Being an avid animal lover, I belong to many animal advocacy groups, receive tons of mail from these groups, and follow many animal websites. I participate in Facebook pages and my friends send me every cute animal video they find. I admit that I barely read or watch most of what is brought to my attention. After a long day working with animals, sometimes it can be overwhelming. I even switch channels when I see the ASPCA Sarah McLachlan video and a few times have yelled at the TV in anguish begging Sarah to let me have one night in peace. Tonight, I saw a video that caught my eye and I was compelled to watch it.
I have never been a fan of exotic animal ownership. I know that it leads to poor living conditions for the animal, diminished quality of life, and dangerous situations. In my opinion, most who dabble in exotic animal ownership seem to experience a mental state which is sometimes referred to as the “Lion Tamer’s Complex”. Experts have postulated that pets often serve as an extension of one’s ego not only giving us comfort and companionship but serving to make one feel important in life. (Ryder, R. D. (1973), Pets in man’s search for sanity. Journal of Small Animal Practice, 14: 657–668. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-5827.1973.tb06404.x ) I have extended this theory to people also drawn to dangerous dog breeds. After years of watching this phenomenon up close with my associates, tonight’s video completely validated the theory in my mind.
The video is not in English, but the language barrier does not hinder the implications. The footage speaks for itself and the message bears startling clarity. The beginning shows actual footage of a lion attacking a man. Going forward the video portrays the lion’s day to day life being kept in a suburban backyard. I imagined it was going to be the typical video of exotic cat ownership gone wrong. I nearly jumped from my seat when I saw the picture at “00:29 seconds”. It appears so quickly that the average person’s eye might miss it. No worries, if you blinked…..I caught it for you! Indeed, this is most certainly a photograph of the lion as a cub sitting next to a Cane Corso. Why, you might ask is this picture so important? Let me explain. Firstly, Cane Corsos are a canine breed that is considered dangerous and risky to own, or be in contact with. They were bred for large game hunting, as guard dogs, and for blood sports. They were a breed often pitted against bulls, bears and lions for public entertainment. The majority of the general population is not familiar with this breed because they are not commonly owned. They are not a breed I would personally feel comfortable around even though I have worked with them professionally. That’s enough contact for me! I consider myself a sane person and I would never desire to go home and snuggle one at night. I am assuming, but can’t confirm, that this dog resided in the house and was probably owned by the couple who also chose a lion as a pet.
The video ends as it began with the clip of the lion attacking the houseguest. The viewer can see that the lion was raised by a loving, possibly mentally unstable couple in a nice, clean environment. However, after all that, the lion was still a lion. It could not be tamed or domesticated. The couple had little control over the large cat at the moment its genetics and instinct took over.
Just because some say living peacefully with dangerous animals, whether exotic animals or dogs, can be possible, it is still a risky venture. I truly believe that many know and understand the risk, but egos and the “Lion Tamer Complex” fuel their desires. It’s time for these people to face that they are in absolute denial. In our society, people with good mental health just do not have such hazardous impulses. Most well adjusted members of a community desire normal pets that fulfill companionship needs with minimum risk and commitment to their family and neighborhood. They do not entertain choosing an animal for a pet that is genetically hardwired to live in the wild, kill large game or dogs bred and designed for blood sports.
I often reflect upon my work associates and the actions and statements made by our staff on a regular basis. Each time a dog breed considered dangerous would act aggressively with me, I would always warn others and put appropriate caution signs on their kennel. Many of my associates would follow my warning with this statement, “The dog didn’t behave that way with me! I don’t know what you did. He/she likes -me-”. When you dissect that statement it becomes obvious that the individual is shifting blame away from the aggressive canine onto me, a human when it displayed aggression. This bolstered their own egos and reinforced their belief that the dog did not display aggressive behavior with them because, of course, they were “special”. I have even observed staff accuse other associates of animal abuse when they mentioned a dog’s aggressive behavior. Sometimes I find out later that it did act aggressively with the defenders, but they surreptitiously ignored it or covered it up. Several of my associates have had their own beloved pets attack people, other animals, and themselves. Every one of them still owns the dog and continues to blame others for their bad behaviors. One even admits that after 5 years of constant training that they still cannot control their own dog. Their “pet” has attacked other animals and people and requires a choke chain collar, a pinch collar, and a harness when it is walked. Yes, they are walking it in their neighborhood! I suspect that the “Lion Tamer Complex” is real and may be one of several mental issues these folks suffer from.
