Dogs and me

When I was a little kid, I was an equal-opportunity animal lover. This is what I would like for my kids, too, and so I have a certain amount of internal work to do sometimes, when I see a dog, particularly a big dog. I don’t want to pass on my fear of dogs to my kids. We always ask permission before approaching a dog. The kids have been taught good manners in terms of letting dogs sniff their hands, petting gently, and respecting their body language.

However, dogs are animals, unpredictable, and sometimes aggressive, and this is something I continue to have personal experience with in my life.

The first, and one of the top two difficult ones is as follows. When I was a kid our neighbor had a lovely black tabby called Aberdeen. He patrolled our garden to keep away the squirrels. He was a friendly kitty who loved pets and who spent a lot of time with us. I took care of him when the neighbors were out of town. It was the 70’s. There was a recession, and some people abandoned their big dogs. Soon there were semi-wild packs of them running around in various neighborhoods, including ours. One night while we were having dinner I heard Aberdeen yeowling, and then screaming. We heard dogs barking and growling. I wanted to go rescue him, but my mom, of course, wouldn’t let me go to the window or the door (I understand that now, as an adult, but it was a lot of years before I could let go of feelings of guilt, anger, and powerlessness). That pack killed Aberdeen, and his body was in our back yard the next morning. It was for me a terrible loss.

The second was a time I was on vacation on the coast. I went to get a muffin in the morning. There was a couple sitting on the bench outside with a dog. I held out my hand and said hello, and the dog lunged and bit my hand. Luckily it wasn’t serious, but that is why I always ask permission from the owners now before I touch a dog.

The third, and the other top-2 experience happened during an afternoon walk. Three big dogs ran across a road and surrounded me, growling, fur up, barking, crouching, snarling, showing their teeth. I thought I was going to die. I shouted, “Bad dog, go home!” trying for as much force and command as I could, but I do not possess that voice of doggy authority. This went on for what felt like quite some time. I tried flagging down a car for help. An older woman stopped, and I asked her to rescue me. “Oh, they won’t hurt you!” she said, and drove off. Somehow they decided they were done, and ran off. But they could easily have put me in the ER or killed me.

Then, this evening I was talking to a neighbor at her door. She was inside and I was outside; her dog was inside with her, barking a lot. As we talked he lunged over the baby gate at the door. I could have sworn he just swiped at me with his paw, but she thinks he bit me. I am honestly not sure, it happened so fast. But I went home with four bloody scratches I really think are from claws, not teeth. I washed them and put some antibiotic ointment and bandages on them. They’re a bit painful, but will heal. But Ted says he’s always thought that dog was aggressive, and we’re telling our kids to steer clear of him.

It reminds me of a roommate I had, who was over at her boyfriend’s house watching TV when his roommate’s dog suddenly lunged up at her from the floor and bit her face, barely missing her eye.

I am NOT anti-dog. I do tend to think that aggressive behavior in dogs is at least partly a result of poor training on the part of the dog’s owner. But dogs are animals, even medium-sized dogs are powerful, and I think many owners underestimate, ignore, or downplay their dogs’ aggressive capabilities. Good schooling is paramount.

I know that I, a cat lover, have a hard time understanding why anyone else would not love cats. (I mean, really, they’re so cute! :)) I have a different sort of reaction to them, and I understand them. I can read their body language well. I sometimes think that people who love dogs have an equally hard time understanding why anyone else would not love dogs too. It’s partly a style thing: though cats are, in my experience, affectionate and definitely ask for attention, they are not as persistent at wanting to be in physical contact with you no matter what sort of body language (or actual language) you employ. What I experience as irritating persistence, however, many people experience as love. Again, I am not anti-dog, and I want my kids to be able to enjoy and get along with them.

But having been badly scared now a few times, it’s hard for me to excise that from my mind. I could never own a big dog, because I don’t think I could ever fully feel comfortable, let down my guard, even with really great training for the dog and for me.

I have met a few very cool Havanese dogs, though, and they are apparently friendly to cats and kids, don’t bark a lot, and like to hike. So maybe someday….


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