Friday, March 14, 2014

On “unnecessary danger” and hiking at the river

One Ridgeback owner rather insistently asserted that what I was doing was “unnecessarily dangerous.”  I wrote back that I don’t know how much she understand about philosophy, linguistics, hermeneutics, etc.  but just about everyone makes the mistake of thinking that their words, the things they say, can be taken in one way and one way only.  It is now accepted in linguistics and hermeneutics that all language is ambiguous.  One cannot say anything, even the simplest thing without someone some place being able to misunderstand him or her.  I suspected that she meant something different than I did in regard to “unnecessary danger” and hiking on the river. 

Consider me talking to one of my granddaughters.  She asks me, “grandpa, what’s the best and safest thing I can do to get my Rhodesian Ridgebacks to hike off leash at the river”? 

I would answer, “First, granddaughter, you’ve got to make an assessment of who you are.  If you’re overly timid then forget about it.  But if you are fairly courageous then here is what you can do.  Walk your Ridgebacks on leash down there until they get used to the area.  You get used to it yourself.  Carry anything you might need, a cell-phone, water for you and the dogs, first-aid equipment and a sturdy hiking stick.  Carry a small pistol if you know how to use it.  There is nothing down there that is very dangerous but why take chances?  Be prudent and take anything you might need.  There is no good reason to go down there without knowing what to expect and being prudent in what you take; that would be exposing yourself and your dogs to “unnecessary danger.”  After they know where everything is and how to get back to your Jeep then let them run off leash.  Head out and they will follow you.

That’s the advice I would give and I believe it is sound.  I’ve been following it for a long time.  Ridgebacks weren’t developed to keep on leashes to avoid danger.  They were bred to get out there and figure danger out for themselves and they did a pretty good job of it.  There was no hunter to keep an eye on them when they treed a lion.  The hunters showed up later.  The Ridgebacks figured out how to do that all on their own, well, maybe learning from older Ridgebacks, but they would figure it out on their own if they had to.

In my opinion the little tiny coyotes we have at the river don’t bear comparison with the animals the early Ridgebacks had to contend with in Africa.  I can’t really take them serious as a danger.  Not only have I lived near them for 15 years, I’ve hiked in their territory off and on for the last 50 years. I am quite prepared to understand that most people would be somewhat afraid.  I’m not trying to tell them they shouldn’t be.  But not all people are the like them.  “Unnecessary danger” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. 

“Statistics” come into play as well.  During the time I was diving, most people who heard of it warned me against the “unnecessary danger” of sharks I looked up the statistics on shark deaths in the U.S.  I looked them up again just now.  Between 1580 and 2013 there have been 36 fatal shark attacks in the U.S.  What would you think about that statistic if you were a diver?  If I go out there I have a good chance of being the 37th?  Or, the chance of my being the 37th is so remote that I’m not going to worry about it.  I’m obviously in the latter category, but all those who warned me are probably in the former. 

Applying statistics to coyotes isn’t as easy.  There have been countless cases of coyotes killing penned up dogs and cats.  I don’t have any cats at the present time, but I would recommend that dogs not be penned up in yards so that they have no means to escape hungry predators in almost any rural area.  There have been only two recorded fatalities of young children from coyotes, but many more from pit bulls and a few other breeds.  I didn’t check the number, but I think these statistics have more to do with parents being careless with their small children than coyotes including small children on their prey list.  And as to doing what is best to eliminate “unnecessary danger” regarding my dogs and coyotes, I believe it best to expose them to the coyote presence and let them get used to it.  All my Ridgebacks have gone through that process, and only Ginger, as I mentioned, received the slightest injury from one, and that was in her old age, long after she should have known better.  Ben is still in the process.  I’m not worried.  Heck, there are only two coyotes at the river where we hike.  Ben has been more systematic than any of my previous Ridgebacks in checking out the area.  By the present time (and I’ve had him just over 100 days) he knows more about the local coyotes than I do.  There is no point in letting him chase everyone he sees; so I will be working on getting him to stop that. But it wouldn’t be cataclysmic if he kept it up.  As I said, all my Ridgebacks chased coyotes when they were young but eventually gave it up.  I expect Ben to give it up as well, but we shall see. 

Rabbits are another story.  All my Ridgebacks have chased rabbits as long as they were able.  I still remember Trooper when he was 12 and having lost quite a bit of control of his hind-quarters, seeing a rabbit run by and making a start at chasing it, losing control of his hand legs and sitting there staring after the rabbit with fierce eyes.

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