Readings: $230,000 Dog Bites As Told

In intro journalism class we list the several “news values”—those characteristics of an event that make it news. For example: Celebrity — “Prince Marries Roommate,” because he’s famous, it’s news. Or Proximity, the local angle in the diocesan weekly—“Typhoon Rips Town: Three Catholics Hurt.” Finally, Oddity, the unexpected—Dog bites man is not news, “Man Bites Dog” is.

The Sunday New York Times, in its recent effort to lighten up the front page with soft news, reports that if you are very, very rich, you can buy a German Shepherd specially trained — conditioned — to curl up at your feet and love your children like a cute puppy, but, given the signal, tear someone else to shreds. It’s a story with everything: an international aura — Naval seals took a dog like this to get Bin Laden; high finance — to afford this lovely beast it helps to be top one percent income club; and animal ethics — Is this any way to treat a dog?


Harrison Prather, a dog trainer in South Carolina, who used to supply dogs for the Navy Seals, has switched to a more lucrative market, rich businessmen who want to feel both secure and even more important than they feel already. A costly “protection dog,” which goes for at least $50,000, is both cheaper than a human guard and a status symbol. German shepherds trained for three years in Germany are conditioned to operate with split personalities. What we would call a mental illness, for them is a marketable skill. As one owner said of Julia, who sold for $230,000, “She’s like a little pit bull when she bites. She has that model face, and then opens the gums up and lets you have it.” The secret word to shift into the violent mode is “Packen,” German for “seize,” or “Get him!”

What’s wrong with this? “Nothing,” you might say. “It’s the rich man’s money. He can do what he wants with it.” Three problems.

1. Is this a good thing for a dog? Basically it renders the animal schizophrenic. Nice one minute, wild the next. It’s a dog, you say. You paid $50-$200,000. That’s up to you. And dogs aren’t bound by our moral codes. I know that dogs act by instinct, they don’t reason, they don’t even know conceptually that they are dogs. But my family went through and loved four dogs when I was growing up and my brother usually had three around the house. Part of their charm is that they do seem to develop what we would call a consistent personality.

2. Is this a responsible use of wealth? Call me a communist or socialist, but a basic Christian principle is that the rich have a responsibility to use their wealth for the common good. We are familiar with the arguments that the cost of a fighter-bomber could feed and build homes for lots of starving families. Well, the money spent on Julia could have given summer jobs to 88 ghetto high school students or sent seven young people to college for a year.

3 What does it say about our culture? The same thing the ads for Rolex watches, diamond necklaces, a Mercedes Benz, and multimillion dollar penthouses say in the up-scale magazines. There’s a lot of money in the hands of a few, and they spend — waste — a lot of it showing off.

Maybe that’s what author John Tierney, a well-regarded Times reporter, was trying to say.

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J.


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Liam Richardson
7 years 7 months ago
My dear Spanish teacher for all three years of high school was a Cuban expat with a husband in the FBI. She had a giant German Shepherd for a protector. My teacher was a linguist, and taught her dog his commands (including "kill") in Spanish, English, French, Italian and Latin. And he did kill on command (e.g., a stray dog once attacked my teacher's adult son, and her dog killed it on command in one lunge at the throat). 
7 years 7 months ago
''Is this a responsible use of wealth? Call me a communist or socialist, but a basic Christian principle is that the rich have a responsibility to use their wealth for the common good.''

I have a few comments:

If it were communists or socialist you can bet there would be no wealth for the common good, just a lot of misery. 

I said this before but did Jesus actually come for the rich and not the poor?  Not in the sense that he was advocating a rich lifestyle but that they have more problems because they are focused on this life and not the next.  That is also the impression that I get from a lot of people here who seemed to be only interested in making a heaven on earth and less worried about salvation, whatever salvation is these days.  It seems the poor got a free pass into heaven while the rich have problems.

Finally, I have run into a lot of examples of the rich in our history being very generous, The Rockefellers, Carnegie, the Fords, Bill Gates and a lot of well to do graduates of various schools have all donated towards our society and the poor in extremely large amounts.  But more importantly they also help the poor in a big way by starting businesses that employ people.  How many people has Microsoft or Intel or other Silicon Valley companies created jobs for?  Isn't that the best donation of one's time and monies, creating jobs and not just giving the stuff away.  The communists and socialists never did anything like that.  

