For the past 15 years, Eileen McShane has been a dog warden as well as teaching obedience classes, a combination not seen very often. She runs the county shelter, is active in civic and community activities, is frequently consulted by state and local legislators and is presently forming a local humane association. The following interview brings out some of her experiences and how the dog scene looks from her vantage point.
Q. Other than being a sport and control-teaching device, can obedience training be utilized to a greater extent than it has been up to now, particularly in dealing with the loose dog problem?
A. Very definitely. I have long maintained that we should deal with the dog ordinance violator in the same way in which we deal with the traffic law violator who is sent to Traffic School – send the dog ordinance violator to Obedience School. More and more communities are passing leash laws, and those communities which are turning from rural to urban are beginning to enforce these laws more strictly. A part of this enforcement effort could be to require an offender to attend an obedience school – not only would he learn how to control his dog, but he would also get some idea of the responsibilities involved in owning a dog. Not too long ago I was successful in saving two dogs from certain destruction by having the owners “committed” to an obedience school. One instance involved two GSD’s, a five year old male and a two year old female, owned by a young woman in her early 20’s who was 8½ months pregnant when a dangerous dog complaint was lodged against her. During the hearing it became evident from the testimony that the female was the more aggressive dog and partly responsible for the male’s behavior – you might say, she was leading him astray. The woman became quite upset when she realized that both of these dogs might be destroyed. At this point I suggested to the judge that perhaps a temporary separation of the dogs, as well as an evaluation of the female might help. The judge agreed and I took the female to the shelter to evaluate her and keep her confined. I concluded that when confined and in familiar surroundings, the dog was not aggressive. I also felt, however, that the woman would have to learn to control these dogs and enroll in an obedience class. Fortunately the judge again agreed. Both dogs were saved and have been no problem since.
Another case I investigated involved two dogs which had attacked and mutilated a 70 year old man. By court order, both dogs were confined to the shelter for evaluation. My recommendation to the judge was that one dog be returned to the young man who owned these dogs, provided he enrolled in an obedience course. Again the judge agreed. The young man, however, apparently felt strongly resentful of having to go to obedience school; while he did enroll in a class, he missed three-fourths of the lessons and was not permitted to graduate. As a result, the judge ordered him to re-enroll or have the dog destroyed. I subsequently learned from his instructor that he finally began to take the matter seriously, did attend all the classes and finished close to the top of his class. Parenthetically, his instructor told me that this was one of the most rewarding experiences in her career and she too felt that more use should be made of obedience classes in enforcing dog ordinances.
Q. What do you feel is the greatest challenge facing instructors in the coming years?
A. To clean their own house. In response to unqualified, and frequently downright cruel methods there has arisen a clamor to license obedience instructors. So far it has primarily been aimed at protection dog trainers. As a matter of fact, a bill has been introduced before the New York State Legislature to license protection dog trainers. Proposals along these lines, however, have not stopped there, but have included obedience instructors. NADOI, in establishing criteria for qualified instructors, has made an excellent beginning and these criteria are being considered, either as a starting point or simply for adoption. Some form of legislation will be necessary and it is only a question of time. Trainers themselves want it and I have recently seen a number of articles advocating the licensing of instructors. With an organization like NADOI, I feel we have a nucleus and a blueprint to work with. The enormous growth in dog activities has brought with it the undesirable element. This element is of concern to the person seriously interested in dogs and unless we can cope with it, regulations will be imposed on us. The only thing we can hope for is that whatever form these regulations will take, they will have been devised in good will and with the advice of those knowledgeable as well as sincere.
Q. Eileen, you have obviously been in the game for quite some time, both the pleasant as well as the not so pleasant end of it. What do you believe is the largest problem facing the fancy today?
A. I will answer that without hesitation – the number of dogs we have in this country today and how to control them. The fancy is very decidedly affected by this in that there is a direct relationship between the growing ranks of unwanted dogs and legislative efforts aimed at limiting and restricting dog ownership. More and more of these efforts are successful and each new law that is enacted makes it just a little more difficult to own a dog, or more than one dog. All this works to the detriment of the serious dog person who feels himself unjustly persecuted. On the other hand, what has he done by way of not breeding, educating others in the responsibilities of dog ownership, and generally trying to get this problem licked? It is not enough for the fancy to proclaim its innocence and place the entire burden on the so-called irresponsible dog owner. The “fancy”, consisting of “responsible” dog owners, does a good deal of unnecessary breeding which does not improve a particular breed and which is the only reason, I am always told, why one should breed in the first place.
To my way of thinking, the fancy is confronted with a tremendous challenge and that is to reduce if not eliminate the steady growth of unwanted dogs. And believe me, this is a job for the fancy, because only there will you find those who care enough about dogs to want to insure the dog’s continued existence in the manner in which we know it today.