My Dog Never Does This! The Off-Leash Menace

It came out of nowhere.

We were in a nice neighborhood where this is not supposed to happen. So much of the day had gone well and without any disruptions. Why should anything have changed?

My friend Morriah and I took Sophie on a walk through a Highlands Ranch neighborhood, an area south of Denver. I had already taken Sophie to a state park that day where she ran free in the enormous off-leash dog area. All I really wanted to do was catch up with my pal whom I hadn’t seen in over a month, and we thought a quick walk would be fine and uneventful.

We deliberately avoided reactive dogs on our walk and plotted a route around them, giving everyone a wide berth.

But everything changed as we turned a corner and wound up in front of a house that had three dogs in the driveway: one was tethered. The other two were not. The one with the tether, a Great Dane, lunged at us and barked as soon as he saw us. I moved Sophie into the street where one of the untethered dogs, a female boxer, followed us. She attacked Sophie and the ugliness began.

The owner ran over to us and with Morriah’s help, we pulled the two dogs apart. Appearing sincerely upset, he apologized and said that this “never, ever happened before.”  I could see that the dogs honestly had been trained as once he regained control of them, and they obeyed his “stay” command and did not leave his lawn as he and I exchanged information.

Despite this never, ever happening in the past, it had happened on this day,  The fight occurred in under ten seconds, and Sophie was injured as a result. Fortunately, the owner of the other dog was present and took full responsibility – that’s huge and much appreciated. At the same time, despite having well-trained dogs, the unthinkable still became our reality.

One of the problems was that the Great Dane was not his dog. He’d been pet-sitting for a neighbor. That threw off the pack dynamics a bit. Would the boxers have gone after us if the Dane hadn’t been there? It’s hard to know. But I do know that this dog became immediately riled up when he saw us and attempted to come after us, making the boxer think we were a significant threat.

The owner’s back was also turned in the initial seconds of the fight. It’s like kids: you can’t watch them absolutely every second because you have stuff that has to get done, yet you don’t want to deny them time with you while you tend to your task. And usually they are so good…until they are not. However unlike young children, dogs are muscular and have sharp teeth and can easily overpower people (I don’t need to know if your kids fit this description). This dog did not have her owner’s full attention and in a split second of detecting a threat, decided that she was the one in charge. As far as she knew, we were invaders plotting something nefarious when all we wanted to do was walk on the sidewalk.

That’s it. Even the best trained dogs can get reactive. This dog carried out her aggression beyond the property line and bit my dog a few times. For her part, Sophie did not fight back beyond barking.

This is not the first time this has happened. Once, my ex took Sophie on her regular walk in our neighborhood, a place she’d been hundreds of times before, when two little dogs ran out of their house and attacked her. The owner had been standing on the front stoop with the door wide open, unable to retrieve her dogs. This had never happened before, yet it happened on this occasion. Sophie could have turned it into something very, very bad but she did not fight back then either. That time, like this time, she required a vet visit to heal her puncture wounds.

This time I knew she’d been bitten by the boxer from a large puncture wound on her shoulder causing her to limp significantly. She could not put any weight on her leg and needed help getting in and out of my car. The vet found two more puncture wounds and a deep scratch, and she was in pain.

She has been healing, and thanks to the boxer owner’s accountability, her vet bills were paid for. (Regardless, I’m still grateful that I have pet insurance.)

I’ve posted about this on my neighborhood FB page with mixed results: some people emphatically agree that dogs ought not to be untethered on a front yard or anywhere beyond a dog park. They spoke of being attacked while out for a run, or children being bitten by off-leash dogs while at a regular park. Then there were the people who got defensive, even though no fingers had been pointed at them. They believed their dogs were well-trained. One woman went on a bizarre rant about how her dear, departed dog’s happiness had been the most important thing to her and if one extra day running free could bring him back from beyond, she’d do it in a heartbeat. I responded only by saying how sorry I was that she’d lost her dear furry friend, but that this was a basic safety issue for everyone involved. (By the way, she wasn’t a run-of-the-mill troll: she was a school principal, according to her FB profile. I don’t even want to envision her telling parents to teach their children basic responsibility.)

