Best Friend for
by Kurt Opprecht
for The New
York Times, March 3, 2002
When people are insecure, they sometimes turn to a friend or turn
to mans best friend. But a dog is a lot more than just a
friend, and a lot more than just a sentry. As the Whipple trial
now playing out in Los Angeles makes clear, in the wrong circumstances,
someones faithful companion might be someone elses
Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel, the owners of two dogs that
killed college lacrosse coach Diane Whipple outside her apartment
in San Francisco last year, are on trial for involuntary manslaughter;
and in addition Knoller is charged with second-degree murder in
To Angelo Biondo, dog trainer and owner of K9 Powerhouse Kennels
in Brooklyn, fatal maulings such as this are clearly a consequence
of poor training. "A dog is an asset to a family. The fact
that theyre trained makes them one hundred times better,"
he adds, "I treat my dogs like theyre family."
Biondo says that there is an increased interest in guard dogs
since September 11, adding that dogs are often the most economical
security option, since one canine can be as intimidating as several
human guards. In fact, K9 kennels has Rottweilers and German Shepherds
available for monthly rental, trained to attack on command.
But animal advocates question the necessity of breeding and training
canines for viciousness. John Snyder, a director at the Humane
Society of the U.S., says that barking is usually a sufficient
deterrent to crime. "Do we really want dogs that bite to
attack?" he asks.
The Humane Society is not opposed to guard dog training, but it
does not promote the use of animals strictly for personal protection,
not to mention renting them out. In fact, in his 27 years in animal
advocacy, Snyder has never heard of protection dogs being rented.
"This is risky business," Snyder says. "If I take
an attack dog home after receiving one or two days training,
and I give the wrong signal or the wrong command and dont
know how to stop the dog, its like starting a car and not
knowing how to stop it."
Mr. Biondo says K9 turns away anyone who wants a dog for the wrong
reasons, because the liability risk is too high. "A woman
came in last week who told me she was having trouble with a guy
who was stalking her," he relates, "I said, no, you
dont need a dog, you need to call the police. I wouldnt
rent her a dog, no way."
The typical client of K9, according to Biondo, is a contractor
or builder who wants a dog to patrol a construction site. While
he was building his home on Staten Island, Rick Assini rented
Rex, a German Shepherd, from K9. Assini says Rex worked out well
for him even though the initial training was brief. "I went
down and I worked with them a couple of times, with Angelo and
the dog, and he said, Thats it, youre ready,
take the dog."
Mr. Biondos dogs are trained to follow specific commands,
from "sit" and "stay" to "watch,"
"attack," and "release." "Nobody trains
a dog to kill, except idiots and drug dealers," he says.
Mr. Snyder and Mr. Biondo agree that the Whipple death was an
aberration, but animal advocates are pressing for a different
attitude toward dog breeding and training. Mr. Snyder said, "Theres
been a lot of discussion and some research done on this and the
problem is not getting better, its getting worse."