Steal a dog to save a dog, but hurt a man in the process
August 11, 2006 7:05 AM   Subscribe

Inspired by this question. I have one of my own. When is it ok to "liberate" a dog from a situation that may or may not be harmful to the animal? Specific example from my neighbourhood inside.

There's a homeless man in my part of Toronto who spends most of his day inside a specific bus shelter. Until a few weeks ago, he had a dog with him. The dog never seemed to me to be underfed or not taken care of, although it did spend a lot of time just lying on the ground.

Recently many different posters have gone up in the area saying that the dog has been stolen. The likely scenario is that some would-be good samaritan took the dog because they thought it was not being cared for properly. The homeless owner seems obviously crushed, having lost his best friend.

Are there cases like this where taking the dog away is the best solution? On a sociological scale, is it better to look out for the best interests of the dog or the human? It seems that the loss of the dog could push the man further into the despair of homelessness.
posted by yellowbinder to Pets & Animals (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Whenever I see a homeless person with a dog, my only thought is how profoundly selfish they are and how they have no concept of the needs of the animal. A dog deserves shelter, care, discipline, proper food and exercise--no homeless person is able to deliver that kind of treatment.

If you can find a way to give this dog a new home with responsible owners, please do so. The state of the homeless man's emotions are not your responsibility.
posted by gsh at 7:12 AM on August 11, 2006


Just to clarify, I don't have the dog. Someone else took the dog a few weeks ago. I'm just posting this because it's something I've been thinking of since the "Lost/Stolen Dog" posters went up.
posted by yellowbinder at 7:14 AM on August 11, 2006


What? A homeless person seems like the ideal dog owner. He would have all day to take care of a dog, rather than locking it up in a tiny apartment all day while he goes out to his high-powered job.
posted by footnote at 7:19 AM on August 11, 2006


A dog is an animal, and a scavenger at that. Do you really think that a dog would choose to sit around inside a house alone, or even a fenced in yard for that matter when it could be wandering around with its "pack", sleeping outside, and eating whatever it and its pack finds? I think a homeless person would be a better dog owner than the person who carries their chihuahua into Barneys and makes it wait in the dressing room while she tries on clothes.

The only disadvantage is that the homeless person can't take the dog in for yearly check-ups.
posted by splatta at 7:22 AM on August 11, 2006 [2 favorites]


A dog deserves shelter, care, discipline, proper food and exercise-

Who says a homeless man can't provide these things? Aside from "regular shelter," I have seen homeless folks who are exemplary dog owners.

And, BTW, "lying on the ground" is pretty much the default state for a dog.
posted by miss tea at 7:36 AM on August 11, 2006


Unless a dog is being actively abused or in pain, I think it would be wrong to take it away. Dogs have evolved to be around people. Many of the people of hundreds, thousands of years ago weren't all that different from the homeless guy.

A good samaritan could offer to help get the dog its vaccinations if it hasn't had any. Many cities have free or very cheap rabies vaccine clinics.
posted by needs more cowbell at 7:37 AM on August 11, 2006


I've known a lot of homeless teens, and I've spent a lot of time with their dogs, and it was always clear that the dogs were a top priority. Quite a few of the kids fed their dogs before they fed themselves, partly because those dogs were the only thing on the planet that they could count on to consistantly give a shit about them.

Anyone who thinks that a homeless person can't give a dog an awesome dog life needs to actually spend some time with homeless people.
posted by cmonkey at 7:39 AM on August 11, 2006


If you can find a way to give this dog a new home with responsible owners, please do so. The state of the homeless man's emotions are not your responsibility.

I like dogs, but I think we ought to be more concerned with finding this man a home first.

Anyway, to answer your question, most municipalities have an animal control department. Here's the one for Toronto. Call them or the SPCA if you're concerned about an animal's well-being. Just taking the dog is theft. Dog-knapping happens all the time, by the way, and usually good intentions have nothing to do with it.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:44 AM on August 11, 2006


A homeless person living with a dog isn't necessarily irresponsible. After all, even with how much we've domesticated them, a lot of dogs are still far more capable of surviving without a home than humans are. And the relationship between dogs and humans does predate sedentary "homes."

I'm reminded of one of the homeless people who used to wander around campus when I was in college. This shirtless guy with a long beard would walk around with these two huge dogs who were clearly in good physical condition. They weren't on a leash or anything. They just followed him around. And let me tell you, this guy had better control over these dogs than any other dog owner I've ever seen. We used to joke that that guy was really God in disguise, controlling the dogs just as he controls the universe.

