Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Horrific Dog Attack Revisited

Whilst looking for stories about feral dogs I came across a survival website (here) with information about how to protect yourself from feral dogs that included a brief summary of a story about the brutal killing of an elderly couple by a pack of dogs in Lexington (Georgia, USA). Given the nature of that particular website I didn’t quite believe all the details in their account so searched for other sources (such as here) which gave more reliable and fuller information.

Briefly, back in 2009 a 65-year-old woman was mauled to death by a pack of at least 11 dogs and then her 77-year-old husband was similarly killed when he went out looking for her. Most of the accounts that I have read have not tried to explain what actually caused the attack but one interviewed scientist in a CNN report (here) speculated that something as simple as prolonged eye-contact could have made one of the dogs feel threatened putting the whole pack on edge which could then have escalated into a vicious attack particularly if the victim had continued looking at them or otherwise reacted to them. Given the lack of witnesses there is always going to be doubt but I have another suggestion that could be an addition or even an alternative to the idea of an unfortunate gaze.

But first, here are a few more details. The 11 (or more) dogs suspected of the attack lived around an empty house in this rural area where the owner, who had moved away about a month earlier for health reasons, came to feed them every other day. These dogs were free to roam as they wanted. They and their five puppies were caught and euthanized fairly quickly after the discovery of the dead couple’s bodies but one (or two) dogs remained loose in the area. The dead woman used to take her eight pet dogs for walks in the area but one of them had been missing for about a month. On this day she was alone. The man who fed the dogs was not charged with any offence at least partly because he did not officially “own” them.

Most reports suggest that these dogs were feral but, although I can’t be sure of the exact relationship between them and the man who fed them, perhaps “pet dogs on the loose” would be a more accurate description and one report did describe them as his pets. This could make a difference to how the dogs viewed people. My suspicion is that the pack of 11 (or more) dogs were very familiar with the fact that another pack was living in the same area (the eight pet dogs PLUS their owner) at least by smell but probably also by sight and sound. An outright confrontation between such sizable groups would be risky for all and best avoided given that space was not an issue but what would happen if the larger pack met a single member of the other pack by itself? In my experience dog packs are not welcoming to outsiders and that could possibly have already been the fate of the missing pet dog. Particularly at a time when they were raising pups. If they were socialised to people then the woman would have been treated in the same way as one of her pet dogs would have been. It could thus have been inter-pack rivalry resulting in a deliberate attack on the woman who had little chance to either defend herself or flee.

This is speculation but to me it fits the description of the incident at least as well as than any other explanation, perhaps even better. I just dislike the immediate and automatic reaction of blaming the “wildness” of the dogs when perhaps the more significant reason actually lies somewhere in their socialisation to people. 

Learn more about the lives and issue of unowned dogs in my e-book ”A Stray View” available from Bangkok Books (readable as .pdf on any computer)

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