Social media has desensitized me. I simply scroll past the posts about acts of terrorism, school shootings, kids dying of awful childhood diseases and devastation due to natural disasters…call it being American, call it being insulated, call it whatever you want; I call it a coping skill. However, the things I cannot scroll blindly past are the dog posts. The posts that particularly enrage me are photo’s of small children climbing all over some poor, sweet, tolerant, tortured dog, accompanied by a sarcastic caption like “beware, ferocious pit-bull!”. Then there’s the posts linking a classified ad: “Free to good home. Sally is the best dog ever. It breaks our hearts to have to find her a new home. She is smart, affectionate and super silly. But she is not the biggest fan of our toddler, so we need to find her a furever home without kids so that she can live the best life possible!”.
Really? Really!!!? SILENT RAGE.
Of course, I never ask for the whole story. I secretly want them to do a Google search for Puppy Doe in Massachusetts; so that they can see what kind of risk they’re putting their dog at by re-homing her via a classified ad. Or tell them to do research on the tactics dog fighting rings use to collect free animals to use for bait. Because when I see a dog being advertised as “free to a good home”, I immediately think, “that dog is going to die”. But more than anything, I would like to ask, “What did you do to protect your dog from your child”? Quite frankly, I highly doubt that sweet, affectionate Sally charged at your innocent child from across the room and bit him due to unsolicited, ingrained aggression. Quite frankly, I think it’s more likely that you failed your dog.
For the record, I don’t write this article as someone with an opinion but no experience. I failed my dog too.
I’m a new mom. I have a toddler. I have two medium sized dogs….and I look at my phone too damn much. I get it. It’s not easy to prevent the tiny human from interacting from the dogs. It seems like whenever they’re all in the room together; the damn dogs are the only thing the tiny human wants. One of my dogs is a big, mushy, tolerant lab mix. The other is a 45lb, anxiety ridden, affectionate, sweet, unpredictable, little shit, genius that could single-handedly kill a 1200lb elk if we let her. Let’s just call her Miss Cray for anonymity purposes.
A few years before having our baby, Miss Cray was having a good snuggle with my 9 year old niece. She was belly up, soaking up the affection. My niece crawled over her in an attempt to give Miss Cray a thorough belly rub. During this maneuver, she stepped on one of Miss Cray’s legs. The leg that got crunched between my nieces knee and the hardwood floor was approximately 3 weeks post-operative from a major joint surgery. Miss Cray yelped, snarled, snapped and ran away. It happened in a nanosecond. Her teeth came in contact with my nieces face, and left a small puncture wound. They say hindsight is 20/20. I remember watching my niece and my dog loving one another, creating this super sweet moment, melting everyone’s hearts…..and thinking, “We probably shouldn’t let the kids lay on the dogs. They’ve never really been around kids before; we don’t know what they’ll tolerate”. And next thing I know my dog is snapping at my nieces face and the room is in total chaos.
The moral of the story is: My dog bit a kid, and it was my fault.
It was my fault because I didn’t protect my dog from the child. Had I told my niece that she was not allowed to lay on the floor with the dog, the bite wouldn’t have happened. It is as simple as that. I didn’t protect my dog from the child. I allowed my dog to endure an interaction that put her at risk of being hurt, confined or scared. Had Miss Cray’s tooth done more damage than it had, my brother in law probably would have bashed her little mutt skull in. Even if my brother in law restrained himself from killing my dog on the spot, I can guarantee my sister and everyone who knows us would have been encouraging us to euthanize her. Because that is what society expects you do when a dog bites a child. Kill the dog. It was your fault, but the dog suffers the consequence. I’ve since been a firm believer that trusting your dog is a guaranteed way to fail her.