So I'm not sure that someone being homeless is by itself enough to justify taking his dog away. The only way I can see "liberating" a dog possibly being justified is if the dog is being abused. And no, homelessness does not automatically equal abusiveness.
posted by magodesky at 7:52 AM on August 11, 2006


My vet does voluntary work for a charity that offers vet services for the dogs of homeless people in London. He said that just about all the dogs he sees are very well cared for, well-behaved and socialised, and rarely need anything more than routine shots, worm treatment, etc. He said they hardly ever need flea treatment because fleas thrive in carpeted and heated houses.

Many dogs live outdoors, in a kennel, sometimes chained up with little human contact. A dog needs more than just food and shelter, it needs company. Dogs are social animals and don't do well left alone all day.

If the dog in question was not being ill-treated, imo it was wrong to take it from its owner.
posted by essexjan at 7:53 AM on August 11, 2006


The state of the homeless man's emotions are not your responsibility.

Ok, I've got to know. In what moral system is the dog's welfare your business, but the man's is not?

I'm trying hard, but I can't see any internally consistent worldview where it's ok to steal the guy's dog but leave him on the street.
posted by Leon at 7:53 AM on August 11, 2006 [2 favorites]


I didn't' answer in the other thread that I thought the thief was incredibly selfish to steal an animal from another person, no doubt poorer and in more need of that animal. With the exception of torture, what one does with his animals is not anothers concern. Would that poster have stolen someone's cow or chicken too?

Animals are not people, they are not endowed with inalienable rights. They are our beasts of burden since the dawn of ages, it is double-mocha-latte swilling yuppies who have given animals hopes and dreams they never had themselves.

As you may know, life on the street is incredibly violent. The homeless man likely saw the dog as protection against attack while he slept. He likely cared for the dog as well as he was able to in order to insure both of their well-being. Whoever stole it is incredibly selfish and will be repaid for their cruelty to downtrodden.
posted by McGuillicuddy at 7:55 AM on August 11, 2006


As a response to the question at hand rather than the example, if a dog is seriously being treated poorly and if it routinely goes off its owners property, then is a good time to "liberate" the dog. To stay legal, I have often just called animal control to report neglect, they usually remove the dog so that someone else can adopt it. If you are worried about the pet being put to sleep, but can't adopt it yourself. Get it from the kill shelter and then turn it back in to a no kill shelter.
posted by stormygrey at 7:58 AM on August 11, 2006


"The dog never seemed to me to be underfed or not taken care of" is all the reason anyone should need to leave it alone.

It would be a different story if the dog looked underfed or neglected, acted aggressively towards passersby, or had a disease or condition that the owner couldn't pay a vet to treat. You can get into hypotheticals about those, but in this case, it seems to me that the dognapper was clearly in the wrong.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:00 AM on August 11, 2006


Poor homeless man. Very wrong to take it. Dogs are pack animals and that man is the dogs family. I'm sure he cared for the dog and it looked after him in it's own way too. I'm a big dog lover and the social status of the owner bears has very little to do with whether the dog is mistreated or not. In fact, I'd guess that a homeless person makes a better dog owner. He could do with a companion and protection (warmth at night also). The dog also needs companionship.

Whoever nicked that dog is a cold heartless thief.
posted by twistedonion at 8:03 AM on August 11, 2006


"I like dogs, but I think we ought to be more concerned with finding this man a home first."

And why, pray tell, is that not the homeless man's responsibility? The dog, you realize, is incapable of finding its own home and thus it behooves us as its domesticators to do so.

The man makes a conscious choice to live in this manner. The dog does not. If he is, as some claim, capable of taking care of a dog, then he is equally capable of doing any number of things--such as getting off the street. That he has not is telling.
posted by gsh at 8:06 AM on August 11, 2006


"The dog, you realize, is incapable of finding its own home and thus it behooves us as its domesticators to do so. "

Dogs are homeless animals to begin with. Even if they are domesticated, I believe most of them (save the tiny toy breeds) can fend for themselves.
posted by splatta at 8:08 AM on August 11, 2006


Ok, I've got to know. In what moral system is the dog's welfare your business, but the man's is not?

I'm trying hard, but I can't see any internally consistent worldview where it's ok to steal the guy's dog but leave him on the street.


I agree. It's absolutely insane that most people seem to have more compassion for animals in unfortunate situations than other humans.. but that's just the way it goes.

To the original question, unless the dog is being abused or is extremely unhealthy (by cause of the owner), it'd be totally wrong to take it away from its master.
posted by wackybrit at 8:09 AM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]


Ok, I've got to know. In what moral system is the dog's welfare your business, but the man's is not?

There's the funny thing with moral systems, not everyone shares the same values.

I'd be more concerned about an abused animal than a dirty mouthy drunken bum any day (not saying this man was, just that there could be circumstances were I'd be more concerned about an animals welfare as opposd to a persons)
posted by twistedonion at 8:10 AM on August 11, 2006


Whenever I see a poor man with a hot woman, my only thought is how profoundly selfish they are and how they have no concept of the needs of the woman. A woman deserves shelter, care, discipline, proper food and exercise--no poor man is able to deliver that kind of treatment.

