Sunday, January 29, 2012

Poodle Bitch is saddened by the story of Nick Santino and Rocco

Ever since she first read about the story of Nick Santino and Rocco, Poodle Bitch has felt a mixture of sadness mingled with anger. Mr Santino was a sometime soap opera actor who took his own life shortly after euthanizing his companion Rocco, apparently after intolerable harassment from imperious neighbors.
[I]n 2010, his building at 1 Lincoln Plaza announced strict new dog regulations, including a ban on pit bulls. The ban didn’t apply to pit bulls already in the building, but friends and neighbors said Santino began to be harassed.

“People were complaining about his dog,” said neighbor Kevan Cleary, 63, an adjunct professor at Brooklyn Law School. “It was open season on him.”

Rocco couldn’t ride in the main elevators and wasn’t allowed to be left in the apartment alone for more than nine hours.

Santino was then threatened with a $250 fine for having a barking dog, neighbors said.

“The dog was not a barker, but somebody complained that the dog would bark,” Cleary said.

There is a breed of human -- the Western petty tyrant -- that Poodle Bitch notes is sadly all too common. The Western petty tyrant believes that s/he has found the one true way in which to live one's life. S/he believes that anyone who is not living his or her life in the manner the Western petty tyrant deems appropriate is abusing him or herself, and must be protected from his or her own bad judgment. The Western petty tyrant believes that s/he is the only person who can protect others from their own bad judgments, and therefore seeks positions of authority -- on condo boards, home owner associations, PTAs, city councils, state legislatures, federal legislatures, governorships and presidencies. Poodle Bitch notes that the mayor of the town in which Mr. Santino and Rocco lived, New York City, is famously dedicated to imposing his own will on others.

The Western petty tyrant often does so in the name of "safety." No doubt that was the stated motivation behind banning one specific type of dog -- the pit bull. Armed with a few exceptional and admittedly appalling stories of attacks by these types of dogs, they claim that their actions are merely for the safety of everyone else around them. These stories appear in newspapers and on television reports that are interested only in reporting what happened during the attack. Very little consideration is paid to how the animal in question was raised, or what kinds of behaviors were reinforced in them.

Most humans don't even realize that "pit bull" is not even a breed of dog. As Radley Balko has pointed out:
These types of breed-specific prohibitions are a bad idea for a variety of reasons, but the most glaring is that the most common target of these laws — the "pit bull" — isn't really a breed at all but rather a generic name given to dogs with with features we've come to associate with a certain type of dog with certain aggressive characteristics. The "pit bull" very generally refers to the American Staffordshire Terrier breed, but can include a number of breeds with similar features, including bull terriers like Rufus, and just about any mutt with traces of bulldog, mastiff, or bloodhound crossed with any breed of terrier.

Mr. Balko pointed Poodle Bitch in the direction of an article in the New Yorker by Malcolm Gladwell, highlighting research into the temperaments of various dog breeds. What was discovered might surprise the petty tyrants on the condo board at Mr. Santino's and Rocco's former residence:
A Georgia-based group called the American Temperament Test Society has put twenty-five thousand dogs through a ten-part standardized drill designed to assess a dog’s stability, shyness, aggressiveness, and friendliness in the company of people. A handler takes a dog on a six-foot lead and judges its reaction to stimuli such as gunshots, an umbrella opening, and a weirdly dressed stranger approaching in a threatening way. Eighty-four per cent of the pit bulls that have been given the test have passed, which ranks pit bulls ahead of beagles, Airedales, bearded collies, and all but one variety of dachshund. “We have tested somewhere around a thousand pit-bull-type dogs,” Carl Herkstroeter, the president of the A.T.T.S., says. “I’ve tested half of them. And of the number I’ve tested I have disqualified one pit bull because of aggressive tendencies. They have done extremely well. They have a good temperament. They are very good with children.” It can even be argued that the same traits that make the pit bull so aggressive toward other dogs are what make it so nice to humans. “There are a lot of pit bulls these days who are licensed therapy dogs,” the writer Vicki Hearne points out. “Their stability and resoluteness make them excellent for work with people who might not like a more bouncy, flibbertigibbet sort of dog. When pit bulls set out to provide comfort, they are as resolute as they are when they fight, but what they are resolute about is being gentle. And, because they are fearless, they can be gentle with anybody.”

Then again, Poodle Bitch notes with some weariness, the Western petty tyrant usually does not care when his assumptions are contradicted by evidence. He will point to the sensational and sad story in the media, pass his restriction, and then move on to the next great alarm, leaving others to deal with the consequences of his actions.

Suicide is an extreme reaction to the harassment and frustration with which Mr. Santino had to deal. Poodle Bitch has no way of knowing how many other issues he was facing. But she does note that Mr. Santino should not have had to deal with the petty tyrants who lived in his building, and targeted him with their bullying tactics.

They are far more dangerous than the pit bulls they banned.

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