Fast forward a few years. Now we have a baby. We’re aware of Miss Cray’s pain aggression propensity. I’ll also be transparent about the fact that Miss Cray has a history of dog aggression and a few nasty fights under her belt. After her last fight we truly recognized that Miss Cray had a problem. We truly recognized that the problem had gone on for too long. Our families questioned our sanity for keeping her. We were repeatedly told, “I wouldn’t keep that dog with a kid in the house”. We’ve had that talk….. Can we re-home her? Would anyone even take her? Our vet told us that euthanasia would be the better option for a dog like Miss Cray. We deliberated and discussed and cried over it for weeks.
Finally, we hired a highly qualified, doctorate credentialed animal behaviorist to help us make our decision. After her evaluation of Miss Cray and our family, she concluded that Miss Cray was safe for us to keep. Mind you, the ONLY reason she came to that conclusion is because we’ve been hyper-vigilant about keeping our baby and our dogs separated. She observed our concerted effort to protect Miss Cray from the baby. As well as our effort to protect the big mush love hound from the baby too. We know full well that the sweet, gentle, tolerant family dog is equally as capable of biting our kids face off as the crazy one is. She also agreed to work with us because she trusted we would be 100% compliant with whatever plan she devised…..and then she had us sign a liability waiver.
So the good doctor developed a behavior plan for Miss Cray. Since implementation, Miss Cray’s concerning behaviors have vanished or greatly improved. She wears a muzzle when outside of the house. She interacts with the baby under ACTIVE SUPERVISION (please refer to the image and PDF I provided at the end of this article for more on that). She’s a work in a progress, but she is a mutt genius and eager to please us. She is only getting better with time. Mind you I will never trust her. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s the right way to truly love your dog. I won’t fail her again.
Miss Cray is the perfect example of how people fail their dogs. We don’t protect them from situations that make them feel they need to bite. We fail to recognize the severity of problem behaviors. We wait too long to get our dogs help….or we give up on them entirely.
We, as humans need to take more accountability.
I understand keeping a dog is not feasible for some families. Of course there are extenuating circumstances. I don’t mean to guilt or shame the people out there who have been in this situation. I aim to prevent it from happening in the future. Honestly, the three weeks we deliberated over what to do with Miss Cray was probably one of the saddest, heartbreaking times in my life. So I ask all the dog owners out there to work diligently at prevention. That means providing a safe place for your dog, be it a crate or behind a safety gate. I encourage you to make his safe place a spot in your home where he can still be with you and the family the majority of the time. We split our common rooms in half with 12 ft. baby gates; toddler on one side, dogs on the other. Yes, it’s a pain in the butt to step over, open and close the gates with a baby in our arms, but it’s a minor inconvenience to endure for the safety of our child and the lives of our dogs. I also encourage you to NEVER let you child climb or lay on top of your dog. It’s not cute. It’s not sweet. It doesn’t prove anything. That level of tolerance in the moment just tells me your dog is a GOOD dog. All the more reason to avoid a situation that might put his temperament into question. How awful it would be to brand such a wonderful canine with the bite history of a child. I encourage you to put your dog away when friends with children come to your house. Your dog may not understand why he got locked in your bedroom for 2 hours, but it’s better than sitting in a shelter for 2 years. Most experts will tell you a dog shouldn’t be left unsupervised with a child under the age of 8. That might seem extreme to you, but experts tout the title of “expert” for a reason. Teach your child to respect dogs. Never touch a sleeping dog. Never touch their food bowls and never go near them while their eating (FYI this is the leading cause of dog bites in children – give your dog a safe place to eat). Dont allow your children to play with the dogs toys or climb on the dogs bed. Your dog is an animal. He’ll never understand the importance of sharing. Respect his nature. Kids are clumsy, accidents happen, protect your dog. In doing so, you’re protecting your child.
This week happens to be “Dog Bite Prevention” Week for the American Veterinary Medical Association. I ask, in honor of every dog who has crossed the rainbow bridge because their owners failed them, that you take the time to educate yourself on preventing dog bites. Doing so could save a dog or a child’s life.
Here are some resources for preventing dog bites. I hope you take the time to read them.
Photo Credit: Kate Ray @ http://www.falllinephotography.com/