If you can find a way to give this woman a new home with rich owners, please do so. The state of the poor man's emotions are not your responsibility.
posted by meehawl at 8:17 AM on August 11, 2006 [6 favorites]


The man makes a conscious choice to live in this manner.

Many homeless people suffer from debilitating mental illnesses and substance addiction. There are people who are homeless by choice, but it's a very small percentage.

If he is, as some claim, capable of taking care of a dog, then he is equally capable of doing any number of things--such as getting off the street.


I'd bet it's a lot easier to take care of a dog when you're homeless then find a job. For one, the dog doesn't care how bad you smell.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:31 AM on August 11, 2006


The man makes a conscious choice to live in this manner.
That's just snobbish bullshit. Most homeless people do not live that way by choice. Really, how easy do you think it is for a homeless person to find a job? The interview process is hard enough when you're a college graduate. I think they'd weed out the guy in rags who smells like urine pretty quick.

And even if he is there by choice, so what? That's his choice, and it's not really hurting anyone. Why does that give you the right to steal his dog?
posted by magodesky at 8:34 AM on August 11, 2006


All I can really add to this discussion is that stealing from the homeless is fucking wrong. I have little love for the homeless in my city, as the sort I see are usually dressed better than I am with better tattoos, and look like teenagers who don't want to live by mom and dad's rules. Even then, I'd never take their dog.

Animal kidnapping is just flat-out wrong, under any circumstance. We have agencies that deal with animal abuse; there is no need to play hero. (The abusive dog owners I've experienced in my life would just as likely beat the shit out of you as their animal -- is being assaulted worth a small sense of altruism when a phone call could yield the same result?)

If a person (homeless or otherwise) is taking care of an animal and it seems happy and healthy, then let them be or lend them a hand. Nothing raises my ire more than self-righteous crusaders -- whether they consider themselves champions of animals or any other cause. Others lives are not yours to dictate if they are confining themselves to the law.
posted by Dark Messiah at 8:43 AM on August 11, 2006


The dog, you realize, is incapable of finding its own home and thus it behooves us as its domesticators to do so.

You overestimate "domestication". Dogs were domesticated by migratory humans living in conditions much like a homeless man's, maybe worse in terms of the availabilty of food.

Survival in the elements and dealing with a scarcity of food is what they're evolved for; lack of exercise and social companionship, which is what you're average working person gives them, is not.

This is not some weak thing that depends on some yuppie to hand feed him. This is a highly survivable animal.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:46 AM on August 11, 2006


Montreal has (had?) a homeless man with a pack of about 12-18 dogs and puppies, mutty shepherd and lab mixes. The dogs never seemed to be underfed -- I know the pet store I bought from occasionally gave the guy bags of food, and there were a few good samaritans who donated food for the dogs.

The dogs weren't fixed (thus the puppies and size of the pack). I know lots of the crusty punks would get puppies from the dog man. On a couple occasions, the police and the SPCA would pick up most of the dogs leaving the man with no more than 3 or 4. But soon enough he would have his pack again -- other dog-owning people living on the street would bring him puppies or young dogs from their litters, his remaining dogs would have litters, the cycle would continue.

The police and SPCA took the dogs away because they were felt to be a threat to the public and because it was felt the dog man couldn't provide adequate care. Other than being a bit scruffy and probably flea-ridden, the dogs were healthy. The dog man stated he kept so many dogs because they protected him -- no one's going to fuck with a guy surrounded by a pack of dogs -- and that they kept him alive in the winter.

I don't think that taking the dogs away in this situation was the right decision to make -- especially since dog man simply got more dogs. Better would have been to fix the dogs he did have, and find homes for the 8 or so puppies.

I never really saw anything wrong with dog man, though I did call the city numerous times about my neighbour who lived in a 3 1/2 with 17 German Shepherds, of which only 3 ever went outside.

I miss seeing dog man around. Toronto just isn't the same.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 8:56 AM on August 11, 2006


Also:
"is it better to look out for the best interests of the dog or the human?"

Frequently these might be the same thing. Take into consideration that separating a dog from its master (whom it followed around all day) and placing it with people who will (in all likelihood) keep it inside most of the day will probably be stressful for the dog. If the dog is in physical pain, being taken away and given medical care may be less stressful and its best interest. Otherwise, no.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:01 AM on August 11, 2006


Dogs were domesticated by migratory humans living in conditions much like a homeless man's, maybe worse in terms of the availabilty of food.
Your general point is good, but I have to take issue with you on the availability of food. Sorry, it's just a little pet peeve of mine. The scarcity of food among prehistoric hunter-gatherers has been vastly exaggerated by the Hobbesian myth that life outside of civilization is "nasty, brutish, and short." Food in the wild is actually quite abundant. The stuff is literally growing everywhere. You just have to know what you're looking for. Food (at least food that can be scavenged) is much more difficult to obtain in an urban environment. Especially since what little food homeless people might be able to get their hands on is often locked up or even purposely poisoned.

