Of the infinite number of bad things that could happen to the kids every day, one I’ve given little thought to is a dog attack. It’s kind of fatalistic to dwell on bad things, so why would I really have thought about it?
Now, I can’t stop thinking about it.
My heart is thumping, I have a thousand tears waiting to splash down, things are tenuous in the calm thoughts department.
Yesterday Zadie was attacked by our next-door neighbour’s dog, Bobby. I love Bob and have written about him before in terms of now ironic admiration. The kids love him and he appeared to love the kids. I think he still does; he just snapped momentarily.
I don’t want people to accuse me of sensationalising this or using it for any means other than what I am using it for: as a placeholder for a really important event in our lives. One day in two or five or 10 years’ time, no-one’s going to give a shit about my blog except me and my family. This is where I record stuff that matters to us. This is one of those things. Nevertheless to avoid any such insinuations, I’m just going to give a brief account.
Sunday mornings I get up really early with the kids. It’s MaryJane’s day off, and Joel’s day to sleep in. So at 6.15 am, the kids and I were walking our own big dog, Basil, to a building site in the next village over. Nice sunrise right!
The kids like to run around the half-built house and Basil likes to whizz on everything. Yesterday morning Bobby came with us on our walk. He was unleashed and ran along next to Basil. This is a common occurrence. Bob and Baz are mates; in fact Bob waits outside our gate every night at precisely 10.15 for Basil to come outside so they can sniff each other’s arseholes before bed or whatev.
After our early morning walk yesterday, we went to Sharp Island, a nearby beach, with dad. It was warm and bright. The kids paddled and collected shells; we all got sunburnt.
When we got home, Rufus began his anticipated-all-week Sunday afternoon computer session. I headed upstairs for my anticipated-all-week Sunday afternoon nap. Joel was trimming our front hedge (not anticipated ever, but necessary), and Zadie was trailing behind collecting the falling leaves in her little bucket. After they finished doing our side of the fence, they went around to do the other side – Bobby’s side. We spend a bit of time in Bobby’s owner’s front yard because there is a giant fishtank in there that the kids like to check out. The kids are sometimes in there by themselves. It’s also a thoroughfare to houses further into the village.
I had just sat down on the edge of the bed when the worst screaming I’ve ever heard began. I could hear that ripping deep gurgling noise that dogs make when they fight, and I could hear Joel shouting “BOBBY” in his most commanding man voice. We only have 17 stairs but while I was in the stairwell running down them, I couldn’t hear anything. And it obviously took seconds, but in my mind it took five minutes, and when I got to the bottom and I could still hear the screaming, I thought that she would die.
Joel came in the front gate and handed Zadie to me. He was very calm and I am inexpressibly grateful that he was right there. He thinks Bobby was only attacking her for less than five seconds but he had her pinned to the ground in a jawlock and was shaking her like a ragdoll. She was screaming that Bobby had bitten her, shaking, and she’d wet herself – not like a nervous wee, but a full letting-go drenching. I suppose SHE had thought she would die too.
And that’s the thing. If Joel wasn’t right there, she probably would have.
We rushed her to the hospital where her wounds were assessed, cleaned, stitched up and bandaged. What we all went through in the hospital – but especially her – as she was stitched up is too traumatic to recount. The bite wound on her back especially was so deep, the jumbo ear-cleaner the doctor used to clean it out disappeared inside her back. I never want to think about – let alone go through – anything like this ever again.
In a dazed shock, waiting for the doctor.
She has a bite on the back of her head. They suggested shaving her head to allow the bandage to adhere properly but we thought she’d been through enough trauma! So she has the bandage just kind of stuck to her head, and will have raggedy hair for the next seven days where showers and brushing are forbidden. But hopefully we can stave off the half-mo yet. And in the grand scheme of life (life!) it really doesn’t matter.
You can see in the photo above how lucky she was not to lose her eye. She has a gouge right on the very lowest edge of her eyebrow. Her cheek has a cresent-shaped tooth mark that the doctor has said will scar, but “inappreciably” – even in the tension of the Emergency room, I had to give him props; there’s not many locals here, even fluent ones, who would attempt “inappreciably”. Because of this hopeful inappreciability, he decided not to stitch that particular wound for fear of creating unnecessary scar tissue. It just has a butterfly bandage.
Her shoulder is where the really deep wound is, and it got stitched up in a Herculean effort of medical wrangling by the young male nurse, physical restraint of Zadie by Joel, emotional restraint by me, and heroic bravery by Zadie.
She has a number of smaller lacerations and some bruising on her upper arm.
Rufus has been the most amazing big brother. When we got home from the hospital and I asked him if he’d been worried about Zadie, he said “No mama, not even one little bit!” which I thought was a little heartless until Joel told me that he went straight to him and said that he was very worried but didn’t want to worry ME. I just…love that guy so much!
He keeps offering Zadie all his best toys, and last night he said “Mama and dadda, don’t get up if you hear Zadie crying in the night, I’ll be the one to look after her.”
So we slept right through, whoo!
Today she’s been reasonably chipper but crying on and off. She has mentioned a few times that Bobby bit her. She also made both Joel and I lay on the couch so she could pretend to stitch us up with the plastic doctor’s kit. Tonight it took her three hours to go to sleep – incessant requests for water, various teddies, different blanket. Reassurance.
Bobby is being put down or relocated, I’m not sure which, and I’m sad about that too. I really love Bob. He’s a companion for his elderly widowed owner too. But there are other kids in this village, he’s not in a secured area, and while I wouldn’t have thought he had the capability for this sort of attack, now that he’s done it, we could never trust him again. We had to think twice about whether we would report him but the thing is, if his teeth had been millimetres lower, she would have lost an eye; centimetres further round to the front, he would have punctured her throat; had it gone on for just one or two seconds more, we might not have our Zadie Mae at all anymore. It wouldn’t be a question of reporting it in that situation, so it can’t be a question now just because we had a lucky (so, SO lucky) escape this time. He’s gone.
Incidentally we love dogs, have taught our kids to be safe around them, and have a big collie. And now we also have a dilemma. Basil Leaf is a placid dog with none of the explosive energy or slightly crazed dingo tendencies Bobby had. Nonetheless he is big and powerful, essentially a domesticated wolf. This is what happened to Zadie when a dog “turned” and Joel was RIGHT NEXT TO HER. Imagine she fell off the couch on to Basil one day, or stepped on his tail while he was in a deep sleep, and we were in the next room? There is now an unavoidable question of trust. Is it safe to have a dog with the physical capability of overpowering a child, while you have small children in the house? I’m sure some people are thinking “My dog is safe, he’s calm and well-trained. No need to overreact.” Or “Well, she must have done something to provoke him.” That’s possibly true (Joel didn’t see what, if anything, precipitated the attack).
That’s what I would have said too, before yesterday.
But…does it matter? That fact is that we have a dog that COULD do this; and there’s no room after a worst-case-scenario outcome for justificatory explanations. Mate, it’s biology and instinct. We don’t get a say.
In the aftermath of our relatively lucky outcome, I can almost hear that fatal phonecall, feel what unluckier parents have gone through, picture it all too graphically.
As heartbreaking as it will be for the kids, I think Basil Leaf will be getting re-homed.
I know we’re all wary of strange dogs around our kids but please, be so vigilant with dogs you know and trust.
Now: it’s over, I feel better, and I’m not going to focus on it anymore. I don’t think I could even if I wanted to. I could sleep for a year! All trauma and drama aside, I missed my three-hour Sunday afternoon nap, fuck it!