When is a dog actually so dangerous that he needs to be put down, and when can you show mercy?
That’s the question that’s developing in the wake of an attack on a 4-year-old boy by a Pit Bull that happened last month in Phoenix. Kevin Vicente was playing with other children in a neighbor’s back yard, where their dog Mickey was chained up. Kevin picked up a bone lying on the ground near the dog, and Mickey attacked, knocking Kevin to the ground.
Kevin’s injuries from the attack are extensive, including a broken eye socket, cheek bone, and lower jaw, as well as detached tear ducts. When he arrived at Maricopa Medical Center, he underwent five and a half hours of surgery and will probably require months, if not years, of care to recover.
Dr. Salvatore Lettieri, chief of cosmetic surgery at the hospital, told ABC News “He still can’t open his eye. We’ll need to fix the tear duct drainage system — that is if he makes tears.” Lettieri also said to a local news site that “The injury that he had was extraordinarily graphic. … Most people would not be able to stomach the visualization. The medical professionals that were caring for him were bothered beyond normal to see the extent of injury that he had.”
Kevin will probably require further surgery to recover.
Guadalupe Villa, a friend of the family who was at the scene, has filed a petition to have Mickey declared vicious and put to sleep. The petition also claims that Mickey killed one of Villa’s dogs seven months ago. A hearing set for March 25 will decide his fate.
There are a lot of people who don’t want to see Mickey put down. So many, in fact, that the debate has become international in scope. The Save Mickey page on Facebook has (as of this writing) 47,443 likes, and the Phoenix Board of Supervisors has been flooded with emails and telephone calls from as far away as England. A petition to spare Mickey’s life has gotten more than 50,000 signatures online.
Because the family surrendered custody of Mickey to the county, the Lexus Project has taken over the dog’s defense. John Schill, acting as Mickey’s attorney, blames the woman who was babysitting Kevin while his mother was at work.
“But for adults involved, this never would have happened,” Schill said. “They’re trying to put all the blame on Mickey.”
Emotions are running extremely high around the issue on both sides. Posts from Mickey’s supporters have put the blame on many people, including the babysitter and Kevin himself. According to family friend Flor Medrano, “They’re saying that it was Kevin’s fault because he was spoiled, and they don’t even know Kevin. And they don’t even know the dog, either.”
Outrage flared among Mickey’s supporters when a worker at the Animal Care and Control posted on the “Save Mickey” Facebook page, saying “This is stupid the owners surrendered the dog. You guys doing all of this, won’t help any. He’s going night night!!” The worker has been disciplined, according to Animal Care and Control, although it has not released details.
The case brings up a lot of issues: First, is Mickey so vicious that he needs to be put down? And second, is it possible to come to his defense without being actively cruel to a traumatized family? Whatever you think about the first, it seems that Mickey’s supporters have been overly eager to pile on Kevin, the babysitter, and Kevin’s mother. Some have claimed that Kevin tried to take the bone out of the dog’s mouth, which contradicts what was said in the petition.
Mickey’s reaction to the boy seems extreme, which is definitely something to be concerned about, and depending on what the facts are about Villa’s dog, there could be a pattern of violence there. But euthanizing a dog should always be a last resort. Schill says that he wants to get Mickey into a rehab program, and that he believes the dog has been abused by his owners.
“I feel he’s been kept outside, that he hasn’t been well taken care of, and to me that constitutes abuse,” he said.
With the facts as known right now, it’s hard to say what Mickey’s proper fate is. But it’s clear that Kevin and his mother need to hear more sympathy from Mickey’s supporters, so that the issue isn’t simply Dog vs. Boy.
What do you think? Where is the line between euthanizing a dog out of fear and vengeance, and doing it for real reasons of safety? And how do we make sure that we can talk about that without descending into vindictiveness and cruelty?
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