All Marx did was complain.  He wrote over 6000 pages seething over capitalism and offered up nothing that worked or could work while the capitalism he complained about has created our modern society with all the wealth that people want to take to give to the poor.  Actually they do not want to give it to the poor but only to those who will vote for them.  The poor be damned.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 7 months ago
''Release the hounds!'', as Mr. Burns of ''The Simpsons'' says.  Perhaps the growing gap between the rich and everybody else creates a fear  among the upper 1% of increased incidents caused by the disgruntled and ungrateful peasantry.  The money might be better spent on armored limos and clothing.  After all, a dog isn't much protection against a high powered rifle with a 10x riflesight.  But I congratulate this fellow for finding a way to separate the rich from their money.  Even though it's mere chump change,  the trickle down (and trickle it is) is slightly increased.
Beth Cioffoletti
7 years 7 months ago
I was surprised that the article did not mention the fear and paranoia that goes along with being filthy rich.  Insurance policies, elaborate secuirty systems and gates, armed guards and attack dogs - all to protect themselves and their property and assorted accumulated stuff.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 7 months ago
“the capitalism he complained about has created our modern society with all the wealth that people want to take to give to the poor”

That’s somewhat of an exaggeration, Mr. Cosgrove.  Didn’t the mildly compensated work of people like Watt, Ampere, Faraday, Maxwell, Pasteur, Salk, Townes, the Curies have something to do with it?  Of course, there are the great entrepreneur inventors like Edwin Land, founder of Polaroid, who made lots of money while having lots of scientific fun and more power to that sort.  But it’s mainly the fun of doing science and peer respect, those are the main drivers for that sort of person.  If there’s a new golden economy, it’ll have something more to do with the discovery of a room-temperature superconductor or “cold” fusion and much less to do with the machinations of Wall Street and greedy megacorps or the economic theorizations of a Friedman.
7 years 7 months ago
''That’s somewhat of an exaggeration, Mr. Cosgrove. ''

Maybe, but not much.  Capitalism has enabled a world that lets the people you have mentioned to thrive.  Not everyone who contributed has made a bundle.  It is our attitudes towards the entrepreneurial class and small business/bourgeois that is responsible for our accelerated living standard and allows us to spend the money for basic science and medicine and encourages this activity. To say that capitalism is the only thing is absurd but nothing else comes close to explaining the change in world living standards since 1800.  I suggested before that anyone interested in the ascent of the West should read Deirdre McCloskey and I published links to her writings.

They also should learn about the cooperation between Stanford University and industry in the Silicon Valley initiated by Federick Terman

I would add thousands of others to your list. 
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 7 months ago
I didn't say scientists work for the common good.  They like doing science and they like peer recognition.  I'm just saying money isn't a big deal.  Their motivations are less materialistic.  If they are entrepreneurs and make big bucks, it's often to see their developments take flight as much as for the money, though a study of their thinking in these matters might be interesting.  Their startup companies often receive government support through Small Business Independent Research contracts and such.  So, if government helps business, shouldn't business help government like by paying taxes as much as I do, proportionally?
Shayne LaBudda
7 years 7 months ago
But the now infamous Citizens United decision ruled that corporations are to be treated as persons, insofar as speech is concerned.  It would seem dubious to me if corporations would argue for this status on one hand, where it benefits their campaign spending, but not on the other, where tax rates are concerned.  It shouldn't be a one-way street on any issue. 

The point of the article was to ask the uncomfortable questions about how much is enough.  They're uncomfortable because they challenge our instinctive hoarding nature.  That is at least part of why Christ was (is?) on earth, to challenge us and draw us out of our more basic instincts.  To me, it's fair then to ask, when confronted by such conspicuous consumption, "Is this a good thing?"  It's (currently) politically incorrect to ask or imply what others do with their wealth, but if we hold ourselves to be a moral society, then we have to ask such impolite questions.
7 years 7 months ago
Thank you, Bill, (#12) for your clarification.  The comparison of dogs changing from Fido to Ramo to persons with schizophrenia really rankled me.  As you so well said, it is a continuation of a persistent stereotype.  My son, age 45, who is diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia is as gentle and loving a person as one can meet.  It is so unfair to him to be considered potentially violent.  I have to be very careful as to whom I tell about his condition.  I've had people look at me in great alarm as to my safety with this "schizo", as they are so cruelly called.  How can there be any improvement made in the care and treatment of the mentally ill when such attitudes persist?  Thank you for your work in this area and for bringing this issue to the attention of readers.
7 years 7 months ago
I have a couple comments

I am certainly not anywhere close to knowledgeable on mental illnesses but have two experiences with schizophrenia.

