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.
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: