My husband calls our small pack the dogs from the “Group W Bench”. Those of you who are familiar with Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant will get the reference immediately. Kevin means that our 3 dogs started out life in pretty traumatic circumstances, which have marked them psychologically. They aren’t “normal” dogs (if there is such a thing). In some cases they need special handling or routines. We’ve learned to deal with each one’s foibles and idiosyncrasies. That’s our job as their human caretakers.
Almost everyone knows that our late dog RayRay was one of the dogs from Michael Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels. He taught us a LOT about living with a dog who has a traumatic past. Ever since we’ve been drawn to dogs who need special handling…..
After we’d had Ray for about a year, we adopted Turtle, who is one of the Fearing Six fighting dogs. She was, without a doubt, a fighting dog. She has the scars and damage to prove it, including being Babesia positive (a blood borne parasite that can be passed by tick, or more commonly in dogs, by deep puncture wounds). Turtle has never met a human she didn’t love. She wants to be with her people at all times. Her tail wags if you even look at her. With humans she is a rockstar. However, she is highly “dog selective”. That means that it takes her a long time to accept another dog as a companion. It takes time, patience, and a lot of skill to integrate her with another dog. She lashes out easily at other dogs, and will re-direct in a heartbeat. Thankfully she only has one canine and no front teeth, so it limits the damage she can do to another dog.
When Ray passed away we adopted Bubba G. Bubba is an amazing boy who doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. What he does have is exuberance and the mass to be somewhat intimidating. When he first came to live with us he was so mouthy it could be frightening. He would knock me down. He would bite me on the butt. He would have zoomies that would shake the house and threaten our electronics. He loves other dogs but fails miserably at reading their cues, so he gets himself into a lot of trouble socially. We have to limit his time with other dogs as he gets so overstimulated that it causes problems. With time and training Bubba has become an amazingly calm companion who accompanies me everywhere. But every once in awhile he gets “crazy eyes” and we know all hell is about to break loose. Anymore that generally means zoomies….in the past it meant he was going to “play” with me, just like he’d play with another dog.
Then there is Bosco. This little dog came to us from Lucas County Ohio after he had been declared a “dangerous dog” for a bite he gave his new adopter. The bite was minor, but that doesn’t matter to the legal system. Bosco leads with his mouth. He is easily the mouthiest dog I have ever met. He is full of energy, basically a happy little clown of a dog. Unless he is frightened. Bosco is a fear biter. We have learned that it is critically important to keep a strict routine with him. He wants the same thing to happen the same way, by the same person, every single day. Routine soothes him. It keeps him happy and calm. This is a dog who cannot tolerate surprises. Bosco has the best dog skills of any of our kids. He reads Turtle’s cues perfectly, and plays when she wants to play, and backs off if she is crabby.
We are extremely conscientious dog owners. All three of our kids are fixed, immunized, licensed and chipped. We walk them every day. They are trained. They are never outside without us. They do not run loose. We take our responsibilities very, very seriously. Thankfully we live in a small community where it is readily apparent to everyone that we are extremely responsible with our dogs. That is critically important to this post, because we found out, strictly by accident, that BSL isn’t the only law that dog owners need to worry about. Especially owners of Group W dogs.
The day after Thanksgiving Bubba and Turtle got into a spat. Mostly it was storm and fury, but things were heating right up. Because of Turtle’s background, once she starts a fight, she is in it. Period. Kevin and I tried to separate the two, and Kevin ended up getting his hand in the way of Turtle’s mouth. And Bubba, who’d been just trying to get away from his sister, ended up biting her to get her to back off. I sent Kevin off to the ER to get his hand cleaned up and a tetanus shot, and I took Turtle to the vet to get her checked out. Kevin and I both realized that a lot of what had happened was totally our fault, and we calmly set about dealing with the fall-out. No biggie.
Except that it was. It was huge.
Once Kevin got to the hospital, the police were called to come take photos of his hand as “evidence”. Apparently, in our community, any dog who bites anyone or anything is declared a dangerous dog and must be removed from town. Immediately. Standard operating procedure is to seize the dog at the time of the incident. Turtle would be taken for causing Kevin’s injury, and Bubba would be seized for nailing Turtle.
Somehow Kevin convinced the police officer NOT to seize the dogs that night, and he made arrangements for them to come “evaluate” the dogs the next day.
Can you imagine the degree of terror we were feeling? We had put so much effort and training into making our dogs good, safe citizens, and in the blink of an eye, it could all be gone. Because of our inattention, our dogs might be forced to pay the ultimate price.
The next day a very nice, polite young Marshall came to the house to meet the dogs. I had both dog’s paperwork laid out for his inspection. Both dogs were both models of perfect canine behavior. I asked him if we needed to either a) retain an attorney or b) start packing to move. He assured me he wasn’t there to seize our dogs. He mentioned the fact that Kevin and I are seen walking our dogs daily. They are all up to date on shots. They are licensed with the city. They are never outside unattended. They aren’t allowed to bark or disturb the neighbors. In short, we are the type of dog people that police like to see. That somehow allowed the city to “look the other way” regarding this incident.
I was always very aware of our dogs and their interactions with others; especially unleashed dogs. We always carry both citronella and pepper spray. But now I am hyper-aware. If a strange dog runs up and one of my dogs bites him, my dog will pay the ultimate price. Even if they are leashed and the strange dog isn’t. Because that’s the way the ordinance is written. It doesn’t allow for any shades of grey.
My whole point for sharing this situation is to tell people you MUST check out your city’s ordinances. Although you may not be dealing with breed specific legislation, your dogs may be at risk if there is a zero tolerance policy. What a law like that overlooks is that all dogs can bite, given the right set of circumstances. The sweetest little mutt I ever met bit his mom severely when he was badly injured and scared. Dogs can bite. Good dogs can bite. And you want to be very conscious of how your community deals with situations like that.