My blogging life (my entire life, actually) was rudely interrupted one week ago today, when I was badly bit by a neighbor's dog. It has put the issue of dog owner denial front and center for me. I realize it could have been much worse, and then my mind spins out further into other scenarios: What if I'd not picked up my dog in the nick of time? What if I'd been with a child? What if I had been a child? So I'm taking this opportunity to ask you to give some sober second thought to your own dog(s): they are your companions, your loves, your joy -- but they are animals. Be really honest: would YOUR dog bite me? Or anyone?
This wasn't the first time this bulldog had taken a run at us. A little over a year ago, Monty (a rescue Bichon - Westie mix) and I walked past his property and I noticed the owner working outside on the side of the house. I heard him say something urgent to his dog, then call to me, "Watch your dog!" I didn't have time to reel Monty's flexi-lead in close enough to grab him, and in seconds the bulldog was on him -- with Monty's entire muzzle in his jaws! I was screaming, and Monty was letting out his horrible, unique cry I've heard only once before (when the vet went down his ear w/ alligator forceps to grab a foxtail).
Miraculously, Monty didn't get hurt in that first incident last year. The blood on his muzzle turned out to be that of the bulldog's owner, who cut up his hands up pretty good on his dog's teeth as he pried his jaws off my dog. I had barely caught my breath from screaming when this dog-owner said to me, "I told you to watch your dog."
Taking Responsibility: Could You Have a Dangerous Dog?
In looking back now over what has become a two-attack history with these people, I recognize that his comment foreshadowed things to come. He wasn't taking responsibility for his dog's actions, but instead, deflecting the responsibility on to me.
We all know people who have dogs who "would never hurt anyone..." or who are "just so friendly with almost everyone, I just can't believe he/she did that..." These people for whatever reason are unwilling to address the stark reality that their dog has indeed acted aggressively and quite possibly has -- or WILL -- hurt someone. These particular dog owners don't have children, but for those of you who do have children, it is especially important that you look at your dog(s) with clear vision unclouded by sentiment: Could you have a dangerous dog?
You don't want to be looking back in anger, regret, sorrow or loss over something you could have foreseen and prevented, like NY Times columnist Hope Reeves did. Usually, a dog will show subtler signs of aggression well before doing any actual fleshy damage. Here's a list to check for those indications. And here's a great primer from Cesar Milan for all dog-owners, regardless of whether there is an aggression issue because -- as Milan points out -- dogs are a lot like children: if they don't get what they need from their leaders, all of them have the potential to start misbehaving and causing trouble in the family!
Our Second Attack by this Dangerous Dog
For the year since the first attack, I was always very alert when passing that house -- looking to see if the dog was around. I got lulled into a sense of security that the owners had realized they dodged a bullet, and had been chastened by the experience into being all the more attentive. And I do believe they were -- for awhile. It seems that their meticulous attentiveness and my keen watchfulness wore off at just the same time last Tuesday evening.
It was finally cool enough during our recent heat-wave to take Monty out, and we only had time for a mini-walk. I was due down at our clubhouse in 30 minutes. I walked him up just past the bulldog's house (which is about eight houses up the road from me) and turned around. When returning past their house, I saw that the garage door was open and the bulldog's owner was at the back. She was scooping kibble into dog bowls. I even said -- mostly to myself and Monty -- "It's dinnertime for someone..." and she looked up and probably would have said "Hi," but the next thing I heard her say was, "Rufus*, NO!"
It was as if muscle memory took over, and I knew exactly what that meant. This time I did get Monty reeled in close enough with the flexi that I could put my thumb on the leash brake and pull him up out of Rufus' reach that way -- like a dog yo-yo. It was like trying to grab a bag of cats, since Monty wasn't exactly sitting still through all this commotion. (I admit that I was simultaneously unleashing a stream of obscenities that might make a rapper blush. I just could not believe that this was happening again! Are you f****** kidding me right now...????!)
So I saved Monty and took the hit myself. That gnarly lower bulldog canine got me right in the fleshy part of my right calf. Once again, the guy half of the owner couple pulled him off me. (Thank goodness he was home.) I didn't even know I'd suffered a dog bite. But again, I had barely sunk down in tears on the blacktop before the woman owner started to explain / justify why it had happened. ("I just got home from work, I hadn't closed the garage door...")
Would YOUR Dog Bite Me?
My hope for you is that you are never that person, trying to explain away egregiously irresponsible behavior because you never really accepted the reality of your potentially dangerous dog. Sure, 98% of the time my neighbor's bulldog is cordoned away from passersby; but it's the 2% of "extenuating" circumstances when the tragedies happen.
It could have been far worse. True, it has already pretty much taken a week of my life away, starting with the 6-hour ordeal in the ER (also known as the 8th circle of hell) and the every-other day visits to my regular doctor (2-hr. round trip) for wound checks. And you don't even want to know about the Augmentin (antibiotic) side-effects! And, of course, I will always have the scar.
But comparably speaking, I fared okay. People lose their lives, and their children's lives, to dog attacks that "come out of the blue."
I never want that for you or anyone you love.
[*Dog's name changed to preserve their anonymity.]
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I'm the author of Parenting for Peace: Raising the Next Generation of Peacemakers, and also the adoption expert on Mothering's expert panel. I write and speak on prenatal, child and parent development and I have a private practice coaching parents-in-progress. I raised two humans, earned a doctorate, and lived to report back. On the wings of my book I've been visiting many wonderful groups and conferences around the world, and I'm happy to be sharing dispatches and inside glimpses with you here on Mothering.com! As well as good old parenting stuff. As a special gift to Mothering readers I'm offering "A Unique 7-Step Parenting Tool."