friendly towards people – even strangers. Never mind that the acknowledged characteristics of the breed include stability and sociability with children. Never mind that there are millions of pit bulls that have never hurt a soul.

In the new Ontario according to Michael Bryant, no evidence of wrongdoing was needed. With complicity from a willing press, it became fashionable to denigrate people simply because of the things they owned. First it was pit bulls. Then, in another shameful period of violation of our rights, cars that had been "modified for street racing" were taken away and crushed without any evidence that they had ever been illegally used.

The man who caused so much trouble for so many of us in this province is now in a heap of trouble himself. For many, this is Schadenfreude. For others, it is Karma. Some call it "just deserts".

As the former Attorney General demonstrated with his crusade against pit bulls, lies repeated often enough can never become factual, but they can certainly become the agreed-upon truth. He is very savvy that the media is the battleground where public opinion is formed; within mere hours of the death of the cyclist and shortly after calling his lawyer, he hired a high-priced public relations firm to fight the coming battle over his public image.

Many people I know would be happy to see Michael Bryant suffer the same fate that he orchestrated for so many others – tried and convicted in the media without regard to the truth. But in this, I would urge that we be extremely careful in what we wish for. I do not want to see Bryant charged and convicted based on false or inflammatory information; with the Dog Owners’ Liability Act, I have seen first-hand the gross injustice and erosion of our rights this can lead to.

If we allow ourselves to be ruled by emotions based on hatred or revenge or act out of false or misleading data, we end up contributing to the Orwellian vision Michael Bryant seemed to have for Ontario. Let’s forget about Schadenfreude and work to create a fairer and more just society.

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Editor’s note: I would like to encourage dog lovers everywhere to start a PETITION to have this law thrown out or revised to such a form where justice prevails. SFR.

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David McKague talks about the pit-bull or pit bulls, pets, dogs, the duress put upon dog and the owners, especially through laws in Ontario, Canada, that affect and encroach on rights and freedoms of the individual, human rights, reputation of individuals and owners. David stresses the importance of being responsible and understanding when dealing with pets.

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