We have a friend with a daughter that is in her mid 30's.  She has some form of schizophrenia.  At our house a few years ago she had to be taken into the other room by her mother to calm her because she thought that worms were crawling up her legs.  She is anything but a violent person but was imagining all sorts of wild things.  You could not predict when it was happening.  We were eating dinner and all of a sudden her mother wisked her into the other room.  She apparently realized what had happened when my wife and I didn't.

On a Teaching company course I watched last year on genetics and DNA, the lecturer pointed out that autism and schizophrenia are at opposite ends of a bell curve on the distribution of some types of proteins that have to do with mental stimulation.  Autism is an extreme form of low stimulation while schizophrenia is hyper stimulation of neural activity.  If anyone is interested the course was on human DNA and the particular lecture was on mental illness and the appearance or non appearance of certain genes and their expressed proteins.
7 years 7 months ago
David and JRC,

I think you both bring up very good points on the mentally ill and how they are perceived and treated in society.  Unless one personally knows a mentally ill person through family or friends it is unlikely that you would have much if anything to do with them.  Many of the homeless and those in jail have mental illnesses but they are usually lumped together with "the homeless" and their needs are not treated.  David, you write of a "benign reaction" and I wonder if that may translate into "benign neglect".   Such neglect is not actively harmful to people but , on the other hand, it tends to ignore a very vulnerable population that we as Christians who practice the beatitudes ought to be ministering to.  We can't all be therapists, social workers or rehab specialists, but there is a need to educate oneself and be an advocate forthem.  Several states have considered laws that would mandate treatment   When the mental asylums were emptied in the 60's (I was an intern at Cleveland Psychiatriac at thetime) the expectation was that the patients would be treated in their home communities.  That  tragically has not happened.

A good resource for gaining knowledge is the Alliance for the Mentally Ill.  I'd also recommend an excellent article in National Review, JUne 20. 2011:  "Bureaucratic Insanity" by E. Fuller Torrey.  He writes about the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a real boondogle in the Dept of Health and Human Services.  At a budget of $3.6 billion , the only good they do is already done by other parts of the Dept.  In their action plan for 2011-2014 they do not even mention Schizophrenia or bi-polar disorders!

Dr. Fuller gives some stats: 
     4.7 million individuals receive Sjupplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Income because they suffer from "mental disorders".  The total federal cost for such support for these mentally ill persons in 2009 was 45,7 billion dollars. 

     3.5 million out of the 7.7 million most severely  persons in the U.S. are not being treated.

     He wonders if many of them could be removed from the rolls if they were properly treated.   Yet, SAMHSA gives grants to orgs that oppose forcing the severely mentally ill to receive treatment.  (As you can guess, I am for these laws).  This is an agency that should be disbanded, saving taxpayers money and improving mental health and substance abuse treatement.

Thank you Tim for letting me be on my soapbox and David and Mr. Cosgrove for your always interesting thoughts and ideas.
bill van ornum
7 years 7 months ago
"What we would call a mental illness is for them a marketable skill."

Just wanted to make a comment here..."split personality" (i.e. someone who has a "Jeckyl-Hyde" personality) is often referred to as "schizophrenic"..or in this case, a dog who can shift from being Fido ro Rambo...

It's not an accurate comparison (but one done all the time). Persons with schizophrenia suffer from tormenting hallucinations and delusions, as in the paranoid form. Those with the chronic or simple form often live at the edges of society, unable to connect with others, isolated, alienated, alone.

Technically speaking the terms "multiple personality" or "borderline personality" come closer to describing what is being described in these pet/attack dogs. But it' only a rough comparison and again an unfair one as it implies intense physical violence on the part of persons with these psychiatric conditions-again, unfair.

Another unfortunate stereotype is that persons with paranoid schizophrenia are violent. Most are more afraid of their own inner trouble and the world as would't hurt a fly. A small number act on or become violent and these cases are frequently written about in the media. But they are rare compared to the vast majority of peaceful persons with this condition.

Over 3 million people in the USA suffer from schizophrenia; over 60,000,000 worldwide.

Just as we workm against profiling gay persons, persons from different cultures, etc. I think it's important to do the same when we talk about persons born with crippling psychiatric problems.

best, bill


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