An ongoing dialogue on HIV/AIDS, infectious diseases,
June 3rd, 2018
My Dog Louie Was Attacked by Another Dog — He’s Fine, I’m a Mess
On a cool morning recently, I was taking my dog Louie for his morning walk.
We headed to a small local park, a place we’ve been hundreds of times in his 5-year life.
He loves it. Lots to sniff. A chance to trot around without his leash. Perhaps a soggy tennis ball to chase, after I’ve given it a quick toss. (They must taste great, yum.) Squirrels and birds in abundance — these make him quite vigilant.
It was early, so no one was around — at least for the first 5 minutes or so.
Then, another dog arrived, perhaps a bit bigger than Louie (maybe 25 pounds), very cute and energetic.
Then this exchange:
“How’s your dog’s disposition?” asked the owner.
“He’s fine with dogs his size,” I said.
Off came the other dog’s leash.
Here’s what happened in the next 5 seconds: Once the leash was off, the other dog made a beeline for Louie, who tried to run away — but he’s not much of an athlete.
Then, Louie made a sound I’d never heard before. You can’t really describe how terrible this sound is unless you hear it firsthand. My friend Susan made an excellent analogy — it’s like what you hear during a car accident when you’re in the car versus when you just hear about someone else’s accident. Yikes.
I ran over to pick him up. He had a sizable gash on the left side of his snout; blood was dripping into his mouth.
We took him to the local animal hospital. They admitted him, put him under anesthesia so they could wash out the wound, closed it in two layers with four stitches. Many hours later they discharged him home to us, his very distressed owners.
I felt horrible. Why didn’t I realize that when the person asked me about Louie’s disposition, this was a red flag for rowdy behavior? What if Louie is permanently scarred, either physically or emotionally? What if he gets a life-threatening infection from Capnocytophaga canimorsus?
(Promised the NEJM Journal Watch editors I’d put a little ID in here. Done!)
In short, how could I have let this happen?
Dogs are like toddlers — they rely on us to keep them safe, because they’re not good at this part of survival. Examples — Louie will occasionally bark loudly at dogs big enough to eat him for breakfast. I’m referring to really giant dogs, they’re practically bears. Our friend’s dog has never met a skunk he didn’t try to chase, much to everyone’s dismay. One of Louie’s brothers (Arlo, he lives on our block) sometimes chases cars. Not smart, dogs!
But, just like our two-year-old kids, dogs are very good at making us want to take care of them — which is why canines have survived all these thousands of years.
Because unlike the toddlers, dogs don’t advance past this dependent stage. The deal we’ve made with them over evolutionary time is that we provide food, shelter, and safety; in exchange they give us back unconditional love. I’d clearly let down my side of the deal, at least on this day — and it felt awful.
The good news is that Louie bounced back like a champ. Aside from 24-hours of post-anesthesia fogginess, and undoubtedly embarrassment over having to wear the Cone of Shame for a few days, he’s been fine. He’s been back to that park several times, no detectable PTSD, no wariness.
He doesn’t even seem to mind when we call him Scarsnout. That’s because he’s a good dog.
Now I’ve got to be a good owner.