Wednesday, April 3, 2013

When the Dog Bites, Don't Feel So Sad

I like big dogs.

And my neighborhood is full of them.  One elderly lady across the street has a huge, tan-haired fuzzy mutt named Buster that her son brought her from the pound.  Whenever I go over to visit her, and sit on one end of her sprawling sectional sofa, he'll immediately take up two other sections to lay next to me.

I'm sure he thinks my only reason for being there is to see him!

Down in the cul-de-sac, there's a big, white-haired lab named Hoss, and although he's about as sweet as a dog can get, he's also about as dumb.  Happy, fun-loving, and able to knock down people thinner than me, he loves to barrel across his huge, deep front lawn to welcome me.  Just when I think he's going to crash into me at full speed, he veers off to the right or left, obviously enjoying the thrill as much as I'm dreading the impact.

We have a creek behind our back fence, and the wild critters that roam our little Eden at night have made a path along its banks.  One evening, I noticed Hoss was behind our back gate, where the path peters out due to the creekbank's erosion.  He was looking sadly at the end of the path with a befuddled expression on his face, as if he was wondering "what do I do now?"  The thought of turning around and going back the way he'd come apparently hadn't dawned on him.

Up the street, some neighbors have two dogs; a big one named Coco, and a smaller one named Mei Mei.  The smaller dog is cute enough, but even her owners admit she's a bit of a prima dona.  Coco, meanwhile, is older and wiser, with a soft coat of chocolate-colored fur.  Plus, she loves the gentle scratching behind her ears that she knows I'll give her - both Buster and Hoss like it when I scratch behind their ears, too.  They moan with pleasure and tilt their heads into my hand, trying to savor every moment.

A block away lives another big, brown-haired dog - a labradoodle.  His owner's house has a concrete wall next to their neighbor's long driveway, and there used to be a wood gate in that wall.  So much opaqueness meant that this big, long-legged dog would have to leap about five feet into the air to catch a glimpse of whomever was walking by.  And what a sight that was!  Seeing a furry brown head with big, floppy ears, popping up over the wall!  Usually, the dog didn't even bark - I imagine he was using all of his breath to make those leaps and jumps. 

Finally, his owner installed a wrought-iron gate that he could see through, since, as he got older, his hips weren't holding up so well.

The Girl With the German Shepherd

I thought I knew where all the dogs live in our neighborhood, but last night, while I was out for a walk, a teenaged girl went jogging past me with a German shepherd, and I'd never seen either of them before.  This impressively-sized dog had a cream-colored coat featuring a black patch across its back, with penetrating eyes and tall ears.  At first, I thought it was a good-looking pet, until it tried to lunge at me when we went by each other.  Fortunately, the teenaged girl held him back. 

Shortly thereafter, we passed a second time - thanks to the multiple connections the streets make in our neighborhood - and the dog did the same thing.  Again, the girl was able to hold the dog back, and we went our separate ways.

Later on, we approached each other a third time, and the German Shepherd strained against its leash, trying to head over to me.  Suddenly, it lunged again, and churned its powerful legs towards me, closing the thirty-odd-feet gap between us surprisingly swiftly.  This time, however, the teenaged girl - thin and petite - couldn't control it.  Snarling with fangs hanging out of its jaws, the German Shepherd chomped right into my left calf, just below my knee.

Seriously:  it chomped!  Like in those Looney Tunes cartoons.

Had I just been bitten by a dog?  Did this dog just bite me?  I was stunned.  I'd never been bitten by a dog before.  And it hurt!

Or at least, I thought it did.  I stopped, bent down, and inspected my injury.  The teenaged girl stopped too, and apologized several times.  It was obvious both of us had never been in this type of situation before.

In the heat of the moment, the pain seemed to go away.  "That initial pain was probably just a nervous reaction," I thought to myself.  The teenaged girl again asked me if I was OK, and I said that I was.  I couldn't see any puncture wounds - but it was dusk, and visibility wasn't the best - and there was no blood.  So I said I wasn't going to make a  big deal out of it, and we both went our separate ways.  Frankly, I was so impressed that a modern teenager stopped, apologized, and asked if I was OK, that I was eager to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Plus, I didn't want to act like a fat, middle-aged wimp in front of a teenaged girl.

