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Comments on the dilemma in the December issue: Dealing with dogs that bite
  1. Melissa Donald


In the dilemma discussed in the December issue of In Practice, Simon Coghlan described a scenario where you are working as a veterinarian in an animal shelter. The senior vet tells you about a dog that was surrendered to the shelter after it escaped from its yard and, without provocation, attacked a person, causing them a laceration that required stitches. A staff member at the shelter has offered to rehome the aggressive dog, as they live in the country and have a fenced yard. They believe the dog is owed a second chance. However, the senior vet disagrees saying: ‘Such dogs do not deserve to be in the community. They are a menace and should be destroyed’ (IP, December 2018, vol 40, pp 470-471). Is it morally right for you to kill the dog?

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Morally right means we are conforming to a standard of what is good and right, conforming to established sanctioned codes or accepted notions of right and wrong.

In this scenario, it is not as simple as either putting the dog down or not. What has the behaviour of the dog been like during its stay in the shelter? How would you personally cope if the said dog attacked another person, which could have been prevented by euthanasing it?

The senior vet could have worded this differently: ‘there is no need to take the risk of future attacks by having this dog in the community’ (which by the sounds of it is not in the community at all but as a solitary yard dog . . . another area for ethical debate on keeping dogs in essentially solitary confinement).

But going back to the morally right debate, the question comes back to whether the dog is being assessed on human terms or animal terms.

If on human terms, then no, it would not be put down (not in the UK anyway, we have no capital punishment here). If on animal terms then yes. You wouldn’t keep a bull after it had caused injury without provocation.

So the question should be is a dog to be treated ethically as a human or an animal?

Everyday Ethics Poll

Last month’s poll asked:

A staff member at a shelter offers to provide a secure home to an aggressive dog, as they live in the country. However, despite this offer, a senior veterinarian requests euthanasia. Is euthanasia morally permissible?

43% of respondents said yes, the dog remains a potential danger to society so should be euthanased.

57% of respondents said no, the dog will be kept in a secure environment so euthanasia is not justifiable.

(94 respondents)

Vote for this month’s online poll at:

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