I spend a little bit of time on a Border Collie Internet forum nearly every day. I almost never go to the “Obedience, Agility and Flyball” section, because I’m not much interested in any of those things.
But I noticed a thread on parkour with dogs, so I posted a link to a YouTube video of a dog named Just Jumpy doing a parkour routine with a guy named Alex Duong. It’s a pleasant romp, skillfully shot and edited with non-annoying music playing throughout. The dog is obviously having a blast, and is very talented. You can watch it yourself, if you like:
This is a young, healthy, fit and well-trained dog having fun with a similarly young, healthy and fit young man. But apparently this was seen as a bad thing to do. The jumps were too high, the surfaces we all wrong and the things Jumpy was doing were not sanctioned by the International Dog Parkour Association. (Heaven forfend!)
Is there a problem here? I think so. But it isn’t the height of the jumps. It’s the over-protective, worst-case-scenario positing, Oh! That-could-be-dangerous! clucking from the “fur babies” crowd.
Jumpy was being placed at risk. Jumpy might get hurt.
I first ran into this type of people when I adopted a rescue Lurcher from a Greyhound rescue organization. As with many rescue organizations, I had to sign an agreement in order to have the dog released to me. One of the stipulations in the agreement was that I must never allow the dog off-lead, except in a fenced area. This included places like a private beach, a mile from the nearest road, and similar isolated locations.
I didn’t much care for this stipulation, but the one that really blew my mind was that I must never engage in the sport of lure-coursing with my Lurcher.
For those of you who don’t know, lure-coursing is a sport for dogs that involves chasing a mechanically operated lure, usually a plastic bag, along a series of lanes and turns. Competition is typically limited to dogs of purebred sighthound breeds like Greyhounds, Salukis, etc.
My Lurcher, was the result of a cross between a Greyhound bitch and a Border Collie dog. This type of dog was created to run after things – especially hares. But a plastic bag attached to a set of lines and pulleys, would for most sighthounds, be an attractive alternative.
I was puzzled. Why, I asked the rescue person, would there be an objection to doing something with my dog that she would derive so much pleasure from, an avail herself of much healthful exercise? She was, in fact, born and bred to do something very like lure-coursing.
The rescue lady was visibly disturbed that I would even consider such an awful thing. “Dogs can get hurt doing lure-coursing. It’s cruel!”
Let me say right now, it is true that dogs sometimes get hurt during lure-coursing. Dew-claws sometimes get torn. Once in a great while a dog will break a leg. But this happens with a small fraction of dogs that course. Certainly the incidence is much, much less than various foot and leg injuries sustained by horses that flat race, steeplechase, etc.
I didn’t have the heart to tell the horrified woman that if I decided to course with my dog, I would not do lure-coursing, I would go out for hare or rabbit coursing. I was sure that the idea of some fuzzy bunny meeting its maker in the toothy jaws of my Lurcher might be just enough to put her right ‘round the bend.
I never coursed my Lurcher. She was a city dog all her life. Her prey was tennis balls and Frisbees. But it wasn’t because I was worried about her hurting herself. It was because I don’t drive, and so getting to coursing countryside was prohibitively difficult.
But the really disturbing thing about this is that a growing segment of the population seems to find risk-taking – even very slight risks – with dogs, is cruel, and anything that is seen as risky is bad, no matter how great the rewards might be.
It is disturbing. Almost anything worth doing with a dog comes with a component of risk. Hunting, coursing, terrier work, sled racing, stock work, police work, search and rescue work and avalanche work all carry some element of risk. Ask anyone who does these things with their dogs and they will tell you that the dog lives on a sensory, emotional and physical plane unknown to their sheltered pet kin. The dogs love what they do. They throw their whole soul into it. And the people who work with these dogs will tell you that they are very much alive to the risks that they face in the pursuance of their goals. And the dogs spend absolutely zero time sitting around mulling over what might happen.
But the average American dog owner, while perfectly willing to kill their dogs with a surfeit of pricey kibble or a genetic cluster-fuck, will balk at letting their dog take part in anything that entails even the slightest risk. And so their dogs live grey, half-lives getting dressed up in reindeer antlers at Christmas, with their genitals removed, and not having much more doggy exhilaration than the average lab-rat experiences.
But it isn’t just dogs. People treat their kids the same way. Despite the fact that abductions of children (per capita) have not significantly increased for the last 50 years, kids are kept in the child equivalent of dog kennels and on short leashes. And if you as a parent should find these restrictions onerous, and “unsnap the lead” in relatively safe environments, you may face arrest, charges, and even risk having you children taken from you. You can read about one such case HERE.
All this, despite the fact that:
- Nearly 90% of missing children have simply misunderstood directions or miscommunicated their plans, are lost, or have run away.
- 9% are kidnapped by a family member in a custody dispute.
- 3% are abducted by non-family members, usually during the commission of a crime such as robbery or sexual assault. The kidnapper is often someone the child knows.
- Only about 100 children (a fraction of 1%) are kidnapped each year in the stereotypical stranger abductions you hear about in the news.
- About half of these 100 children come home.
You know why these pictures are in black and white? Because freedom for kids is becoming a thing of the past.
We are fast becoming a nation of overprotected, overprotective, and fearful people. This is of course why Donald Trump has been so successful in his bid for a presidential nomination. He plays on those fears as if they were an old violin.
Well, I’m not buying it. I don't spend my life looking over my shoulder. I take calculated risks with myself and my dog. Life is too short to spend it worrying about what might happen before making the smallest move. Sometimes living life involves a few bumps and bruises. So be it. If I have scars, I’ll also have stories.