Last week, the dog blogs and all of my dog-owning friends were upset about a column in the New York Times, written by a mother whose then-two-year-old got badly bitten by a dog. (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/02/magazine/the-dog-bit-me.html) In the column, the mother recounts the incident, which happened three years ago. Long story short, the dog involved used to be her dog, but proved to be uncomfortable around kids, so she rehomed him with her father; and then some months later, when visiting her father’s house, the dog bit the child – badly, and in the face.
I didn’t blame anyone for wanting to comment on the column; there were many aggravating things about the author’s tone, her seemingly grudging and incomplete feeling of responsibility for the incident, and her lack of understanding about and for the dog, who was sadly set up to fail.
A few days later, the same author wrote a sort of follow-up piece (http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/06/06/what-i-learned-too-late-about-keeping-kids-safe-around-dogs/) that somewhat helpfully showed what had not been clear from the first article: that the author actually learned a few things about keeping kids safe from dogs. However, she didn’t say anything about keeping dogs safe from kids – or keeping at-risk kids and dogs assiduously apart through the use of gates, doors, and crates.
I read a lot of the comments, but I didn’t want to chime in. There was plenty in both articles to criticize, but as the owner of a dog (my beloved Rupert, many years deceased) who had not one but two face bites on his permanent record, I’m here to say that sometimes someone lets the dog out at the worst time, and someone messes with the dog who shouldn’t, and oh my goodness I’m sorry and yes I am going to pay that hospital bill. (In my own defense, it was ultimately my fault each time, never the dog’s. And it happened each time in a moment of inattention – not even a minute, not even a quarter of a minute. A second or two that I’d like to have back forever.)
And dammit, you can’t ever get those seconds back, a horrid fact I was reminded of in the wee hours this very morning.
I was working late. It was hot, so all the doors and windows were open. A cat screamed in the backyard, and all the dogs – big Otto, little Tito, and a foster dog (a Corgi named Ruby) went flying out the back door barking, ready to do battle against the world’s feral cats. I leaped up and hissed myself, “No! Off! Come! Otto!” not wanting to wake any neighbors who hadn’t been woken already. The dogs came streaming back in, full of excitement, tails wagging, eyes shining. I turned to close the door behind them – and there was the second I’d like to have back. As if in slow motion, I saw Tito get jostled, and he stiffened, snarled, and snapped at the foster dog. And just as fast, she snarled and grabbed him by the back of the neck.
Tito screamed. I yelled, “HEY! OFF! NO!” – which didn’t make her stop her attack on Tito, but scared Otto enough to make him dodge out of the fray; I think he was about a second from diving in and attacking Ruby. Yelling didn’t make her stop or let go, though, so in the next second, I grabbed her by the scruff, still yelling, and shook the stuffing out of her. I lifted her off the ground (she’s only 25 pounds) but it still took her a second or two before she loosened her grip on poor Tito and he fell to the ground, still screaming. I carried her, still by the scruff, to the closest room (the bathroom) and threw her in, slamming the door behind her, because Tito was still screaming.
Thank goodness, he doesn’t have a puncture anywhere, but he’s sore and dispirited. He shook the whole time I cleaned him up (he had evacuated his bowels, and anal glands, in the melee) and shrieked and snapped at me a few times as I inspected him closely for damage. Ruby was going in this morning to be spayed, anyway, so I’m going to take him too and see if the vet will give him some pain meds.
I don’t think I missed any danger signs from Ruby, things that would indicate I should have kept the dogs apart. I had seen her stiffen a time or two when Tito growled at her (for example, when they first met, with her on-leash, and she sniffed his butt). But each time, I moved quickly to encourage them both to turn away and step away, and each time, she wagged and stepped away and that was that. I’ve only had her for three days (and am scheduled to have her for only another four or five days before she’s scheduled to go to her adoptive home, where she will be an only dog), but I really don’t think (so far) that I’m missing signs that she’s a scary, dog-aggressive dog.
That said, I certainly did fail to pay perfect attention and manage the situation to minimize any chance of an incident between her and my dogs. I should have walked farther through the door with the jacked-up little pack, and not turned to close the door until they were safely dispersed, not all bunched up at the door. And perhaps I should not have even had 10-pound Tito, known to bristle with that infamous and misplaced Chihuahua self-confidence, hanging out with a foster dog (even just a 25-pound female) with an unknown history so soon.
Anyway, I’m feeling a bit like that hapless New York Times columnist. Hit me! I’m ready (and sorry, Tito).