About a month ago, four year old Kevin Vicente wandered into his neighbor’s yard and tried to take the bone from Mickey, a five year old pit bull that was chained to his dog house. Mickey attacked and mauled Kevin, putting him in the hospital with catastrophic injuries. It is amazing that Kevin survived.
Mickey was turned over to local police by his owners and a hearing is scheduled for 25 March to determine if Mickey should be put down.
One would think that this would be an open and shut case, except that 45,000 people have signed a petition to release Mickey and have donated $6,500 to help in the dog’s legal defense (more money than has been raised for Kevin). Many are calling for mercy for the dog and his lawyer has said that Mickey should not be put down because it will accomplish nothing but to kill, “A poor innocent dog.”
He is partially correct.
The dog is innocent. An animal can never be put on trial because it cannot commit a crime. The owners of the animal can have a lawyer, but not the animal itself. So to have a lawyer and a court date for a dog is ludicrous and as a prior police officer I find it personally offensive. This is not the law that I sacrificed and risked my life to uphold. Anyway, for a crime to take place there must be a victim and the suspect must know that his actions are wrong. The victim in this case is clearly Kevin. The dog however, is incapable of knowing right from wrong because in the animal world there is no right or wrong. And no, the dog was not just acting on instincts. It was something more, a lot more.
This is what I mean.
What separates us from the animals is that animals are incapable of giving mercy. We see this played out all the time on the Animal Channel. The sweet little baby antelope with big beautiful brown eyes wanders down to the stream and gently laps at the water, completely unaware of the lion lurking nearby in the tall grass. Then suddenly and without any provocation, the lion leaps and snatches the innocently antelope and delivers a killing bite. All the antelope can do is moan one last cry of pain.
This scene turns our stomachs because as humans we deeply value mercy. While we feel terribly sorry for the antelope, the lion sees absolutely nothing wrong in this because there is no expectation of mercy in the animal world. This is why when a human murders an innocent person, especially a child we call him an animal. “You’re an animal!” Saying this doesn’t mean that we think poorly of animals, but that we understand that animals do not show mercy and that humans are supposed to. After all, mercy is love’s second name.
Now, why would a guy who makes schools safer write a blog about something like this?
Because I am in the mercy business. I teach people how to do threat assessments and at the heart of a great threat assessment is mercy. Image that a person is in a deep, dark hole and is incapable of getting out of it on his own. True mercy is not simply throwing a ladder down and telling the person to climb out, but climbing down into the hole with the person and helping him to climb out of the hole.
In human threat assessments, we must climb down into the hole with the person (especially if it’s a young person) and help him to climb out of that hole. For the record, we are not simply deciding if the person is a threat but also creating a plan to intervene, stabilize, and manage the threat so that everyone is safe in the short and long term. This is our greatest chance of saving lives—including the person we are assessing. We can arrest him and that might be the best short term solution, but it won’t stop the person from wanting to hurt us. The only way to do that is to meet whatever need the person has that he or she believes will be obtained through violence. This is what makes threat assessments so difficult–because we have to try to understand exactly what the person is thinking, feeling, and what is motivating the behavior.
Now, back to what the lawyer said about killing Mickey not accomplishing anything. It is true that Mickey is innocent so therefore he should not be punished as if he’s committed a crime. And extending mercy to Mickey is not the answer. We show mercy to those who have done bad things because we hope that in doing so they will change, become more human, show mercy to others and will no longer be a threat to us. No amount of mercy will change Mickey or make us safer.
In threat assessments we don’t go on feelings and opinions but facts and observed behaviors that warn of future violence. Mickey has already killed a small dog and mauled a 4 year old boy to near death. This cannot be ignored. Mickey is a threat and removing him to a farm (like arresting a person and putting him in jail) will not stop Mickey from being a threat to other animals or children. The entire situation is terribly unfortunate and sad, but we cannot change Mickey’ nature so therefore we have no other choice but to put him down which will accomplish one crucial thing—it will make us safer.