Few people would argue it’s a good idea to sit on a dog. First of all, I’m pretty sure you could kill some smaller ones that way, so a good number of dog owners would consider it a huge risk with almost no reward. Fewer people would argue that you should sit on a dog with a steel plate and several screws in his pelvis who hasn’t let any animal — human or otherwise — lean against his backside since he was run over by a speeding car several years ago. Unfortunately, my boyfriend, Andy, likes to test conventional wisdom and sat on the dog.
Our dog, Pelle, is a sturdy Australian Cattle Dog/Border Collie rescue whose larger size, I’m sorry to admit, is only partially the result of hybrid vigor. The other part can be attributed to treats. In our defense, he’s really, really cute. Pelle is mercurial in his moods, happy and sleepy one minute, grumbling and bored the next, but mostly a cheerful and lovable goofball.
Pelle’s similarity to Andy, a human with the exact same traits, is startling. After a rocky beginning when I first started dating Andy and he mistook Pelle’s Border Collie intensity for crazed, murderous intent, the two became fast friends and spent much of their time cuddling and chasing each other around the house. I was the irritating one who called after them like a disapproving parent: Don’t antagonize the dog. Don’t get him so worked up. Don’t do anything that will cause you to accidentally sit on the dog. Naturally, the inevitable happened when Andy eventually tripped and sat on the dog. Pelle bit Andy. Hard.
Andy was stunned: “Pelle bit my nose.” We checked the damage in the mirror as Pelle retreated to a spot under the coffee table. In shock, Andy was unable to estimate the injury and felt positive that he could fix the bite with some butterfly stitches, but as I cleaned the wound, which was a jagged, deep, profusely bleeding mess extending from the bridge of Andy’s nose to the tip, I knew this merited a hospital visit. I bundled a protesting Andy into a cab and made sure he held a towel against his cut. On the way out the door, I looked back at Pelle, who had settled on the couch and was seemingly unconcerned and relaxed. The idea that he didn’t understand he’d caused any damage was terrifying, worse than the bite. For a moment, I could only think, “Oh, God, we’re going to have to put him down,” but there wasn’t time to do anything but get Andy to the ER.
Three hours, many stitches, and several thousand dollars of medical care later, we returned home to the scene of Pelle’s crime. Pelle greeted us at the door, tail wagging. My heart constricted. The doctors had called him Cujo and asked if we were going to have him destroyed. I didn’t know what Andy would want to do, but I’d have to respect it. He was clearly nervous around the dog, and if he felt he couldn’t live with Pelle—if I felt no one could safely live with Pelle—I’d have to do the right thing.
How do you forgive a dog for something he doesn’t know he’s done? I couldn’t expect Pelle to show remorse. Sure, he’d hid under the table for a couple of minutes right after he’d hurt Andy, but he wasn’t a cartoon or that YouTube video where the dog grimaces in shame after stealing cat treats. He wouldn’t hang his head and back into a corner in some canine caricature of supplication. He’d been in pain and surprised for a brief second, and he’d acted without understanding the consequences. I unconsciously thought that if he somehow showed he was sorry for hurting Andy, I could somehow intuit that he’d learned a lesson and I wouldn’t have to make any tough decisions. Instead Pelle was just as he always was, a dog who slept and ate and barked.
I didn’t want to tell my friends that our dog had bitten someone, but I didn’t want to hide it either. Dog lovers were sympathetic. Cat lovers instructed me to get a cat instead. Many friends — those who didn’t have a pet or those whose pets were somehow so well-behaved they couldn’t imagine anything else — showed concern that we would keep such an animal in our house. We heard the Cujo joke so many times I learned to preempt it with a killer joke of my own. Privately, I worried for days, scared to ask Andy what he wanted to do.
After a few days of disappointment that his plastic surgeon hadn’t left him with an attractively disfiguring and manly scar, Andy was the one to forgive Pelle. I was the one who’d thought myself into knots, wondering how I’d know if Pelle would bite again. Andy thought the solution was simple. “I just won’t sit on the dog,” he said. Conventional wisdom turned out to be built on a pretty solid foundation. Pelle has kept his teeth to himself ever since.
About the author: Lauren Zimmer lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her boyfriend and dog. She is a children’s and young adult book reviewer and licensed social worker. Her dream is to become an animal-assisted therapist for children, and she hopes to someday own a farm where she can house many more adopted pets.