As I walked home, however, the pain came back.  And little drops of thick blood dripped from the biggest wound.  I stopped in front of a house with a bright yard lamp and gave it another inspection.  Hmm... maybe it wasn't OK after all.

After I got home, I took a hot shower, and even turned the cold tap almost off and let some super-hot water practically scald the wound area.  And it was a fairly large area, in my opinion, since I didn't have any other dog bite experience to compare it to.  It's at least six inches long, and three inches wide, from the first puncture wound to the last, with a bruise mark today that spreads out past those dimensions.  It hurts a little, but there's been no puss, and the bleeding stopped last night, so according to the websites I checked while playing doctor on myself, it doesn't look like there's any immediate infection.

My neighborhood has an e-mail alert system for our crime watch, so I posted last night a plea for help in determining whose dog had bit me.  Remember, I'd never seen the teenaged girl or her dog before.  Hopefully, they lived in our neighborhood, and even if they were not on our e-mail alert system, somebody else would know who owns such a distinctive dog.

Neighbors Have to Live With Each Other

It was about 8:30 this morning when two ladies knocked on the door, a homeowner in our neighborhood, and her adult daughter, who actually owns the German shepherd.  It was the teenaged daughter of the homeowner who was jogging with her older sister's dog last night, and my neighbor was beside herself with worry.  Her teenager told her the dog had bit somebody, but that the person said it wasn't anything to worry about.

I showed the two women my wound, and they both agreed it was something to worry about.

However, I told them, I still wasn't going to get all worked up over the situation.  The women said they'd pay for me to get a tetanus shot, and they'd fax over the dog's records to my doctor if he wanted to review them.  In fact, the German shepherd was a new dog to their family, and had just spent three weeks in an expensive obedience school:  two weeks for their regular training program, and an extra week because the dog had displayed such aggressive tendencies.  The family had even just had the dog neutered, as recommended by the obedience school, to try and tame some of that aggression.

It all made sense to me, and even though, when I was surfing medical sites online last night looking for how to care for my wound, I saw lawyer advertisements popping up offering to help me sue the dog's owners, I assured the women that I wasn't hiring a lawyer.  They were actively taking responsibility for the situation, and that's really all I wanted.  They would pay for my shot - in fact, the mom insisted I get one, when I said I was merely thinking about it.  And they'd already discussed the reality that the teenaged daughter simply doesn't have the strength to control this dog.  Somebody else would have to walk it.

What more can you ask for?  Accidents happen, right?  Dogs are animals, and some are less controllable than others.  The family had tried obedience school and getting him neutered.  They came to my home and offered to do whatever it took to fix the situation.  Things could be turning out far worse, couldn't they?

When I called my doctor's office to schedule an appointment for the shot, the nurse advised me to call the police and have them quarantine the dog for 10 days.  Here in Arlington, apparently that's the protocol the city wants dog bite victims to follow.  Still, I objected, telling the nurse I've met the family, I know where they live, I know the dog's history, and they say his shot record is up to date.  They know they're liable for whatever happens, and I don't want to blow this thing out of proportion.  When the nurse heard that the dog had just returned from obedience school and the vet, where its health would have certainly been checked, she didn't press the quarantine issue any longer.

So... why am I telling you about all of this?  Because, granted, it's not on the scale of gay marriage or illegal immigration or gun control, but hey:  I've still got to live with these people.  We live in the same neighborhood.  A community's cohesiveness is one of the best quality-of-life indicators any of us can have, no matter where we reside.  Yes, things would be a lot different if they weren't taking responsibility for their dog's behavior, but even then, I think I should help set the tone for approaching the situation in a manner more conducive to outcomes that benefit all of us in the long run.

I've also thought about how much better it was for somebody like me to get bitten by this dog, whose viciousness the family doesn't seem to have fully realized, instead of some child in our neighborhood riding its bike or playing in the street.  Something like having a big, strange dog tearing into their flesh could traumatize a kid, whereas for me, it's more of an inconvenience than anything else.

Although I wish all of life's problems never got any more serious than a dog bite, I think the way in which we handle life's smaller problems can help condition us for how we address life's bigger ones.

My attitude may not make any personal injury lawyers rich, but my neighbors with the German Shepherd and I can still look each other in the eye with honesty and integrity.

And that's worth a lot, isn't it?

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