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 November 2009 - Nr. 11
Hunny by David McKague

My Dog Teaches … Zero-Tolerance

The concept of "zero-tolerance" came into being in our education system somewhere around 1994, ostensibly to curb violence in our schools. Since then, it has extended into other areas such as drug enforcement, traffic violations and harassment in the workplace.

But what exactly is it? According to, zero-tolerance is "The strict policy of enforcing all the laws of a state, or the rules of an institution, and allowing no toleration or compromise for first-time offenders or petty violations".

In the last few years, it seems that more and more of our municipalities are applying a zero-tolerance attitude towards dogs and dog owners in order to reduce dog bites. Not that bites from dogs has been a major problem, but I’m sure all of us could get behind any effective program to reduce these miniscule numbers even further. After all, no one wants to see anyone bitten.

Of course, all of us know what a dog bite is. I think most of us would agree that any time a dog deliberately clamped down with its teeth on someone causing injury that would qualify.

But wait; under zero-tolerance this definition is far too narrow. Because we are now going to consider exposure with a dog that causes any injury whatsoever a serious matter, a dog bite becomes any incident in which a tooth or claw comes into contact with a human and in which the skin is broken. This would include nips from overly rambunctious, playful puppies. It includes an accidental scrape of a claw or tooth in playing with a dog. Under zero-tolerance, the most minor of incidents requiring no medical attention carries the same weight as a severe bite requiring surgery.

Additionally, some interpret the act of a dog gripping someone’s arm in their jaws as a bite, whether or not any injury ensues. (As any dog-savvy person knows, dogs can use their teeth as a means to issue a warning without any intent to injure; in these circumstances, they deliberately inhibit their bite.)

The zero-tolerance is extended further to leashing laws and many municipalities are resorting to draconian and petty application. Large fines are handed out to dog owners who let their dogs run off leash in parks, even in isolated areas when no one else is around. Similar fines are handed out when dogs traverse the three feet between the car and the "official" edge of those leash-free parks that are not fenced. I have heard of instances where dog owners have been heavily fined for "not having their dogs under control" in leash-free dog parks when their dogs did not come when called.

Will these tactics reduce dog bites? Of course not. In fact, lumping accidental and minor incidents in with the more serious bites only serves to inflate the numbers unnecessarily. This gives us a false picture of the risk and leads some to believe that dog bites are increasing when the real evidence indicates the opposite. (In contrast, because bites from dogs are a work-related injury for mail carriers, statistics from the U.S. Post Office must be considered more reliable; these show that dog bites have declined sharply by over 50% since the 1980’s.)

And by using this zero-tolerance "any dog bite is a serious problem" approach, the media can sure whip up some hysteria. When we have such a loose definition of what constitutes a bite, why stop there? Why not call an accidental scrape "a narrow escape from an attacking pit bull"? (I can assure you it has been done.)

By the way, how well has zero-tolerance fared in our schools? Not very well if you consider that school children as young as ten have been arrested, incarcerated and charged criminally for such "serious" offenses as having plastic knives and manicure files in their possession, forming their hands into the shape of a gun and other trivial transgressions. School suspensions in some overly zealous school districts have increased dramatically to a point where a significant percentage of the school population has been suspended at one time or another. So concerned was the American Bar Association with the explosion of severe punishment for minor or non-existent wrongdoing that they issued a formal condemnation of zero-tolerance to the U.S. House of Delegates. In their Juvenile Justice Policies – Zero Tolerance Policy Report, they declare, "Unfortunately, when it is examined closely, ‘zero-tolerance’ turns out to have very little to do with zero-tolerance, and everything to do with one-size-fits-all mandatory punishment".

I couldn’t agree more. It seems that in our unrealistic pursuit to reduce all risk to zero, we have correspondingly reduced our human rights and freedom. Zero-tolerance. Zero thinking. Zero flexibility. Zero discretion. Zero common sense. Maximum injustice.

Previous "Petitorial" articles by David McKague:

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.

Email to David McKague
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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