Here in the Midwest, in the heart of farm country, dogs often become a part of the family. Especially in a rural setting, they can fulfill a number of roles, depending on their breed – from watchdog to retriever of a downed pheasant, duck or goose.
Dogs play an important role to town and city dwellers, too. They are trusted playmates and protectors to our children, and companions to people of all ages.
We have no special market on dog-loving here in Vermillion. One quickly learns that after visiting the annual Sioux Valley AKC dog show, which has become an annual summer event at the Clay County Fairgrounds here.
In 2005, we talked with Beth Rice of Kansas City, MO, as she kept her dog, Gracie, cool by spritzing her with a water bottle.
Gracie, a 20-month old Newfoundland, enjoyed the refreshing spray on a warm summer day.
Newfoundlands were originally bred to assist people who may be on the verge of drowning. Equipped with large, strong bodies and a long, black coat, they don't give a second thought to plunging into frigid water to swim to someone's rescue.
"They have a double coat," Rice said. "They are incredible water rescue dogs."
Rice appreciated the fact that Gracie was doing so well in dog shows back in 2005. But those winning ways aren't the basis of the strong bond between the dog and her owner.
"I love Newfoundlands because they are so benevolent," Rice said. "They are kind, gentle, loving souls. They love their people. They're just like great big bears."
Had the recent altercation between Vermillion police and a local dog involved an animal like Gracie, we could understand why their would be an uproar.
But Patches, I'm afraid to say, was no Gracie.
And the blame for that lies squarely with his owner.
The dog was out of control. According to police reports, the animal's owner admitted that to officers who visited the trailer home of the dog owner.
This wasn't a case where some kids or others who should have known better taunted the dog, trying to get it to react viciously.
This animal was not man's best friend. It was a rogue. Judging by reports of Vermillion officers who tried in vain to bring it under control, it had an abnormally savage, unpredictable disposition.
On April 23, upon seeing a pedestrian walking by, the dog ran from its owner's yard to the street and bit the individual. That situation was bad enough. What made it worse is the dog's owner has a history of neglecting important things – like keeping rabies shots up to date.
That was the case on April 14, when, once again, Patches jerked his chain loose so he could run and bite a man who was walking nearby. Police ultimately learned that the dog was not current on his rabies vaccinations.
Still convinced the police were wrong? When it comes to dangerous dogs, common sense tells us that the law likely is on their side.
And guess what? It is.
Chapter 6, Article I, Section Sec. 6-7 of the Vermillion City Ordinances deals with vicious animals.
This is how the local law addresses the topic: "An animal is declared to be vicious within the meaning of this section when a propensity to attack or bite human beings or other animals shall exist and is known or ought reasonably to be known by the owner. No vicious animal shall be allowed off the premises of its owner unless muzzled and on a leash, in charge of the owner or a member of the owner's family over sixteen (16) years of age.
"Any vicious animal which is found off the premises of its owner, other than as provided herein, shall be seized by the animal control officer and/or police officer and impounded. Provided, if the animal cannot be captured, it may be destroyed; provided further, if the animal has been seen running at large, or bites a person and it can be witnessed, the animal control officer or a police officer may order the owner to deliver the animal to the animal shelter within twenty-four (24) hours and the owner ordered to appear in court to show cause why this animal should not be destroyed."
There's nothing wrong with owning a dog in Vermillion – as long as you are responsible. You must keep it vaccinated. You must keep it under control; buying a strong leash and chain is a good start. And you must make sure the dog has some semblance of obedience. It should know that it shouldn't run off freely on escapades where it bites people and endangers them in other ways.
If you don't follow those rules, don't be surprised if your dog one day ends up facing the same fate as Patches.