The rider admitted to carrying his pet on the bike for years like this, and the article was accompanied by a New Jersey Press Media file photo taken in 2009, depicting Szatmari’s dog (which appears to be a boston terrier, though listed as a “pug”) regally sitting on a sheepskin pad, atop the gas tank, and not in the operator’s lap. The story was competently written and included all of the facts that seemed pertinent to the piece.
The media file photograph on Szatmari’s pooch is enduring proof that dogs on motorcycles are good copy. Not only is this one a compelling human interest story, but it’s outcome will hold some significance for that small percentage of riders who buzz around in the company of their dogs... Significant because of the fine... And significant because it could set a parameters for determining the parameters for carrying cats, dogs, birds, iguanas, and giant squid on motorcycles.
I have one problem with this story as presented, and that lies with the implication of its headline, which reads: “Biker Pug? Marlboro Cops Charge Man With Animal Cruelty.”
Nowhere in this piece was Szatmari charged with “animal cruelty.” Specifically, the charges were “careless driving” and “the improper transportation of an animal.”
The phrase “animal cruelty” is conspicuous by its absence.
I consider “animal cruelty” to be the wanton neglect and abuse of dogs, cats, birds, and livestock. This includes torture, starvation, cock fighting, pit bull fighting, and breeding pedigreed animals like living assembly lines. Yet it would be hard to apply the popular definition of cruelty to Szatmari — based on this sole press media file photo. Bosco Szatmari’s dog) is wearing a knit doggie-sweater, with a dogbone pattern worked into the weave. Now the dog may be personally embarrassed by having to wear this, but that would fall under the category of mental cruelty. In this photograph, Bosco is sitting on a sheepskin fleece, that would qualify as a “tuffet,” suitable for Miss Muffet, if it was any thicker. Again, this is hardly the spirit of animal cruelty. .
Does carrying a dog on a motorcycle gas tank, or in the operating rider’s lap, constitute “careless driving?”
To me, careless driving means weaving over the lines, dialing a cell phone, texting, putting mayonnaise on a sandwich, sleeping, or otherwise not concentrating on the task at hand — which is operating a motor vehicle. Since I wasn’t there, it could be that Szatmari was grooming the dog, or training it to sit up. Otherwise, I would think “careless driving” would have to include something else.
Would it be smart to train a dog to ride on the gas tank? That’s another question. Bosco appears to cover as much acreage as a large tank bag. I don’t use tank bags because they obstruct my view of the instruments. Personally, I don’t want any distractions between me and the business of operating the motorcycle. This includes cell phones, cups of coffee, or cigars. But other riders — more competent riders — may not be restricted by my limitations.
The stories of bikers cruising around with dogs are well-known to all of us. Each is slightly different, and all are endearing. I know of two riders who never hesitate to bring their dogs on a run. One guy is a jazz musician whose dog rides around in an open milk crate securely fastened to the luggage rack on the back of his bike. His dog is white Labrador mixed-breed who accepts assistance getting into the crate, and needs none getting out. The dog can move around freely, to stare out the back, to ride with her tongue waving out in the breeze, or to crunch down.
My other riding buddy can be found in neighborhood parades, leading antique rides, or just heading off to the country for the occasional run on a bike that was new when Harry Truman was in the White House. About 50% of the time there is an Australian sheepdog in the sidecar rig. The dog has been trained to carry wrenches from the tool box. Now it could be argued that these dogs are more or less contained in something, and do not have to concentrate on balancing to ride the bike. But neither one is restrained in any way. And if they get caught out in the rain, these dogs will get wet; about as wet as they’d get in the yard on rainy night. I can also understand concern for debris, dust and sand getting into a dog’s eyes... But I also know the kind of crud dogs get into by themselves — without the benefit of a motorcycle.
If I had the kind of lifestyle where my dog rode with me, I probably wouldn't just rely on the animal’s ability to balance on the bike... I’d work out something in the way of a crate. Law spells out everything. I am not personally familiar with laws that spell out how a dog, or a cat, or a goldfish, should be carried on a motorcycle (in New Jersey nor elsewhere). I have taken two safety courses, and while the topic of pillion riders is on the agenda, I have yet to hear the recommended procedure for transporting animals on a bike. Gyula Szatmari’s case comes up in Marlboro Municipal Court on October 13th, 2011. If there is nothing that says a dog must be carried in a specific manner on a motorcycle in New Jersey, then I can’t imagine what they’d have him on.
I'm curious... Do you think riding with an unrestrained dog on the gas tank or pillion constitutes "cruelty to animals?" Take the poll at the upper right.
My taste in pets has always run toward the peculiar. When the other kids in the third grade had goldfish, I kept a bright purple sea anemone. I’d leave a couple of quarters (25¢ coins) in the tank, knowing the other kids would make a grab for them... Getting a full jolt of the critter’s venom for their effort.
The dog in my life at the moment is a German shepherd the size of a shetland pony. Atticus would have no interest in riding on the back of a motorcycle (unless it was covered with pork chops). Besides, his gentle nature is such that he would welcome passersby to rummage through my sidebags, keeping anything they liked. Yet riding in the company of my posse — Pete Buchheit, Dick Bregstein, Clyde Jacobs, and Gerry Cavanaugh — is so much like riding alone (as they are generally 50 or 60 miles ahead of me), that I found myself longing for the companionship of a pet... An animal with strong instincts and personality... A creature that reminded me of the mothers who spawned several woman to whom I was once married.
“Eugene” is the name of my giant squid. He rides behind me in an old turkey-frying pot bolted to the tailpiece of my BMW K75. Small as giant squid go, Eugene is about 18 feet long, and is approximately 2/3s of coiling tentacles that slip and slide around in the pot. He’s got eyes the size of VW Beetle hubcaps and about 6-feet of head that sticks straight up like the sissy bar from hell.
I recently got buttonholed by a well-intentioned person who felt compelled to advise me that I was astride a “donor-cycle.” He had all the latest accident statistics and data regarding how I'd end up a chattering head on table, requiring family members to wipe my ass. At first, I explained that I wasn't far from that now, and that my family members all carried croquet mallets to respond to my requests for ass-wiping now. Then I smiled politely, and advised the nice gentleman to look in the pot. His sermon ended in a muffled gasp. A pair of shoes was left on the curb about 30 seconds later. But “Eugene” is genuinely fond of women. So if any of you ladies out there would like to pet my giant squid, drop me a line. Just type in "Looking For Eugene" in the subject line.
©Copyright Jack Riepe 2011.
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