Sue Clark: Contain your dog (Losing Sara)
The death of Scooter, a dog owned by my friend Jeannie Wood, as reported in The Union, hit home to me on several levels.
I used to walk my small dogs through Condon Park most days, but I have encountered so many dogs off-leash that I now use the street to get to the dog park. I’ve become that mean old lady who uses her teacher voice to admonish owners of off-leash dogs. Here are a few comments I’ve received, with my answers:
“Brutus is very friendly!”
My smallest one is not.
“Jupiter loves small dogs and wants to play with them.”
Only one of mine wants to play, but he is currently defending the smallest one, who is scared.
“May my kids pet your dogs? They are so cute.”
Nope. Thanks for checking first. Your kids are learning good manners, Mom.
(When told to have dogs on a leash by law in the general park area): “Your dogs are psycho.”
If you had experienced childhood abuse, would you enjoy a strange giant human racing up and jumping on you?
I know these things from experience. I have been on the other end of that leash. Years ago I had, unbelievably, a dog-aggressive, human-friendly black lab my daughter named “Sara,” whom we bought from a neighborhood breeder. He alluded to Sara being a “brat,” and then backpedaled, saying she had spirit.
We loved Sara. She was protective of us and I appreciated it as a single mother. But I was busy with work and child-rearing and didn’t walk her or train her early on.
I started to notice, however, that she would bark at other neighborhood dogs, which escalated over the years to charging small dogs during the few times I attempted to walk her.
I tried dog training, with limited success, and was taught how to shake a rattle to stop her lunging about on-leash. One day I was so proud of her learning to heel that I took her out on a neighborhood walk.
The next block over, as I was proudly watching Sara heel next to me, a man stood on his driveway with a small terrier in his arms. His dog started to bark at us and leapt out of the man’s arms, racing directly toward us.
Sara lunged out of my control, barking and aiming straight at the small dog. I screamed and kept screaming as I tried to pull my dog off of the little one, who was squealing. Blood was everywhere.
I finally got Sara back under control, when the man grabbed his severely injured dog away from mine. The neighborhood fell quiet and I saw a mother across the street sheltering her child from this horror. We exchanged insurance information and a week later I found out that the vet’s fees were over $6,000 for multiple surgeries.
This man sued me for the money. I arrogantly blamed him, attempting to malign the victim. I was in a self-centered and angry time of my life that I am not proud of today. My insurance company (housing insurance covered my dog) was impervious to my attacks on this man, whom I claimed should have had his dog on a leash.
I was told that the insurance would pay, but that I must show proof that I had removed Sara from my home. This was one of the most agonizing decisions I have been through. If I had her adopted, I had to carefully and with due diligence explain Sara’s aggressive history to the new owner.
Everyone had a solution. My dog trainer counseled me to give up my home insurance. A friend mentioned a little farm in the hills, or get a new house or check out other insurances.
All the advice involved grief and difficulty. A solution was reached and I cried every day after work. So did my daughter.
I grieve for the owners of the dogs that hurt Scooter, and for my friend, Jeannie. This problem has no easy answers.
I am a different person today, I accept responsibility for my dogs. Others must, too.
Sue Clark lives in Grass Valley.
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