I have a hard time remembering anything that happened to me before the age of five, but I do remember the night my baby sister, Stacey, got bit on the hand by our family dog at the time. Rex, an Australian Terrier, was sick with cancer when he bit my sister, but my parents didn’t know it yet. He was probably feeling miserable that night he lashed out at Stacey, biting her in that soft fleshy part between your thumb and index finger.
My sister came home from the ER with two stitches in her tiny hand, and poor Rex was euthanized shortly after. His cancer was far too advanced to be treated, and my parents worried about having him in the house with their three small kids.
By the time I turned 16, I’d also lived through two more of our beloved family dogs dying from cancer. Missy, a sweet-natured American Cocker Spaniel, and Ben, a beautiful black Lab, were both younger than five when they got sick and passed away within months. I remember my parents talking in hushed tones about the money they were spending on treatment — money they didn’t have to spare, but were putting in to try and save our dogs. Unfortunately, both dogs had to be put to sleep despite the vets’ best efforts, and there were a lot of tears each time. As a child, I assumed that all dogs got sick and died after only a few years of having them because it was all I had known up to that point.
When I got my own dog, a Miniature Pinscher/Dachshund mix, Pinch, I wanted to create only happy memories with him. Every time he coughed or sniffled, I ran him to the vet to make sure he wasn’t sick. I panicked if he tripped or fell, but as he got older, I finally started to relax. Unfortunately, it was just after I began to let my guard down a bit that Pinch nearly lost his life.
I was living with my French parents-in-law when they took in my brother-in-law’s giant yellow Lab, Sam. Sam and Pinch had been great friends when Pinch was a puppy, but with age, Sam was becoming more and more aggressive toward other dogs. We all had to take great care to keep both dogs separated while they were living under the same roof.
One day, I came back from a walk with Pinch and went into the kitchen. Someone had forgotten to lock Sam in the backyard, and he lunged at Pinch before I had chance to react. Sam grabbed Pinch by the throat and started whipping him back and forth. My tiny dog let out awful screams that still haunt me to this day.
My father-in-law and my husband, Max, came running, and it took all three of us to get Sam to release Pinch. My glasses fell to the ground and were broken, and Sam bit through Max’s thumb. Pinch took off, and I followed a trail of blood to find him shaking under my bed. His neck was severely injured, and my husband drove us to the vet as quickly as he could because I couldn’t see through my tears.
Thankfully, my beloved Pinch didn’t die. The vet said that his harness had saved his life because Sam’s bottom teeth had gotten hooked on it, and he hadn’t been able to close his mouth completely on Pinch’s throat.
Pinch’s little body swelled up like a grotesque balloon, and he had staples to keep his puncture wounds closed, but I know it could have been a lot worse. Even now, when we cross a yellow Lab in the street, I tighten my grip on Pinch’s leash and hold my breath until the other dog passes. I know it’s not a logical response, but it’s an instinctual one.
Sadly, just months after seeing Pinch almost mauled to death, I witnessed a Jack Russell Terrier get hit by a delivery truck right in front of my eyes.
And it was basically my fault.
I was living in Paris and walking Pinch along the Seine. Out of nowhere, a Jack Russell Terrier appeared. He was all alone, but wearing a collar, and he started following me and Pinch. Pinch was getting a bit snarly, so I tried to keep the other dog at bay. We got closer to the two-lane road that ran parallel to the Seine, and I panicked thinking of how I would get across the street with one dog on a leash who was trying to lunge at another without a leash. I knew I couldn’t leave the Jack Russell alone next to such a busy road, but I was also worried that I’d have to break up a dog fight if Pinch didn’t calm down.
Before I could decide what to do, I heard a man calling a dog’s name from the other side of the street. The Jack Russell’s ears pricked up. I reached down to grab his collar, but the little dog was faster, and took off towards his owner. He ran into the street, and I turned my head to see a delivery truck coming toward him at about 40 mph. I could only squeeze my eyes shut to avoid watching what was surely going to happen next.
When I opened them, the Jack Russell was in the middle of the road, writhing in pain. His white and tan body was contorted in a bizarre way, and I knew he was badly hurt. His equally distraught owner ran into the road and scooped him up. He took off running toward the vet clinic down the street before I could even say sorry.
I started sobbing right then and there, feeling so horribly guilty. If only I had grabbed his collar faster!
I couldn’t get the little dog out of my head, and so later that day, I went into the vet’s office to ask about the Jack Russell. I was told that he had broken bones, and had needed emergency surgery, but was not going to die. I was so relieved, but still felt completely awful that this dog was in terrible pain because of me.
Months later, I saw a man and a Jack Russell (on a leash!) walking along the Seine. The little dog had a jaunty but limping gait, and I’m sure it was the same dog from that horrible day. The man didn’t recognize me when I walked past, but I wasn’t looking at him. I was looking at the little dog and whispering to him under my breath about how sorry I was.
I’ve seen dogs get sick and die, dogs mauled in front of me or hit by cars, and dogs living in terrible conditions at animal shelters, but these are not the memories I choose to dwell on. I choose to remember all the good times I’ve had with dogs, and focus on creating many more happy memories in the years to come.
Read more by Crystal Gibson:
About Crystal Gibson: A child-sized Canadian expat in France who is fluent in French and sarcasm. Owned by a neurotic Doxie mix, a Garfield look-alike, and two needy Sphynx cats. An aspiring writer and pet photographer with a love of coffee and distaste for French administration, she can be found blogging over at Crystal Goes to Europe.
Got a Doghouse Confessional to share? We’re looking for intensely personal stories from our readers about life with their dogs. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and you might become a published Dogster Magazine author!