Your Right To Bite Ends Where My Leg Begins


Every day, LRC contributors weigh and consider serious issues facing both this country and the world at large. Against this backdrop, it is almost embarrassing to bring up the dog issue. However, it is a myriad little things that can either make life pleasant or ruin one's day. Just consider a few examples.

It's springtime in Texas and the weather is mild and nearly perfect. We like to keep the windows open at night and enjoy a cool night breeze. It's really great. We sleep soundly and wake up refreshed and well rested…except that today I had to close the windows at 5AM because of an incessant barking. It was not a bark of warning, it sounded very methodical and mechanical, every three seconds or so. And this is not an isolated accident – neighborhood dogs love to bark and howl and the nighttime is their favorite. I guess it has to be the moon. In any case, if I put a boombox outside every night blaring hard rock or polka (or Mozart for that matter), the neighbors would be justifiably upset and call the police – the same neighbors who love their Fidos and let them outside to bark the night away.

In 1994 we rented an apartment in Moscow next to a nice little park. I started jogging but stopped a couple of weeks later. Again, it involved "the man's best friends." Loving owners hated to keep Sharik (fur ball) on a leash since, after all, every dog has a right to a good run in the park. Unfortunately, this right does not seem to extend to humans. Dogs regard running people as a prey; their natural instinct is to give chase. Every time I saw a dog chasing after me, I had to stop and wait until its owner had a chance to approach, apologize (sometimes), and tell me that it doesn't bite! Yeah, right!!! Tell that to the mailman! So I quit jogging before Sharik had a chance to taste me and I had to experience the wonders of the Russian medicine.

But back to Texas. On our front yard, there are a few trees and the local dogs simply love to do their business under them. Often, proud owners are standing by. And no, they don't always pick after them. Now, imagine (or don't, it's too disgusting) a grown man taking a dump on the front yard of these dog owners. Police, or maybe a shotgun immediately come to mind.

Let's summarize. Dog bites are a serious problem in the pooch-loving world – there are reportedly 5 million (!) victims of dog bit in the U.S. every year. Most of the victims are children. While their bites are probably worse than their barks, barking is extremely annoying (noise pollution) and so is the dog poop, especially when you accidentally step on it.

Mind you, I don't really blame the dogs for any of these things (so please no hate mail!). Many dog bites are partially or fully the fault of the victims. It's the dogs' natural instinct to chase after runners as is barking and lifting a leg under a tree. A pit bull is vicious because of breeding and owners – it's obviously not his fault.

So, dogs are not the blame, but the owners certainly are. Owners should recognize that little kids are not mature enough to know better than to pet a strange dog and are also the most susceptible to serious injuries or death caused by a dog attack. Owners should realize that joggers have a right not to be chased by their pets (have you ever seen a jogger chasing a rottweiler?). If Rover likes to bark at night and you do not live on a secluded farm, keep him inside. And please, pick up after him – the dog poop is not a good fertilizer!

Now, I am sure that most dog owners are decent individuals who approach their care-giving role responsibly. However, there are and always will be some who don't. This hardy bunch will let their charges bite, bark, poop and chase to their hearts' content, never mind the moralizing or even lawsuits. What should be the libertarian response to this challenge?

Unfortunately, I don't have all the answers, but maybe you do! However, here is one suggestion – abolish public parks! As all public programs, public parks are a means of redistribution of wealth, in this case from people who prefer the indoors to the outdoorsy types. If you like to hike and bike – fine, more power to you, but why should couch potatoes support your habit? (disclaimer: I love the outdoors). Also, public parks are shared by the dog owners and the dog-less (dog free?) individuals. Just as all involuntarily shared facilities, public parks are an arena of the tug of war between dog owners and folks who shun the company of the man's best friend. Irrespective of which group gains the upper hand, some individuals' rights are threatened. I remember there was an excellent article by Lew Rockwell describing the forcible sharing phenomenon; in particular, why we fight so viciously over public schools (it's a win-lose game) while there are plenty of restaurants offering all kinds of food without any political fighting.

If we had no public parks, private parks would undoubtedly spring up to take their place. Some of them could be the domain of Fidos and dog owners. Other would be completely dog free. Joggers would run without fear and without a chance on stepping on fresh poop. Dog owners would find peace among the like-minded individuals. Everybody would be happier, no more hateful stares. There could even be mixed parks – for dog-less folks who like being around dogs.

But why stop at the parks? Perhaps, one day we will see "dog friendly" streets and "dog free" streets or subdivisions? After all, some apartment complexes advertise themselves as either "pet friendly," or "pet free." How about "cat people" communities complete with catnip, rugs to scratch and mice to catch? Would any one want to live in one? The possibilities are truly endless!

March 26, 2007