But I think you are on to something about the life of a homeless person being closer to what dogs have evolved for than life in a home. That was sort of the point I was trying to make when I mentioned the relationship between dogs and humans predating sedentary homes. Most dogs are not exactly fragile creatures that will die without the creature comforts of a nicely kept household.
posted by magodesky at 9:44 AM on August 11, 2006


I think that in just about any case that the owner actually cares and spends time with the dog is fine.

I think a dog most important requirement is to be part of a pack.

A dog well fed chained to the backyard speaks more to me than a flea infested dog that scounges for garbage but hangs with his owner/pack all day.

Of course physical abuse/loving a little too much isnt ok...
posted by beccaj at 9:45 AM on August 11, 2006


magodesky writes "Food (at least food that can be scavenged) is much more difficult to obtain in an urban environment."

In The Truth About Dogs, Stephen Budiansky posits that dogs were drawn toward cities/villages because it was easier to find food there, IIRC. (His ideas are somewhat controversial, but he does develop and explain them.) Of course, things are not necessarily the same now as they were when dogs first began hanging out with people.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:12 AM on August 11, 2006


(Needs more: The two Godeskys on this site have unconventional ideas about anthropology that they don't hesitate to bring up at the drop of a hat. Regarding most other things, they're sane and insightful, but have bugaboos that recur).
posted by klangklangston at 10:28 AM on August 11, 2006


Abuse, either passive (like neglect) or active, warrants intervention. Judgmental bullshit about the owner does not, I have seen animals owned by homeless people who are better cared-for than animals owned by the very well-off (including a cat at our vet clinic which died from an intestinal obstruction because its DOCTOR owner couldn't be bothered to seek veterinary attention for it over the weeks it took the cat to starve to death). Most pets have been domesticated for thousands of generations, and most cannot adequately fend for themselves (animals turned out of their homes do not frolic happily in flowery meadows most of the time, they tend to end up dead rather quickly from starvation, disease or accident). Domestic animals are not wild animals, hence the use of the modifier "domestic", they have been bred to be reliant on us, to want to be with us, and it's self-deception in most cases to think that they'd rather be wandering the streets alone on a permanent basis, fending for themselves, when we've bred out the self-reliance they'd need to live well this way.

I feel we do have a responsibility to ensure that animals are properly cared-for and treated well. I don't care to get into an argument about the semantics of "rights", or what constitutues an "animal" (as if we somehow aren't also animals). Regardless of one's views on whether or not animals have rights, I think we have a responsibility to ensure that animals (which have no control over their situation) are humanely and fairly treated, if not for the animal's sake, then for our own. I think it diminishes our humanity to allow other living, feeling creatures to be mistreated, and I think we DO have a responsibility to them - we have changed them radically from their ancestors, in order to have them be more pleasant to live with and more useful to us, in return we must ensure that as much as possible they do not suffer because of it.

That said, before branding someone an animal abuser and stealing their pets, you had better be damned sure that the animal in question actually IS being abused. Most people don't keep their pets in a manner I feel is ideal, but that is not the same as abuse.

Yes, there are most definitely cases where people should not own animals and the animals should be taken away from them (owning a pet is not a basic human need), but the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis, using the facts of the specific situation. An animal is not being abused simply because it's owned by a homeless person, it's being abused if its needs aren't being met or if harm (physical or psychological) is being done to it. Please be careful before deciding to "liberate" someone's pet - not only is this considered stealing property in many places, it's very easy to make ignorant superficial judgments about what constitutes reasonable care, and I have seen many homeless people whose pets are better looked after than the person themselves is.
posted by biscotti at 11:08 AM on August 11, 2006 [2 favorites]


The two Godeskys on this site have unconventional ideas about anthropology that they don't hesitate to bring up at the drop of a hat.
This is hardly an "unconventional idea" in anthropology. All of the ethnographic data that we have solidly disproves Hobbes' ideas about the "state of nature." Hobbes, by the way, provides no actual evidence of any kind to support his claims, and his ideas have come to be accepted among the general population mostly through sheer repetition.

And the only reason I brought it up at all is because the availability of food was given as a point in the argument for why it's okay for a homeless person to have a dog. And while I don't disagree with the overall argument, this particular point just doesn't seem accurate. And if it's worth bring up in the first place, it's worth getting right.
posted by magodesky at 11:50 AM on August 11, 2006


« Older language-challenged relationships   |   A child exposed himself to my child at day care Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.