Human Error Results in Human Death

When I read stories like this one, my heart breaks and my blood boils — usually at the same time.

For those of you who skipped the link (as so many do) here’s the gist:

The young pup, not much bigger than a loaf of bread, would play with Tania’s teenage children by day and at night he would sometimes curl up next to her on the sofa, his head next to hers on the large, square pillow.

He grew quickly. Soon it became apparent he would become a much larger dog than a purebred Staffordshire bull terrier. Within a year he had become a strong, muscular dog, tipping the scales at 50kg and standing 60cm tall when measured at the shoulder. He had developed an imposing physical presence, according to those who knew him, but Tania felt safe around Simba and the two developed a strong bond. Family members would later tell police he was placid and well-mannered around her. There was little way of knowing that her dog was hiding a deadly secret: a likely inability to cope with stress that could result in unpredicatable behaviour. He had also become very protective, especially when threatened.

Soon he started jumping fences and making a nuisance of himself. Several neighbours complained that they were scared for the safety of their children, as he could sometimes become vicious, although others said they felt comfortable in his presence. When they complained to Tania she told them that Simba had learned to open doors.

He seemed to the neighbours to be bored. Often they would hear him barking inside the house and never saw him getting walked. As he grew stronger he would at times break into the neighbour’s yard, on one occasion breaking the fence in the process, after which Tania started keeping him inside. But she felt she could control Simba — around her he was good, and he hadn’t been her first dog.

As a young girl growing up in the small rural NSW town of Henty, half-way between Wagga Wagga and Albury, Tania would spend much of her free time hanging out at the pool across the road from her parents’ house, socialising with the other girls from school but not greatly concerned about fitting in with the cool crowd.

But Tania assured her friend the dog was not a threat, and was safe. During her stay it was well behaved and sat when she told it to.

It was around this time that Tania Klemke separated from her partner, the father of her first two children. Life had not been easy on her up to that point; her parents had separated while she was a teenager and she had suffered health and relationship setbacks. But she was doing her best to manage as a single parent, having joined the public service in 1987 and managing to hold down that job.

By 2001, having separated again, this time from the father of her third child, things had started to fall apart. A group of colleagues began spreading rumors about her around the office, sending her stress levels sky-high.

“I am unable to form friendships or meaningful relationships, as I am unable to trust people. I still have difficulty sleeping,” Tania told her doctors. Feeling unable to continue, she quit her job.

It was around 10.47pm on a Saturday night in March, 2017, when police allege two men burst into her Watson home wearing balaclavas and carrying weapons. One of the men fired a gun during the attempted burglary, and in the chaos that followed one of her sons was thrown through a glass window, cutting his head. Simba’s ear was also cut off with a machete during the attack, according to police reports.

Five months later, police were again called to the house when an ex-boyfriend arrived uninvited. During a heated argument the man kicked a door, startling Simba, who latched onto his leg. Neighbours heard the commotion and arrived to find Simba attacking the man. Unable to tear the dog away, one of the neighbours reached for a baseball bat, bashing Simba in the head and using a piece of meat to distract him away from the man.

After that, Tania began warning friends to be careful coming to the house as she knew the dog was dangerous. But she described Simba as her best friend, saying the last person who had threatened her had ended up with 42 stitches in his leg.

I’ll just say the story gets worse. There is an ultimate price for a human and that leads to the ultimate price being paid by the dog.

Was there another path to this story? To be frank, I couldn’t say. Never met the dog. Never saw the dog. Never evaluated the dog. So there is zero chance I comment with full confidence on the veracity of my view.

That said, are there some serious warning flags in the story? Sure. Like a power breed dog that has what appears to be social awkwardness combined with overly assertive/confident behavior being coddled and allowed to sleep in its human’s bed. Not a great idea. That it would appear no interruptive education for the dog when the overly-confident behavior began, also not great. Again, without knowing the dog and the situation more closely it’s easy to jump to conclusions and judge.

None of that serves anyone — dog or human.

Bottom line is simple — humans make stupid mistakes and dogs pay the price.

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