You can’t have been on the Internet and not heard lately about the tragic case of Kevin Vincente and the dog Mickey. Kevin is a 4-year-old boy who was bitten on the face by a chained dog. The bite was severe enough that Kevin has needed several surgeries and still requires a feeding tube to eat.The case is a controversial one because both Mickey and Kevin are still alive and while Kevin is struggling to heal, a legal battle is being waged for Mickey’s life.Being an ER nurse, I see entirely too many dog bites, the majority of which happen to children. Little kids and unsupervised dogs are not a good mix. There’s a lot of reasons for this—children act impulsively and make mistakes in their interactions with dogs, dogs can and often do react poorly to the persistence of children, and the height of a young child, particularly from toddler to age 5, puts them face-to-face with the dog during a bite encounter. This accounts for why the majority of dog bites that happen to children occur to the face and why there is such immense tissue damage involved.
Probably one of the most lethal things a dog can do is bite a child. In nearly every one of the cases that I’ve seen, the dog has not survived the encounter—either the dog is surrendered to animal control where he is later euthanized, or he is killed by his owner in the backyard, often before the child even leaves the ER. In fact, the dog who is most likely to survive biting a child is not one who is a family pet or is much beloved by its owners—it’s the dog who escapes, a dog who is loose or is a stray and wasn’t immediately caught by the family of the bitten child. And even then, the hunt will be a fairly exhaustive one and it is quite likely the biting dog will be located and again, killed in one way or another.
Mickey and Kevin’s case is the exception. Mickey has an owner who surrendered him to animal control, where he now sits in an impound kennel, awaiting his fate. His case has garnered national attention—Mickey has a Facebook page, an impressively large following, and now an attorney, John Schill, who has taken his case pro bono. Schill calls both Kevin Vincente and Mickey the dog unfortunate victims in this awful case and in that statement, I believe he is right.
There is tremendous outcry to save Mickey, despite Maricopa County animal control’s assertion that this dog will not be released as adoptable once the court case is decided. Those in favor of saving Mickey state that this dog is a victim of terrible abuse himself—living out his life on the end of a short chain, that he didn’t receive the socialization he needed as a puppy, and that this bite is not his fault. Certainly, living on the end of a chain is a horror for a dog. Confined to a tight 6-10 foot circle, the dog is unable to keep his living area clean—he has to urinate and defecate where he sleeps and eats. The chain knocks his food over, scattering his kibble in the filth; it catches on the water dish, spilling the water and forcing him to go thirsty until someone notices. The chain frequently becomes tangled, snaring the dog away from shelter and water. Dogs living in such conditions become lonely, anxious, and territorial but more importantly, these are dogs who learn very quickly that they cannot get away from what is bothering or frightening them. So if it is another dog or wild animal pursuing them or if it is only a curious child, the chained dog has already learned that once he reaches the end of his tether, he is cornered with nowhere else to go.Chaining-related dog bites are unfortunately common. According to the Center for Disease Control and the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs who live out their lives on chains and tethers are nearly 3 times more likely to bite and chained dogs account for a stunning 25% of all fatal dog bite incidents. The HSUS, the ASPCA, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, PeTA, and notable dog authorities Dr. Ian Dunbar, Dr. Sophia Yin, and Victoria Stilwell have all come out strongly against chaining dogs, citing the egregious cruelty of keeping an emotionally intelligent animal isolated and tethered as well as pointing out how reliably chaining has been shown to increase aggression and fear biting.
With such a preponderance of evidence to demonstrate that chaining creates dangerous dogs, many State and Federal laws have been passed limiting or outright banning the practice. In 1997, the USDA ruled that people and organizations regulated by the Animal Welfare Act cannot continuously chain dogs, yet chaining continues in the miserable lives of thousands upon thousands of unfortunate dogs. Advocates of saving Mickey point this evidence out as testimony that Mickey is not actually a dangerous dog off his chain and indeed, the videos and stills of him cowering and shaking in his impound kennel show him appearing more terrified than vicious. But those arguing to euthanize Mickey disagree, saying that the severity of the bite speaks to exactly how unsafe this dog will always be. And certainly there is reason to be concerned about Mickey’s safety level—the bite Kevin sustained was considerable. His cheek was avulsed from his face, his eye socket fractured, his tear ducts detached and his lower jaw broken. Using Dr. Ian Dunbar’s Dog Bite Scale, Mickey inflicted a Level 5 bite, which is the second most severe bite a dog can cause. Dunbar’s prognosis for such a dog is grim: “Level 5 and 6: The dog is extremely dangerous and mutilates. The dog is simply not safe around people. I recommend euthanasia because the quality of life is so poor for dogs that have to live out their lives in solitary confinement.”
So even if Mickey is saved, there aren’t too many places he can actually go. This is a dog who already has a very severe bite on his record—anyone adopting him has some near insurmountable barriers to overcome. If you rent and you bring this dog home, count on getting an eviction notice because of your landlord’s liability and insurance policies. If you own your home, it will be nearly impossible to get homeowners coverage. Local animal control will almost certainly require you to build an extensively dog proof kennel for Mickey, as well as carry dangerous dog liability insurance with coverage into the millions. And even if you can manage to get past all this, if Mickey ever bites again, regardless of how minor, plan on being sued into financial oblivion.
So if there is no safe home for Mickey, then the argument to save him becomes a moot one. For this is a dog who desperately needed saving years ago, back when his owners first decided he was less of a pet and more of a nuisance, when that short chain was first snapped on his collar and those he loved walked away without so much as a backwards glance. More than probably anything else in this dog’s short and miserable life, that chain has been the most significant and most devastating influence, deciding both the child’s and the dog’s fate long before Kevin inadvertently wandered into Mickey’s reach.
We know chaining dogs dramatically increases their aggression. We know chaining increases the severity of dog bites. And we know that chaining is inhumanly cruel.
So why are so many dog owners still doing it?