Dangerous Dogs: Fact and Fiction

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Who was it who said that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans? That’s certainly true for writers–at least, for some of us. I’m frankly awed by those who produce well-crafted novels every year (and sometimes more often than that) and I’m the first to agree I’m not in that league. Instead, I’m comfortable doing things my way in my own time. Since the major plot lines for the series are drawn from both life and legend, the research process for each book is proving to be an adventure all its own.

Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, tackles two hot topics that are rumbling through the region: land fraud and dog ownership. Researching these real-life issues led me to courthouses, community meetings, newspaper archives, legal records (both on- and off-line) and animal shelters. Along the way I’ve interviewed county deputies, elected officials, and environmentalists as well as kennel owners, dog trainers, veterinarians, and community activists. Along the way I learned that people are prone to what scholars term confirmation bias–that is, they’re most likely to believe whatever evidence supports their personal beliefs. They’re vocal in expressing their opinions and quick to dismiss opposing perspectives.

Take the issue of “dangerous dogs” for example. You can find plenty of anecdotal information supporting the position that some specific breeds are inherently dangerous and should be banned. Look further and you’ll find scholarly studies disputing that. Based on these studies, it would appear that Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is a flawed approach while Breed Neutral Legislation (BNL) takes a more responsible view. In summary:

The data, scientific studies, and risk rates all confirm that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue. For canine regulation, it is important to understand the differences between the two major forms of regulation – breed-specific legislation (BSL) and breed-neutral legislation (BNL). BSL is a limited, single-factor, appearance-based approach while BNL is a comprehensive, multi-factorial, behavior-based approach. For public safety, BSL imposes regulations on a minority of dogs based only on their appearance or breed (regardless of a dog’s behavior or responsible ownership) while breed-neutral regulations address all potentially dangerous dogs, all irresponsible owners, and all unsafe dog-related situations – regardless of a dog’s appearance or breed. Consequently, multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded that BSL is ineffective; furthermore, it is a discriminatory trend in decline evidenced by the vast majority (98%) of cities and towns that use breed-neutral regulations as their primary and only form of regulation because of the many advantages of breed-neutral regulations summarized on our breed legislation page. For public safety and to reduce dog bite incidents, the data and scientific studies both validate that the most effective solutions are breed-neutral and address the human end of the leash.

While there are some who may question the value of this source, the inclusion of scholarly studies, reports, and position statements from credible associations suggest it’s worth taking the time to review the information and links before making up your mind.

And despite the plethora of peer-reviewed studies and expert positions, there are many who prefer instead to support boycotts and breed bans.  I’ve drawn upon real-life incidents, actions, and attitudes reflecting both sides of the issue to create authentic conflict for my protagonist as she finds herself in legal jeopardy when an opponent is found murdered on her property. To save herself, Maggie must unravel the web of deceit and discover the truth before nefarious foes can succeed in their efforts to destroy all she holds close to her heart.

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Happy Birthday!

In AKC time, Sasha is five years old today! We chose July 4th for her “official” birthday in declaration of her independence from the old and in celebration of her new life. She’s now formally recognized by the AKC as Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha.

For those new to the story, here’s a quick recap of how her AKC name came to be:

We chose Ozark for our locale and Highlands for her heritage; we’re actually in the Ozark Highlands, so it’s a double play on that last word. We included Summer because she has a warm, sunny spirit. And I wanted her call name included because she came to us with that, so including Sasha gave us a bridge between her past and present.

As I write this, Sasha is sprawled beneath my desk, taking refuge from the incessant bang of fireworks. In previous years, we resorted to noisy fans and cheerful music to block out the fireworks. This year, other than sticking close to me (which, let’s face it, is basically a habit of hers), Sasha seems unconcerned. Progress!

Pet-Friendly Travels

Alix The Great Traveler © Susan Holmes

Years ago, I was traveling with a group and we’d checked into a pet-friendly hotel. I left my spaniel, Alix, in the room while I retrieved the rest of the luggage. One member of the group–one of the few traveling without dogs of her own–wasn’t paying attention and left the door open. My dog decided she didn’t want to stay in a strange place unless I was with her so she slipped out of the open door and set off to find me. By the time I tracked her down, she’d charmed everyone she’d met and the front desk clerk was sharing her lunch. “She looked hungry,” the clerk explained. Fortunately, both staff and guests were amused by my dog’s antics and quick to accept my profuse apologies for an unleashed, unsupervised dog in the hotel.

