Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fight and flight

I get to the dog park with Stella and as we enter through the south gate a woman I don't know approaches us with her Sheltie and as soon as she sees us, she starts to put the collar on her dog and I'm thinking that maybe she's worried about the big dog I've just brought into the park so I make Stella sit to put them more at ease. I'm feeling kind of bad that this woman is leashing up her dog on my account so I say to her, "You're not going to let your dog play anymore?" and she says, "Oh no, we're leaving," and then before I can respond, she adds, "You might want to be careful with your dog because there are a couple of dogs coming in the other gate that aren't too friendly," and then I look over across the field and I see my friend, J, with Marlowe, his German Shepherd, and beyond that, the guy the woman's referring to and his two dogs standing just outside the north gate.

I know this guy from before. I've met him a couple of times, never at the park, just in passing on the sidewalk. He only had one dog those other times, the bigger one. The first time I met them, I'd only had Stella for a few months and, coming home from the park, the guy was there with his dog standing just off the sidewalk and when he saw us approaching he moved further back and pulled his dog with him. I said hello to the guy and he said hello back while his dog glared at Stella and Stella, not one to back down from a staring contest with another dog, stared back and the other dog went crazy, big teeth, jowl shaking crazy and the owner gathered up a fist and punched the dog in the head and screamed, "Calm down, asshole!" I'd never heard anyone call a dog an asshole before but given the area where I live, I figured it might have been a term of endearment in the neighbourhood. The dog, for its part, did indeed calm down a bit but its stare stayed locked on Stella.

The next time we all got together was when I was on my way to the park several months later and this time the guy and his dog were both much more sedate. At least the dog wasn't lunging and frothing on sight of Stella but the owner still kept it well back from the sidewalk. We humans exchanged a few niceties while the dogs remained unsure of each other but didn't seem that bad. Stella lost interest anyway after a few seconds and then the other dog, too, relaxed. A couple of minutes later I walked away happy that we avoided having to bury any bodies and thinking that the guy had maybe straightened his dog out.

Over the next few years, I saw them a few more times but mostly from across the street. His dog always seemed under control.

Until now.

While J and I talk, and Stella and Marlowe posture and greet each other, I see the guy and his two dogs waiting outside the north gate. The guy doesn't come into the park. He's obviously waiting for us, the only ones left, to leave. J looks back over his shoulder at the guy and he says, "I'm glad you're here. I was just going to leave. Don't like that guy's two dogs." I'm about to say something about how I don't think the big one, at least, is too bad since the last couple of times I saw it, it seemed okay. But I don't. Something does feel different so I keep Stella on her leash. Even Marlowe, who would normally be over by the gate to check out the new dogs, isn't going anywhere near them.

A few minutes later and I've got to go so J and I walk out the south gate. As soon as we're out the gate, the guy by the north gate walks into the park with his dogs and lets them loose.

I wave bye to J as he drives away and I start to walk around the perimeter of the park, along the outside of the fence. The guy's two dogs see me and Stella and they run over and hit the fence hard.

His first dog is the same as before but his second dog is new. Can't tell what it is exactly. Looks like a cross between a dog and a chainsaw. It's like an extra large Jack Russell but black. It's flipping out on sight of Stella. It's attacking the fence, biting it, clawing at it. The larger dog, inspired by the smaller one, becomes equally enraged, aggressively barking. Their level of anger reaches such heights but without release that they end up blindly attacking each other. One dog succeeds in biting the other, I can't tell which, but I hear the other whimper and they break off and run away, searching for another way to get through the fence.

Stella's staring at them and I can read her mind and she's thinking, Now that's some mofo crazy shit.

The two dogs run a circle and come back again, and attack the fence again. I look at them. They're totally fixated on Stella. They don't even see me. I make her sit to see if that'll calm them down but it does nothing. Their aggression crescendos and they again attack each other and one is bitten and they both run off to do another circle.

They repeat the pattern a couple more times. Meanwhile, I can't see what their owner is doing. There are trailers in the way and he probably can't see what his dogs are doing either or maybe he doesn't care.

We continue walking until we get close to the north gate and that's when I remember. Somebody stole the latch on that gate a while ago and since then people have been using a rubber bungee cord to keep it shut. But not everyone bothers to hook up the cord properly. If it's not tight enough, a dog could push on the gate and slip through.

It's too late to turn around now. We're already too close to the gate and the dogs are running over. I'm taking off my jacket, wrapping it around my right arm in case they decide to go for me even though I'm pretty confident that won't happen. These dogs will go for Stella. The lizard part of my brain is taking over, figuring out how to deal with them before they do too much harm to her. She can probably handle the smaller one, I'm thinking, so I'll grab the bigger one's hind legs while it's preoccupied with trying to get to her. Then what? Kick it in the balls? Does that even work with a dog? Doubt it. Then what? I've got this dog by its hind legs. Then what? Then what?

But then nothing. The two dogs charge the gate. The gate holds. The guy has put the bungie on properly. It's tight. The dogs aren't getting out. And now that they're by the gate, in the open, not behind the trailers, the guy sees what they're doing and he yells at them and kicks at them, not contacting but the little one takes off anyway and the bigger one calms down. The bigger one sits and looks up at his owner and his owner looks at me and I look back at him.

And I can read Stella's mind and she's thinking, Yeah, I could've taken them.



Danielle said...

Not trying to be judgy, but why didn't you report this guy if you've witnessed him being violent to these dogs, twice?

I'd understand if you were concerned that if these dogs got taken away, they'd probably get euthanized for being too violent/aggressive, but..I dunno. It's hard to say what's best in those situations..

Amy said...

Um, he called his dog an a$$hole? The only a$$hole in this story is the owner of these 2 dogs. I can't say that I would have been able to walk away if I saw him punch his dog in the head.

Fred said...

Amy and Danielle, thanks for your concerns. I was wondering if someone was going to bring this up.

The guy has been reported, more than once by more than one person but until his dogs do actual damage or are themselves obviously injured by their owner's actions, nothing too effective can be done. Warnings can be (and maybe have been) given but he's not the type of guy to heed warnings.

It's been suggested that if someone really wanted to do something about it quickly, the best thing would be to report him to the police for feeling personally threatened by him and his dogs. I'm not sure that's entirely true and if that avenue were pursued, what would happen to his dogs?

I haven't seen him back at the park since this incident happened though I have seen him walking his one big dog along the sidewalk and it's been fine. I'm pretty sure its reactivity is set off by the smaller one. If the guy starts frequenting the park more often, people will do something about it but as it is, I don't know. It's a tough call.