When a Dog Attacks

When a dog attacks a child, it can leave more than just physical scars.

“We have a new batch of puppies,” said my cousin. “You should come see them.”

As he got off the bus I told him I would try to come by over the weekend to see the puppies. The next day was Saturday, one of those overcast gray days. And since I didn’t have anything better to do I was eager to walk the half mile to my cousin’s to see the little brood of bird dog pups.

My cousin was out in the yard tossing a football around when I arrived. We walked out back of the house to one of the old gray sheds and he stopped at the doorway.

“They’re in there. In the back,” he said, and pointed toward the rear of the dark interior.

I stooped and entered the low doorway and stood a moment until my eyes adjusted to the dark. I heard them before I saw them–so I inched my way forward. Huddled in a squirming pink pile were eight of the tiniest and cutest little speckled puppies you ever did see. They lay in a slight depression in the packed dirt, and I squatted near them to get a better look.

I noticed that my cousin’s shadow disappeared from the door and turned to see where he went. Just as I did, the mother of the pups entered the shed. She stood silently for a moment, showing me every tooth she had, and blocked my way to the door. I hadn’t touched the puppies, but I could already tell it didn’t matter.

In a second she was on me. As she leaped for my throat I ducked instinctively and felt her teeth close down on my right eyebrow. I literally picked her up off the ground with her mouth locked on my forehead. At this point I think I began screaming for help, trying blindly to reach the door. She loosed my eyebrow and began slashing at my legs. She managed to rip into my left leg before I got out the door and ran screaming down the hillside. I didn’t stop to see my aunt or uncle, just headed straight for home.

When mom met me at the front door she nearly fainted. My eyebrow had bled down across my eye and face, so that it looked at first like my eyeball had been ripped out. But of course, that was not the case. I would need stitches, but my eye was safe.

I pulled my jeans down for mom to inspect my leg, and we saw muscle tissue poking out from the long slash in my calf. A visit to the doctor was necessary. The doctor stitched up my leg and eyebrow and we determined from my uncle that the dog had had its shots. Big relief–no rabies shots needed.

I never really blamed anyone for the attack. I didn’t get permission from my aunt and uncle to see the puppies, and I certainly couldn’t blame the mother dog. She was just protecting her brood–a most natural thing for a dog to do. The fact that I hadn’t touched the puppies really didn’t matter. In her mind I was a very real threat. So, I learned a hard lesson about how willing and able a mother dog is to protect her offspring.

But it didn’t end there–not by a long shot.

I loved to ride my bike. It was my favorite pastime. During summer I would ride every day, sometimes all day. We lived in the middle of a miles-long loop of road, and we loved to ride the long circle of pavement and end up back home. But many of our neighbors had dogs. Big dogs. Dogs that were not only mean, but were almost never tied. They loved to lie near the road and chase cars, trucks, and tractors. Little boys on bicycles were particularly vulnerable.

After the dog attack, I was especially fearful of the neighbor dogs. We didn’t know what pepper spray was in those days, so I would cut a switch and hope it would help if it came to that. Usually when I got near a residence with a particularly bad set of dogs I would pause near their place and wait to see where they were. There were days when I even backtracked, riding the long way home, rather than face that pack of dogs if they were lying in the road.

But most days I would get a good head start, and let the adrenaline propel me past those houses–my pedals moving at nearly the speed of light. Or so it seemed to me.

Though I was chased often, and by dogs that meant business, I never suffered another dog bite. And yet, even after all these years I still get really nervous around a barking dog, especially if it’s a large dog. I still ride my bike and occasionally run across those types. And I know from experience that the quiet dogs–the ones who show you their teeth but don’t growl, are the ones to really watch out for.

I’m grateful I haven’t seen one of those in a while.

© Wade Kingston