Today I’m going to go a little off leash – deviating from my usual subject of Bubba to talk about a subject which is globally topical right now: responsible dog ownership. Or in my world: caring for my other two kids.
Stories like Lennox, and now Shadow (thanks Rumpy for tweeting this link) just break my heart. I’m not going to get into a discussion around breed specific legislation, what I am going to do is tell you my story – my experience of being a responsible pet owner.
I’m going to tell you what I did when one of my dogs bit another dog. I understood it was my responsibility – to Bella, to the other dog and its family – to find out why she’d bitten the dog, and to address that core issue.
I’ll start with the outcome of the story. It transpired that Bella had a slipped disc in her spine. The vet’s ultimate conclusion was that while Bella had been rumbling and playing in the park with the dogs she always walked with, someone had stood on Bella’s back. The pain caused Bella to snap at the other dog. I would probably snap if someone trod on my back and I had a slipped disc too.
But finding that out took weeks, and cost me thousands of dollars.
Bella is a Kelpie German Shepherd cross. At least that’s what they think she is. Being a rescue who was dumped as a puppy with her mother and the rest of her litter, her father is the unknown factor, but her mumma was a shepherd. Given that Bella looks like a kelpie, but has shepherd traits, the vet thinks that is her cross.
Bella lived in a foster home with a variety of dogs before she found me. She has been socialised since she first came to live with me at 11 weeks of age. She went to puppy school. She always had a dog walker, and went to the park with a small pack of dogs and their walker a couple of times each week. We moved house and area. Bella met and started hanging out with a new dog walker a couple of times each week. A couple of years later we moved again. New walker, new dogs, new parks. No problems at all.
Beary came to our family and they got on famously. The pair of them continued to go with our dog walker and packs of dogs to various parks to run and play a couple of times each week while I was at work.
At weekends we would walk and visit parks. No issues at all.
Until the day the dog walker called me to say that Bella had bitten another dog, drawn blood and she’d taken the other dog to the vet. I was horrified. I think I actually cried on the phone. I offered to go to the vet, to pay the vet bills of the other dog, to meet with the other dog’s owner, to do anything I could for them. And I promised to find out why Bella had bitten the other dog.
The trouble for me was that I hadn’t been there, and the people who were there hadn’t witnessed anything other than a pack of dogs playing and rumbling, then a yelp and scuffle – Bella and the other dog being in the middle of it all.
I took Bella to our vet, who knows us well. We talked about her behaviour, her diet, her interactions with others. As far as I could tell, nothing was new or had changed. We had trainers come out and we went through basic training again. We had regular visits with a behavioural vet, who found – other than being a little timid in a strange environment – that Bella was exhibiting no aggressive traits whatsoever. Just to be sure, Bella was put on calming tablets. I don’t think these really helped her situation at all. They just seemed to make her sad. And me in too in the process.
It was suggested to me by one of the many people we saw, that maybe Bella had gotten to the age (5 and a half at the time!) when she was just done with hanging out with other dogs and I shouldn’t socialise her any more. That really didn’t sit right with me, but the thought of anything happening between her and another dog again terrified me. Because if someone else’s dog was hurt by her – and in the worst case scenario she was put to sleep – my heart would break into 84 gazillion pieces. Through tears, I discussed with our vet – at great length – my fears. She reassured me that she didn’t see any problem behaviours with Bella and that she rarely meets owners who love and care for their dogs as much as I do.
It was at that appointment, our vet did a full physical examination and found Bella’s slipped disc. She looked at me and said I think we may have found the problem. I cried tears of relief. We weaned Bella from the calming tablets. And she slowly came back to being her usual beautiful self. She’s not super fond of small white female dogs (which was about as much description as I got from the dog walker of the dog Bella allegedly bit), but if I see one while we’re out walking, we keep our distance.
Bella rumbles with Beary, and with her cousin Barker. I check her back often, because her disc may slip again. She is a gentle, caring dog who is loved and loving – and absolutely beautiful with Bubba. But I still don’t let her off the leash in the park when there are other dogs around.
Just in case.
If a dog hurt Bubba or either of my dogs, of course I would want action taken. But I would want it investigated fully and fairly and I would want the owners of the dog in question to be the ones to be held ultimately accountable. If anything should happen where my dogs were allegedly the instigators, I understand that it would be my responsibility – for their behaviour and getting to the bottom of the issue would be up to me.
Without question though, I would fight for their rights – and their lives – with every breath in my body and every fibre of my being!