We all think our dogs are special because they are. They are our family. But once we are beyond the thirty-pound mark, they are also very strong, very fast creatures. They aren’t humans who are capable of listening to reason 20% of the time. Our dogs want to protect us.

Off leash dogs can be trained, I know. But there are just too many variables involved.  Sophie has had to spend a few days wearing a cone, and Rufus had to manage without his wrestling buddy. He sniffed her injuries quite a bit, and I know he managed to get a few licks in. Tasty as they were, I’m sure he would have preferred to spend his time playing with her.

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There is a weird and frightening post-script to this story: at Sophie’s post-fight visit, the vet discovered a mast cell tumor. I tried without success to hold my emotions in check at the vet’s office. This process is new to me. I am hoping that her surgery will take care of the issue, but it’s terrifying. I will document her process as we move through this new event in our lives.

I am so very grateful for the vet techs and vets who helped us out by carrying her inside for me, for giving her such a thorough exam, and for showing me the kindness that I required. I know that not everybody has this available to them. In light of this, my new charity to support will be PetAid Colorado, an organization that helps out families in need with veterinary care. I can’t imagine not having help for my dogs.

In the meantime, enjoy this video of Rufus offering sympathy for Sophie:

 

 

 

17 Thoughts

  1. Oh Amy, I am a cat person but I can relate to the untethered dogs stuff. It is wrong that dogs should be untethered, and should be illegal especially your yard is unfenced. Yeah, call me mean but that’s how we lost Dash Kitten an attack by unleashed free roaming dogs. Here is the Wellington area it is illegal to let your dogs off the lead and roaming free.

    I hope that Sophie is OK and heals 1,000,000% better. * hugs to you *

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t know that’s how Dash Kitten died! That’s awful. I remain so surprised by how people hear about dog attacks and yet remain convinced that their dog will never do this.

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  2. I’m so sorry to hear about Sophie, I’m glad she’s on the mend. I must say I was happy to read how that person offered a genuine apology and felt bad for what happened. Sadly often the reaction is quite the opposite. If your dog is in a fenced in area, by all means let them run loose, but not just on a front lawn. No matter how well trained a dog is, and how many years “nothing like that has ever happened” it takes one little incident for all hell to break loose. Don’t even get me started on those who don’t bother to train their dog. Love to Sophie!

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  3. My dogs and I have been attacked 3 times while walking in my neighborhood. People just don’t understand it is not okay, under any circumstances, to let their dog be loose. They will defend their territory. Dogs of all sizes attack. A small terrier about 15 pounds bit my leg. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t walked my dogs since last year when a rottwiler came after us (it was tethered but it pulled up the tether because it was so strong).
    It’s awful when you don’t feel safe walking in your own neighborhood.
    I hope Sophie will be okay and I feel for your going through everything with both the fight and finding out about the tumor. Stay strong for her and do whatever you can to get her through it.

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  4. I felt sick reading what happened to you and Sophie. I have experienced (unleashed) dogs running off their properties and coming after me and my leashed dog, and I know it is scary! I’m sorry Sophie was injured, but at least the owner stepped up and is taking responsibility. I’m keeping you and Sophie in my thoughts as you go through the next stage of dealing with the found mast cell tumor

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  5. Oh dear, so very sorry this happened to you. Tethering actually makes dogs MORE reactive! and it’s illegal in some areas. But by all means, owners of reactive dogs must take responsibility to keep their own (and others) safe.

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    1. Yes it can make some more reactive, but it has only been off leash dogs that have attacked my dog. The trained boxer did not have a tether and she ran off her property, biting my dog 3 times. My dog, on leash, did not bite back. So I severely question the idea that tethering causes problems.

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  6. Amy I am so sorry and this is my biggest fear. Although I live in the city we have a lot of homeless lying around drunk with dogs off leash and it is really scary to walk down the road sometimes as these people do not care and I would be stuck with the bills etc, which you were lucky with. Sending you a big hug

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  7. I am so sorry you and Sophie had to go through this. Dogs on leash are a requirement in Florida otherwise you get a penalty but still a lot of irresponsible pet owners keep the dogs without a leash. My Bella had a similar episode being attacked but nothing serious happened just super scary. Sending good vibes.