When there is a dog that has acted aggressively and has harmed an animal or human, there is a line of people wanting to “rescue” and “rehab” it. When there is a non-aggressive dog slated to be euthanized solely due to lack of cage space, often no one will offer to help that animal. Everyone wants to “tame the beast” and the sweet dog that is euthanized for cage space does not feed that desire. I have also witnessed my work associates snuggling and speaking in baby talk to pit bulls still covered in the blood of it’s victim. They display little empathy for the living creature that died in the jaws of the aggressor or the devastated family that is left behind to mourn. I have heard my associates discuss the “poor dog” when referring a dog scheduled for euthanasia for attacking and permanently scarring a child. I have never once heard these same associates express any emotion towards a victim, human or animal. They are drawn like magnets to these dogs and relate to them in a manner that my mind will never be able to comprehend. I believe that the “Lion Tamer Complex” may just be the tip of the iceberg of mental disorders they may suffer from, much like how animal hoarding is a manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Risk is always a hard issue to address. Different personalities view hazards differently. I have had the “you drive in a car every day and that is riskier than owning a pit bull” line thrown at me. Yes, we live in a society where for most people driving a car is a way of life. It is how I get to work, and to store, and go fun places. I also wear my seat belt, put my children into car seats, do not excessively speed, use my turn signals, and follow from a distance, to help reduce my risk of an accident. Yes, I know that an accident can still happen, but I am doing everything in my power to avoid it. When my doctor told me to put my children on their backs to sleep to help reduce the chance of SIDS, I did it. I did not argue that the chance was so small that is was not necessary. When I heard the government warning that falling furniture killed 349 people from 2000-2011 and 84% were children, I immediately bolted all my furniture to the wall (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/tipping-televisions-kill-record-number-of-us-kids-govt-warns/). To my way of thinking, there is enough danger in life that I can’t control that I should do what I could to reduce the risk of something happening to my family. I simply am not interested in loading lions or dangerous dog breeds into my house. I prefer my dogs to be from bloodlines that if they should bite, they will release. As a rule I only allow easy to control pets into my family. I do not need a pet that if things went bad, the police may have to come shoot them off my houseguest or one of my children. I wouldn’t expect a lion not to behave like a lion and I wouldn’t expect my pit bull not be an excellent fighter. Even with my low maintenance, easy to own dogs. I always observe all interactions with my children and never leave them unattended with the dogs. I don’t want to take a chance of even a simple bite occurring. I cannot accept that people go out of their way to have dangerous animals as pets. People who put their families and neighborhoods in harm’s way, do so without a thought. Folks who after hearing about incidents or deaths, still think – “it will never happen to me”, that they are somehow different or special masters, that their lion or dog is different, that their human animal bond is stronger.
“That tiger ain’t go crazy; that tiger went tiger! You know when he was really crazy? When he was riding around on a unicycle with a Hitler helmet on!” –Chris Rock
I have said that pets can satisfy our psychological needs in a number of ways, some not especially selfish and others extremely so-they give us physical tactile comfort, they love us and make us feel important, they help us to drop our social facades and to be ourselves, they give us a feeling of companionship and security, especially at night, they can boost our egos as extensions of ourselves or as compensations for our weaknesses. We can gain satisfaction from showing off our pets to others, they increase our self-confidence by submitting to our authority and sometimes, alas, they relieve our hostilities by acting as our scape-goats, they pander to the tyrant in us by becoming our slaves. They also play with us and so allow expression of the eternal child inside most adults, they can play with children and allow the child to develop his fantasies and thoughts, and they can act as go-betweens in human relationships, often facilitating the flow of emotion between human beings. Above all, pets allow us to love and to be loved- the experience of feeling loved and needed is the greatest psychotherapeutic service which they give to us. To each member of a family they can become something different-another child to the mother, a sibling to the child, a grandchild to the elderly. As companions for the isolated they are particularly supportive- especially for the old and lonely. As psychotherapists they can be useful and therapeutic.