I learned a lot from that experience, and I’m happy to report that Alix went on to become a wonderful travel companion. Far better, in fact, than I suspect my Sheltie will ever be. If Sasha ever got loose in a strange place, I seriously doubt I could catch her. Beyond our yard and whatever the destination might be, Sasha is always leashed and properly secured.

If you’re traveling this summer by vehicle or planes or even on foot, there are some basic practices that can make the adventure an enjoyable and safe experience for everyone.

© American Kennel Club

The American Kennel Club staff present some great suggestions that can help you plan for your trip. You’ll find excellent information about health, safety, crates, and best practices in the article titled The Complete Guide to Travelling With Your Dog.

Jenna Stregowski, RVT has a thoughtful article titled How to Travel With Your Dog that addresses different types of travel accommodations. The article also includes a handy “what to pack” checklist.

Lisa Bernier at Barkpost offers 18 Ridiculously Easy Travel Hacks That Will Change How You Travel With Your Pup. Some of these might surprise you, so be sure to check them out!

And for a totally different perspective, check out How I Bring My Dog With Me While Traveling The World and Working Remotely

If you’re planning to travel on foot with your dog, The American Hiking Society has great information online at the site Places to Hike With Your Dog.

Although fractured bones have kept me off the trail for the past several months, reading about a hike with a dog is almost as good as the real thing–especially when the writer is as gifted as Jim Warnock. If you’ve never hiked with a canine partner, check out the 12 qualities of a good trail partner.  And for more great reading, check out his blog post Just Perfect

Hiker-Dog Photo © Jim Warnock

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Wherever your travels take you, I hope the information included in the links above will help you enjoy a peaceful–and safe–adventure!

p.s. If you’re looking for a pet-friendly hotel, these resources might help:

https://hotels.petswelcome.com/

https://www.bringfido.com/lodging/

http://www.pet-friendly-hotels.net/

Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha © S. Holmes

The Beautiful Ozarks

I love traveling the winding dirt roads through the Ozark hills where homesteads, farms, and woodlands passed down through the generations form the landscape for my Waterside Kennels series. When I can’t get out to explore on my own, I find inspiration in the tales and photos of people like Jim Warnock, author, photographer, and avid trail trekker. In addition to many articles on hiking and travel published in regional magazines, he also authored the book Five Star Trails: The Ozarks which is a “must have” resource for anyone interested in hiking.

I turned to Jim for advice while I was writing Dangerous Deeds and his thoughtful suggestions provided the details I needed when crafting trail scenes. I also drew inspiration from his photographs. Here are a few from one of Jim’s 2013 adventures; you can read the entire post here. I hope this inspires you to go out and explore, wherever you are!

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The trail passes the oldest known structure along the Buffalo River.  Built by Alvin and Greenberry Parker between 1847 and 1849, the structure is now known as the Parker-Hickman cabin because it was occupied by the Hickman family from 1912 to 1978.

Parker-Hickman Cabin

Jim shared this bit about the cabin from Ken Smith’s Buffalo River Handbook:

Newspapers and magazines were used to cover the inner walls and some print can still be read. Mud and wood pieces were used to fill between some of the large timbers.  The cabin was skillfully built with precisely cut half-dovetailed log corner joints.

As shown in these two photographs, the wall coverings still exist (click on image to enlarge the view):

 

 

Video lovers will appreciate this 7-minute virtual tour of the beautiful Ozarks:

When not hiking and writing about trails, Jim might be found maintaining his adopted 4-mile section of the Ozark Highlands Trail from Jack Creek to Dockery Gap. He shares many of his trail adventures with his black Lab, Hiker-dog. (I shared part of Hiker-dog’s rescue story here and here.)

Want more beautiful photographs and stories? Be sure to check out Jim’s blog at https://ozarkmountainhiker.com/.