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  8. That sounds like a terrifying experience! I hope Sophie is OK and healing well and that the surgery goes well. At least the Boxer owner paid for the bills… the owner of the dog who injured Mr. N a few months ago is adamantly denying any responsibility…

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  9. This was really scary. I know, because I have been through it. Once a female pit bull came up to me while I was walking my dog on a 3-mile walk through town. She was fine, but a male pit bull dashed across the street and immediately attacked. I did something stupid. I picked up my springer to get her out of their reach, but then tripped and fell backward. I had my dog on top of me and the male pit bull had his jaws around my dog’s throat. I screamed and fortunately, some people stopped their cars and beat the pit bull off with a landscape timber. The police were called. Amazingly, neither my dog or I were hurt. But it was so scary that I wet my pants!

    That’s too bad about the mast cell tumor. Hopefully, it was caught early enough to get it cut out completely. I wish you and Sophie the best of luck.

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  10. I’m so sorry to hear about the attack on Sophie and her mast cell tumor. I don’t believe dogs should ever be off leash in someone’s front yard. Dogs can be well trained, but a change in the environment or a threat to their territory can cause a reaction where the owners can’ control the dog. I hope Sophie is going to be okay.

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  11. Nobody should “ever” use the words never or always. Because the constellation of circumstances can “always” prove them wrong. You can estimate what might happen but you never KNOW what can happen.

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  12. Amy, sending some love. So sorry about Sophie. I understand both sides of the story and I feel badly for both of you (I’ve been the person who made a mistake with her dog and someone else suffered-everything’s ok), but it makes things a lot more tolerable when the other part involved takes responsibility.
    And man, finding out about the tumor at that time, I get it. Mo has had one and it’s definitely scary. I actually did a post on mast cell tumors. It provides a level of worry that wasn’t there before! Please let us know how the surgery go and what the lab results say!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Once, way back when in days of yore, the peeps were at my doctors’ office with my Auntie Primrose. Now Auntie Prim was a… Hmmm… “Nervous” kinda gal, and cratin’ her to take her to the doctor was a near impossibility. If you got her in, there’s no way in mouseland you’d ever get her out. At least not without spittin’ and hissin’ and injured doctors and stuff. So the peeps always went together with her, with Peep #2 drivin’ and Peep #1 holdin’ her on her lap, but wearin’ a leash. Primrose, that is. Auntie Prim was wearin’ the leash. Not the peep.

    So anyway, one day, Peep #1 was sittin’ in the waitin’ room with Auntie Primrose in her arms, when this really stupid idiot of a man decided NOT to take the end of his big dog’s leash when it was handed to him, and instead, let it fall to the floor. Well Peep #1 watched as the dog decided to go visit her and Auntie Primrose. My Auntie wanted to high-tail it out of there, and away from the dog, but Peep #1 wouldn’t let go. So Auntie Primrose bit her. Not once, not twice, but FOURTEEN TIMES. Yup, she got the peep REAL good, for sure. MOUSES!

    Peep #1 jumped up with my auntie in her arms and RAN down the hallway, DRIPPIN’ BLOOD ON THE FLOOR, all the way to the end. She heard Peep #2 yell at the stupid man, “GO GET YOUR ***** DOG!” (That’s right, he was so oblivious to the chaos he was causin’, he didn’t even know he was causin’ it. MOUSES!) Then a door to an exam room opened and the peep and my auntie were ushered right in.

    Then MY doctor went right to work. On the peep. MOUSES!

    Yup, my peep`s hands were washed well and all bandaged up, then she was sent to the emergency room for peeps. Auntie Primrose was stuffed in a carrier which, I am told, she rocked back and forth like a fishin` trawler out in a hurricane. MOUSES!!!

    And all this was caused by some stupid man not havin` hold of his dog`s leash. MOUSES!

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  14. I hate encountering off leash dogs!!! The people with the “my dog is friendly” dogs don’t understand that not everyone is a dog person, that there are other dogs that are dog reactive, it can be a bad scene. It should be on leash required anywhere unless behind a fence. We have leash laws here but people don’t always bother.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree completely. Some people have had bad experiences with dogs and are very scared. Nobody should have to deal with off leash dogs running up to them. It’s dangerous for everyone, for one, and also that’s what can create overly reactive policies restricting dog breeds.

      Liked by 1 person

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