I confess: I let my dog protect my 4-year-old and wound up with a “dangerous dog” citation. But I had to choose between my neighbor’s aggressive dog and my son. Of course, I chose the child. What ensued, however, was a battle with my neighbor that left me wishing I had wagged my way out of a tough situation involving behavior, training, and safety.
Here’s what happened: Jane bought a house a few doors down from me and settled in with a terrier mix traumatized by Jane’s move from Vietnam. At least, that’s what Jane told me the first time her dog attacked my dog, Lucy.
Jane didn’t understand that you’re supposed to keep traumatized dogs on a leash. Over and over, I’d walk with my son in his stroller with Lucy, a Golden Retriever, by our side. Over and over, Jane’s dog charged us, baring her teeth and growling.
These attacks couldn’t be predicted: Sometimes we were ambushed by Jane’s dog while walking on a path in the forest behind our house. Sometimes we were assailed in front of Jane’s house. Usually, Jane or her dog walker grabbed the dog in time to protect us. But sometimes that didn’t happen.
The worst encounter took place in our neighborhood, somewhere between our houses, a few months after Jane and her dog moved in. I was walking my son in his stroller, and had Lucy on her leash. Out of nowhere Jane’s dog appeared and charged toward us with her mouth open and incisors ready to draw blood. It felt like she was approaching at 60 mph. My heart pounded as I imagined what would happen if the dog got me — or my son. I had nowhere to hide.
And so I did it. I let go of the leash, and Lucy leaped out to protect us. There was a scuffle, and Jane’s dog — weighing about 60 pounds — discovered it was a bad idea to attack a loyal and protective 80-pound Retriever. When Jane’s dog yelped and ran away, I grabbed Lucy and rushed off, worried about another attack.
Perhaps that would have been a good time to have a neighborly discussion about our dogs. But truth was, I was too angry to be nice. I knew better than to open my mouth. A few days later, the officer from animal control showed up at my door with the dangerous dog citation in hand.
He was blushing. Maybe he was blushing because he was wondering, like me: Why did Jane file a complaint against me when her dog was the aggressor? Why didn’t she simply talk to me — and apologize! Was I really that impossible to talk to and was my sweet Golden Retriever — often referred to as “Most Popular Pup in Doggy Daycare” — really a potential killer?
After noting that Lucy seemed like a sweet girl, the officer apologetically laid out my options: 1. Fight the complaint by attending a hearing — after first paying a fee (yes, paying a fee for explaining that the most popular pup in doggy daycare was under attack!) or 2. Don’t fight the complaint, and keep Lucy out of parks and public places, and always leashed, for at least six months.
So I chose Option 1. Wage battle. No way was my gal going to be banned from parks because Jane’s dog was traumatized.
I marshaled all my resources as a writer and reporter to fight the complaint. When the day of the hearing arrived, I was armed and ready. First, I presented videos of Lucy wagging her tail at doggy daycare, surrounded by a bunch of her panting, drooling pals. Then I presented video testimonials from the folks who cared for Lucy there. They said she was a big hit with other dogs, got along with everyone, and had never gotten in a fight with a dog while under their watch.
“That’s not fair!” barked Jane, after I testified. “I could have brought in video testimonials about how social and friendly my dog is, too.” But she didn’t.
So I won. My neighbors, who had lined up behind me in the battle, applauded and congratulated me. The folks at our doggy daycare cracked open a bottle of champagne. Lucy got her freedom back, and Jane had to leash her dog.
While I was happy that Lucy was free again, my victory felt contrary to my convictions about being a good neighbor and positive community member. After all, in my neighborhood, dogs are community builders. We make new friends in the dog park, walk our best friends with our neighbors, and learn the details of each other’s lives during doggy play dates.
My adventures had divided our neighbors. What’s more, I was now afraid and embarrassed to walk past Jane’s house. More than anything, I just wanted to be her friend. More than anything, I just wanted Jane and her poor traumatized Terrier mix to join the rest of the neighbors on our evening dog walks.
And so I’m waiting. I’m waiting for the right moment. That moment will look like this: I’ll be walking my dog with my son in our neighborhood, and Jane and her dog will approach. Jane’s dog, as usual, will bare her teeth, and somehow, I’ll make a miracle. I won’t drop the leash, the terrier mix won’t yelp in pain, my son will be safe, and Jane and I will look each other in the eye. We’ll smile, shake hands, and agree that it takes a village to raise a dog.
About the author: Writer Lisa Cohn is co-author of the award-winning children’s picture book Bash and Lucy Fetch Confidence, in which a dog has lots to teach a kids’ soccer team about sports, teamwork, and life. Visit her at www.BashAndLucy.com