When I was about five years old, my parents took me and my sister to visit another couple with whom they were friends, the Campbells. While the adults sat around talking and sipping wine, we kids got bored and wandered around the big house.
In another room quite away, I met the Campbell family dog. She was a senior Basset Hound named Cookie –- white and orange with a grayed muzzle, and chubby -– lying quietly on the floor. I was pretty excited to see her –- our family didn’t have a dog, so this was a novelty. I went to her and talked to her, petting her head, leaning over her. And suddenly I felt a “bang!” sensation right on my nose. It stung, like walking into a door, my vision turning red for a moment.
I backed away from the dog, who I decided obviously didn’t like me, which hurt my feelings, as I’d hoped to be friends. But I didn’t realize she had just bitten me. Maybe I didn’t even have the concept of that possibility. I thought we’d just bumped noses in some uncomfortable way.
Later on, I remember rubbing my nose because it itched. My hand came away bloody. Somewhat bewildered, I ambled back into the room where my folks were sitting with their friends. Once the adults got a look at me, they reacted, and I started to piece everything together from their conversation.
No one panicked, though -– they were just discussing what needed to be done, which was to take me to the hospital. Mrs. Campbell worked at the local hospital as a head nurse, and she escorted us in, telling her colleagues matter-of-factly what had happened. As a nurse, she was level-headed about the whole incident. Fortunately, my parents weren’t overreacting, either. There was no hysteria, just calm comforting for their child, giving me the sense that everything was going to be fine.
My nose needed a few stitches. While I was getting patched up, the adults asked me about what had happened and I described it as best I could, although I didn’t comprehend the whys of it. Mrs. Campbell told me she was sorry Cookie had bitten me. She said it wasn’t that Cookie didn’t like me, it had just been a misunderstanding of some kind. That made me feel better. I heard my father say to his friends, “It’s our fault for not keeping an eye on the kids. I’m sorry about all this.”
Years later, I reflect on this incident as not only un-traumatic, but as a singularly positive experience. I was then, and am even more so now, extremely proud of my parents’ behavior and attitudes. All the adults involved acted like just that, adults. Each accepted their part of the responsibility for not having prevented the accident. They weren’t angry with each other. They weren’t upset with the dog or the child.
My parents weren’t dog savvy, and they’re not particularly animal-loving. But they still acknowledged that this was in no way Cookie’s fault, but rather their own, for failing to supervise their child in another’s home. The Campbells, for their part, certainly could have had Cookie contained in a room or crate that wasn’t accessible to the visiting children. But she was a nice old dog, and I bet they never thought she would bite. Yet, the Campbells knew that what happened wasn’t the child’s fault –- at any rate, they extended the benefit of the doubt that I wasn’t doing anything intentionally mean to the dog to provoke her. They went out of their way to reassure me, which was a very meaningful kindness.
Even at my young age and inexperience with dogs, I remember also feeling strongly that there should be no “blame” upon the dog. I had been worried about the adults finding out something had happened -– worried that Cookie would get in trouble, when I just knew, by some instinct, that she shouldn’t. I’d have been devastated if any harmful consequences had come to the dog, even though she wasn’t my pet and I’d just met her. My anxiety was that the Campbells might be mad at their own dog. They weren’t, though -– perhaps they were surprised by Cookie’s action, but they didn’t lash out at her. I suppose in the end it was simply a learning experience for them, that it’s best not to leave kids and dogs unsupervised, even when you do have a gentle, calm dog, which I’m sure Cookie was, generally.
Of course, everyone was glad that the bite wasn’t more severe. The way that my parents and their friends handled the situation, though, gave me a great example and lesson. Today I have a small but noticeable scar on the lower edge of my nostril; but no emotional scarring, no fear of dogs or other fallout. I attribute that, in part, to the admirable actions of my parents and these dog owners.
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