British Columbia·Analysis

Yogi battles 'twins that toke THC' for respect in canine clash

They haven't held animal trials since the Middle Ages. But perhaps a court of law is the only way to determine once and for all whether allegedly dangerous dogs are to blame for their own misfortune.

Psychologist says habit of humanizing pets doesn't appear to extend to moral culpability

A Facebook page calls on readers to "know the truth" in an effort to save Rottweiler-cross Yogi from the consequences of an attack.

It's not often you long for the Middle Ages. But if a case ever cried out for the reintroduction of animal trials, it's R v Yogi.

Enough already of the back-and-forth accusations and innuendoes that have simmered and swirled since the Rottweiler-cross attacked three people in a Richmond park last Wednesday.

Yogi's detractors are screaming for vengeance. A child was targeted, a Good Samaritan attacked and Kati Mather, whose twin-sister is dating Yogi's owner, was left in critical condition. That's almost like biting the hand that feeds you.

Kati Mather was seriously injured in a vicious dog attack in Richmond on Wednesday Dec. 30, 2015. (Kati Mather/Facebook)

But Yogi has his supporters too. They've questioned the lifestyle of the victim, boastfully known on social media, along with her sister, as one of the "Twins that Toke THC"?

His fans have launched a petition. There's a Facebook page: "Yogi — eye for eye leaves the whole world blind."

And what about that video, shot just months before in the "same exact park" where Yogi plays peacefully with a small white fluffy friend? 

Shouldn't a dog like that be given a "chance to live his life?"

'My father may never work again'

We've come a long way from 1457 when a French sow and her six piglets were put on trial for the murder of a five-year-old boy, but you wouldn't necessarily know it from the level of debate around dog attacks.

Yogi's case is one of a handful that have attracted headlines in B.C. in recent weeks. The owner of a puppy allegedly "torn apart" by a pit bull is suing the owners and the City of Vancouver. And a Fort St. John man is recovering from an unprovoked attack by two marauding pit bulls that may yet cost him the use of his hands.

In any of those cases, the way forward seems pretty clear: the dog is either detained or destroyed; the owners held accountable.

But inevitably a debate ensues. Pitbull or Rottweiler supporters point out their favourite breed is not inherently violent and the dogs in question are often not thoroughbred; bad owners are the problem, not bad dogs.

Sad to say, it's the kind of empathy many a criminal defence lawyer would love to see for human clients.

Robin Elgie is fighting for the use of his hands after being mauled by dogs. (CBC)

"It's great for all these people who are very humane for animals and I think that's really nice," says Sheryl Elgie, whose father Robin was the victim in the Fort St. John attack.

"But my father may never work again."

Sow hangs; piglets go free

In a fascinating Slate piece, Texas State history professor James McWilliams argues the bygone practice of animal trials reveals a mentality in which humans accorded animals some form of moral capacity.

"Pigs, cows, goats, horses, and dogs that allegedly broke the law were routinely subjected to the same legal proceedings as humans," he writes. 

The French pig was hanged on the testimony of witnesses who said they saw the sow attack but didn't observe her offspring take part. The piglets were exonerated.

Psychologist Hal Herzog has made a career studying the interaction between animals.

The title of his book gives you some idea as to his conclusions: Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals.

He says animal crimes have always inspired passion — but none more so than dog attacks.

"There's more fire between the warring parties over vicious dog legislation and how people respond to these attacks then there is any other animal issue," he says. "That includes the use of animals for research and hunting."

Like humans, only better

But is it really necessary to take to a crowd funding page launched to raise money for Robin Elgie's recovery to argue either for or against pit bulls?

And regardless of how you feel about Kati Mather's pro-marijuana social-media activities, she's not the one accused of biting a human being more than 100 times.

Herzog says the issue exposes a paradox in the way we think about animals.

"On the one hand, we're increasingly seeing pets as people. But one of the differences between people and animals is that people have a moral sense that animals don't," he says.

We humanize animals, Herzog says, but we don't hold them morally culpable for their actions.

Yogi has been in isolation at a Richmond animal centre since the incident, facing sanctions up to and including the death penalty. 

Shelter workers say his behavior has been "mostly normal". It's almost as if he's doesn't know what he's done.

Fair enough, he may be morally blameless; but does that mean a dog like Yogi is automatically innocent?


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