This 29th Feb posting will be limited to a brief statement regarding a very disconcerting recent development in the local ‘Dog Whisperer’ story. So it relates to the previous series, and unfortunately breaks my resolve to avoid any direct and personal commentary on either the details surrounding these incidents, or about the individual at the centre of them. However this does demand some response from someone in the business.
But let me first provide some context. Ever since the incident on Clifton beach on January 11th and the flood of negative publicity that accompanied it, James Lech has continuously claimed that the reportage has been fundamentally inaccurate, and that this misrepresentation has unfairly damaged his reputation. The proof of this, we have been told time and time again, will be made abundantly clear in a ‘report’ he keeps promising to compile, author and publish on his blog. However, this keeps getting postponed for reasons best known to him alone.
My best advice to Lech is that the most reliable way to ensure “informed and fair” public commentary would be for him to get on with it and publish this information he keeps alluding to, rather than incessantly dropping hints and offering snide broadsides whilst all the time refusing to place his version on the table… under the bright light of public scrutiny. The more often these timelines get pushed back, the more I doubt that anything useful will ever materialize. After the first incident in Hyde Park, similar promises were made but came to nothing.
And had he otherwise kept entirely silent one might accept his claim that some internal legal process was preventing him from public disclosure, and we would quietly wait.
Losing sight of the real story
Any empathy for the victims of these attacks seems to have become overshadowed by morose self-pity and a perceived need to talk up his fringe methodology and level of skill. It’s entirely inappropriate at this time and under these circumstances. It reveals an unwillingness to employ honest self-examination, and bolsters accusations of a too narrow perspective and limited knowledge-base – both about animal behaviour and professional etiquette. Furthermore, accusing the media of bias is one thing, albeit a predictable one, but to expand that to suggesting a deliberate conspiracy amongst everyone who has had any part to play in these two sorry sagas: every journalist, commentator and even eye-witness, to anyone offering any degree of critical comment or even those who publicly dispute his claims of a professional connection with their organizations and demand their removal, is another thing entirely.
And when his targets range from the oldest, biggest and best known of animal welfare charities in South Africa to a highly-regarded local Veterinarian, from a journalist he accuses of mischievously editing the closed circuit television tape to dismissing the range of reports about the severity of a child’s injuries as exaggeration, to even accusing a Veterinary Council representative of distorting the truth, then surely something is seriously amiss?
At this point the core issue isn’t and shouldn’t ever have become the relative veracity of his claims, who may or may not be prepared to vouch for him, or even a question about his level of knowledge, expertise or experience. However important these may seem, the fact that they can’t be adequately interrogated at present means they shouldn’t even be under discussion. Instead, right now clarity should be retained about the real story: that two very young children have been attacked by the same dog in public places at different times, and despite published claims from Lech’s spokesperson minimizing the injuries and impact, concern must remain about potential longterm damage – not just in terms of any scars or plastic surgery, however serious or not the physical injuries might have been – but also the potential for lifelong psychological damage and how this may affect either girl’s future relationships with dogs.
It’s also about their families, the undoubted anguish they have been put through, and about the impact this must have had on Lech’s family as well. It is about the fact that a dog was consequentially euthanized, and unraveling how this could have happened on these two separate occasions by the same dog whilst in the care and purportedly under the control of someone who trades as a professional canine behavioural expert.
For those of us working as Animal Behaviourists, we have to take stock of the undoubted public relations disaster this has visited on our profession, as well the reputational damage the breed is likely to have suffered. And we also need to consider what this might mean for the future regard in which service dogs are held in this country.
Completely out of order
Yesterday Lech’s totally overstepped the line. In a post titled “A Wish Finally Coming True” he published a client’s testimonial in which she describes the reasons for engaging Lech professionally: to assist with a dog that had bitten children twice (it isn’t specified whether it’s the same child or not), and bitten another dog (off-lead) when being approached whilst being walked (leashed). She describes her heartfelt desire to be able to walk the dog off the property, and expresses sincere appreciation for Lech’s assistance in achieving this. So far so good – it’s always gratifying to receive these kinds of testimonials from satisfied clients – and it isn’t clear whether or not she provided the letter knowing it would be published publicly on his blog or not.
But in this same letter, this client (whose anonymity is respected throughout) specifically names two other Cape Town behaviourists engaged by her before she turned to Lech; and the implication, by its context and how it’s portrayed, is that they were unsuccessful. The decision to put these two names into the public domain in this potentially demeaning manner is entirely Lech’s, is a pointless exercise in vain self-congratulation, and a complete breach of professional courtesy and etiquette. Without minimizing the client’s undoubted relief, or even his own satisfaction and pleasure at the part he was able to play in creating this, this is nevertheless completely unethical behaviour.
There is no mechanism for them to defend themselves or their reputations, or even provide a proper explanation of what they actually advised or did, or what they suggested the client not do, or even whether the client adhered to any of this advice or what the timescales were.
Every behaviourist has successes and failures, as Lech will undoubtedly learn in time, and I have personally been engaged many, many times to deal with cases that have already been through other behaviourists and trainers (as I’ve previously detailed) – and this includes Lech by the way – and I am fully aware that other behaviourists have dealt with ex-clients of mine. It’s how this profession works and always has, and is as much a function of differences in personalities, animal temperaments and synergies as it is of different methodologies.
Overall, this unwarranted act just serves to reinforce my impression of a completely unprofessional and self-interested individual who is either unable or unwilling to accept personal responsibility for a series of events that have befallen him, and in a desperate attempt to deflect negative attention and criticism, is prepared instead to insult, denigrate and cast aspersions around him, as far as he can reach. On behalf of my colleagues and our profession, I would like to express my complete repugnance at this base tactic, and request in the strongest terms that these names be immediately removed from the Dog Shaman blog and apologies duly offered.
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