Friday, April 30, 2010

Dog Bite Embroidery

According to the laws where I'm from, an animal bite is defined as anything that breaks the skin, including a scratch. And when a dog bite is reported, it's pretty much a death sentence for the dog. When a dog is impounded into a shelter following a bite, chances are it isn't leaving alive. If rabies shots haven't been given or documented, the dog's head has to be tested for rabies. That means that some poor shelter worker has to cut off the dog's head, pack it in ice, and ship it to the State lab. This really happens, all the time. Even to the very nice lab who inadvertently scratches an elderly person with paper-thin skin. Even to the old pekingese who snaps at the child who crawls into his food bowl. And of course, to the chained pit bull who tries to defend herself from a beating.

I know this is a hard topic for some people who have been the victims of dog attacks. I also realize that public safety is important. I'm not suggesting you don't call the law, of course, but I do want people to understand that the minute the law is involved, the dog is dead. Public Safety Officials do not screw around when it comes to bites and rabies control.

Even *if* a "bite dog" is owned and gets through quarantine, most owners won't claim him or her because of stigma, fear, and the boarding fees for the quarantine period. The shelters won't adopt them out for "liability reasons." They are the first to be euth'd to free up shelter space.

I've been bitten by dogs, and it hurts like hell. It scares the shit out of me and it's easy to react from a place of anger. But the circumstances around a dog biting a human are usually complex. Many people have no clue about dog behavior. It's almost never clear whether the dog was provoked, and whether the dog is in fact "vicious" (especially since the definitions under most laws are murky at best). And what if they bite another animal rather than a human? Lots of breeds have been created for that, and now we kill them for it.

A bite is a most basic form of communication. I mean, dogs don't have hands, or English. What are they trying to say? I've seen dogs bite out of love. Extreme love, and the desire to be close, and to play. My dog bite embroidery is a series of linens that have been "altered" by Kaya, the artist, and then embroidered with phrases that I think she might be feeling while she's shredding my linens. The words are a reminder that dogs want family, a lifelong commitment; they are not bodies to be dumped when mistakes have been made, fear sets in and anger shows its teeth.


  1. Every dog who doesn't have proof of vac is decapped? No 10 day q? That seems ridiculous.

    Your art is so moving.

  2. yah there is a 10 day quarantine, you're right. i remember the heads more than the details.

    i'm really glad you like it.

  3. SDF, we unfortunately had to euthanize a patient at work last week because she neipped the ups man. She didnt even break the skin, just scratched him with her teeth. She spent 10 luxurious days at a local animal control facility being quarantined and contracting kennel cough, and when she was released the apartment complex she and her family were living in labeled the dog vicious and gave the owner 1 week to find other housing for herself or her dog. The owner made a really harsh decision, but was really forced into it. It was one of those vicious Labradors you see in the news so much.

  4. charlie, that's so sad. i don't even blame the owners in some cases. the system is broken.

  5. Everything about this blog post is extraordinary - from the art that you and Kaya have created, to the manner in which you have photographed and presented it, to the eloquent manner in which you express your thoughts on the subject.

    I say with profound sincerity: it's incredible.

  6. It's sad that "regular people" don't know the facts. That a dog has to be killed, its head has to be removed (cut off) from its body, and someone has to do it. ACOs are people; they're not robots who can compartmentalize. If only.

    Yet, sadly, even if they knew the facts, I don't think people would make an effort to change. There's too much selfishness out there - too much "it's just a dog."

    Your embroidery is beautiful. I read your post a few days ago about people being offended by it. It's art, and it relays a message; you're certainly not glorifying dog fighting. If people are offended, I guess it's effective, and they're listening.

  7. People don't like things when it makes them uncomfortable, and their first knee-jerk reaction reaction is retaliation in some form, and unfortunately, especially with the fear-mongering and sensationalistic world we now live in, those people don't want to understand why, or fix the problem, they just want to get rid of it. It's incredibly sad. I love your artwork, BTW. Kudos to your Kaya.

  8. I agree with you 100%
    I've been scratched nipped and grabbed on numerous occassions...working with animals it is what it is...I never get the law involved unless I preceive the animal as a true threat to others.
    Most often this is NOT the case.
    People are so fearful and just do not understand
    canine behaviour.
    Tanks for the wonderful blog post.

  9. y'all are too kind! i figured i'd get hated on by posting this, so your responses are unexpectedly wonderful!!

  10. i think the size of these is what gets me.

    it's like the size of the problem. huge.

  11. Wonderfully said - coming from a guy missing part of a finger from a dog bite...

  12. i just saw this, honey, and it's gorgeous. everything about it. i love it. you're so smart and your embroidery is stunning. just love. xo

  13. Amazing work, amazing writing; very deeply moving and harsh and sad. I hope you're able to use this project as an educational tool, because that is what's needed; education. Art can change minds, and changing minds is what changes the world.
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    dog beds and more