Irish Knows His Dogs

Man challenges Calaveras on animal adoptions

By Francis P. Garland

Lode Bureau Chies

SAN ANDREAS–Dan Irish finds Dixie to be an intelligent, well-mannered dog that, in the proper hands, would be a “total delight.”

That’s not how Calaveras County Animal Control officials view the 2-year-old female Dalmatian mix. They say her former owners gave her up because she was becoming increasingly aggressive–and after their own assessment they believed she should be put down rather than be made available for adoption.

It’s an issue that hasen’t surfaced before but it’s one the Board of Supervisors will wrestle with at a 1:30 p.m. study session Monday at the Government Center, 891 Mountain Ranch Road.

Jearl Howard, the county’s agricultural commissioner, said that over the years, people have expressed an interest in adopting dogs that the county considered agressive.

“But when we’ve explained the situation and that the dog wasn’t a candidate for adoption, it’s never been challenged,” said Howard. This time, a Murphys couple and a neighbor of Dixie challenged it and wanted to bring in an animal behaviorist–Irish–to “reprogram” Dixie so she could be adopted. Howard believes the same scenario could surface again because the county must hold animals for longer time periods than before, so she wants the Board of Supervisors to decide whether aggressive animals should be considered for adoption.

State law isn’t clear on how to approach the issue.

On one hand, the law says only animals that have shown no sign of a behavioral or temperament defect that could pose a health or safety risk should be made available for adoption.

But the same lay also states that no “treatable” animal should be euthanized and that a treatable animal should include any animasl that is not adoptable but could become adoptable “with reasonable efforts.”

Howard said assessing animals for behavioral or temperamental defects is an inexact science and would go beyond the scope of “reasonable efforts” in terms of making an animal adoptable.

Irish, who said he has been studying animal behavior for 45 years, visited Dixie at the county animal shelter and found her to be “totally programmable.”

“The people who say she’s aggressive or needs to be put to sleep are totally unqualified,” Irish said. “I personally think it’s a matter of ego and ignorance.”

Irish said Dixie has not had any documented biting incidents–only someone saying she might bite someone. “It that’s true, we should put down three-quarters of all dogs,” said Irish.

“All dogs are potential biters. Anything’s possible. I might walk into the animal shelter with a Uzi and go postal. I can’t believe (the county) is spending this much time on this.”

Irish said he suggested Dixie’s former owners reclaim the dog so he could buy her from them for a nominal price and work with the dog. But the owners feared they would be legally liable if Dixie bit someone.

“It’s a scary world–and a sue-happy world,” said Ginger Kehmna, whose family got rid of Dixie after she “went after” a delivery man and a friend.

Kehmna said she didn’t want to give Dixie up but couldn’t run the risk of keeping her around her young children and anyone else who might come to her home. “I’m a dog-lover,” she said. “I’ve had dogs my whole life. But she scared me.

“I don’t like aggressive dogs. She was snapping, growling and barking–all at the same time.”

The liability issue also concerns Howard.

He said if the county agreed to let Irish or another behaviorist take Dixie, the county likely would be liable if Dixie did biting. And if the county allowed someone to adopt Dixie and she then injured someone, the county would also carry some liability.

Irish, though, is convinced Dixie wouldn’t hurt anyone and that she’s “absolutely not” dangerous or aggressive. He said that Dixie responded in a normal fashion when he visited her at the shelter and that her response to the animal control officers reflected her intelligence.

“Some dogs are more in tune with things,” she[sic] said. “She’s[sic] doesn’t put up with the BS because she’s intelligent enough to know, ‘This guy at the pound is bugging me.’

“She’s an absolutely beautiful thing.”

To reach Lode Bureau Chief Francis P. Garland, phone 735-9554 or e-mail