Here is a fascinating and entertaining read about a tenacious animal lawyer, Richard Rosenthal, who has made a career out of getting dogs off death row. His willingness to explore each and every legal option available to “free” condemned dogs has made him a hero to some and a villain in the eyes of others. In particular, he seems to have earned the enmity of animal control officers (perhaps justifiably in some instances – public safety is in the ACO job description).
There are many things to consider in Rosenthal’s story. For example, if a dog gets off its property due to owner negligence and kills someone’s livestock, a reasonable argument can be made that the dog’s owner should pay for the livestock, rather than punishing the dog for simply expressing its natural instincts. If the law is too black and white in such situations, it should be updated to reflect our values and current understanding of animal behavior. This seems to be the case with a chicken-killing Siberian Husky named Luna that was defended by Rosenthal in 2011 (even the chickens’ owner didn’t want to see the dog put down – he only wanted to be reimbursed for the cost of his animals). Similarly, if a large dog is attacked by a much smaller dog, and things end poorly for the smaller dog, should the larger dog be euthanized on the grounds that it is an “aggressive dog?” Again, most would agree this should be case-by-case, rather than blanket condemnation for the dog that bit last.
However, while there are clear instances where dogs should be fought for and protected from euthanization, there are other examples of Rosenthal defending dogs that have been highly contentious. For example, he defended a dog that killed a 1-year-old, which is a line many people – quite understandably – will never cross, no matter how “misunderstood” the dog may be, or whether the death was actually just a “tragic accident” (as it was framed in court). In this instance, perhaps “contentious” is putting it mildly – Rosenthal received hate mail and death threats for that one.
Another aspect of this story that is troubling is the judges’ habit of giving this lawyer wins by simply sending the dog in question off to live in another state or county. That’s not a real solution. We all love dogs, but some dogs are legitimately dangerous, and shifting this responsibility – and risk – to another jurisdiction doesn’t help anybody. Frankly, it is dangerous. There are too many examples of people’s hearts, belief systems, egos, and/or obligations pushing them into giving a vicious dog “one more chance,” adopting it out, and opening the door for tragedy to strike. This is the road we go down when dogs with serious behavioral issues are shipped off to other states.