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Why Aggressive Dogs Need Special Masters

Mason and I arrived in Owensboro, Kentucky the day before Thanksgiving. My mother-in-law owns a rental property next to the Ohio River. Since we roll with four dogs and need a lot of space, the cottage is perfect for us. It has a fenced yard with plenty of squirrels. Plus, it’s located downtown, so it has sidewalks, which I’ve learned to appreciate since living in the country. We unpacked the car, leashed the dogs, and strode out the door for our afternoon walk.

We took a left on Maple Street, then a right on First. The temperature was mild for late November. Slivers of clouds lined the sky, and the sun’s filtered light glowed pink and gray. We hiked through English Park, passed the boat ramp, moved next to the muddy banks so the dogs could sniff the water.

Our pack was thrilled, ears cocked, noses slick and twitching with interest. Like any canine, they love walking in different places. And although we had traveled the same route at least 50 times over the past couple of years, we hadn’t been in Owensboro for months.

Twenty minutes into our walk, I saw a gray flash out of the corner of my eye. Mason walked Adriana and Meadow. Floyd, Sara, and I were a few feet behind. I stopped as soon as I saw that flash, paused because an internal alarm started sounding, banging before I understood what was happening. In that moment, that moment before I realized that a seventy-pound dog was charging straight at us, the distance between Mason and I grew to ten feet.

And even after I clearly made out the gray brute descending on us, I didn’t fully comprehend his intent. Because at first that dog, sleek, muscular, and steel gray, looked too graceful to be so angry. Plum Street, three houses, and two fences separated that beast from us. As I watched him effortlessly leap the first fence, then the next, I remember thinking how graceful, how agile he looked.

I called for Mason, but before I could say anything else that dog closed the distance between us and sank his teeth into Floyd’s shoulder. I guess he targeted Floyd because he’s the only male in our pack, but I’ll never really know. The dog locked his massive jaw on Floyd’s body and whipped his head from side to side. If Floyd ever cried out, I never heard him.

Mason reached us in seconds, but it felt like hours. He grabbed the mutt’s ruff and yanked. Luckily, the dog immediately released Floyd. That mutt didn’t like other dogs, but he listened to people. And that was our saving grace.

Moments later, Mason held the dog by his neck, and five people surrounded us, including the dog’s family. Everybody was screaming. The mother was screaming her apologies. Her children were screaming at each other to get “Buddy” back into the house. A neighbor was screaming at the family to get Buddy under “f**king” control. And someone was screaming at an animal control officer over the phone.

Through it all, I was quiet, not out of some sort of dog-whisperer coolness, but because I was frozen from fear. I had been frozen since the second I saw that gray flash. Finally, amidst all that yelling, I snapped out of my daze and knew Floyd needed to get away from all that frantic, angry energy.

I kneeled next to him, made sure there weren’t any visible wounds. Floyd had never fought back. I’m guessing that like me, he had been in a state of shock. Or maybe he was just too old to fight. Poor guy. Ten years old, enjoying an afternoon walk in Owensboro, and he gets beat up for no reason whatsoever. I didn’t see any blood, so while the kids hauled Buddy back to their house, while the mother and neighbors continued cursing at each other, we took Floyd home.

Inside the cottage’s quiet living room, my adrenaline dissipated, and I started shaking. I had to to break up dogfights a few times in my life. Anyone who rescues strays has done the same thing. But, the randomness, the lack of provocation, the sheer size of that dog had really shaken me up.

Floyd looked as upset as I did. I heard his heart pounding through his ribcage as I pulled back his fur and saw two bloody puncture marks. Floyd has three layers of fur. It’s so thick it could be a shag carpet. Thankfully, that shag-like coat saved him from a more serious injury.

Mason and I have walked with dogs all over this country, and we’ve never been the brunt of such an unprovoked, violent attack before. I reminded myself of that fact every time we left the cottage that weekend. In retrospect, when I consider all the possible outcomes of getting attacked by a seventy-pound dog, it was one of the best-case scenarios. Floyd didn’t need stitches, just pain meds and a week of antibiotics. As far as Buddy, I have no idea what happened to him, but I still wonder, even now, two months later.

A dog as aggressive as Buddy needs a very special master. From what I witnessed in the aftermath of that attack, he doesn’t have one. When I was fostering dogs full-time, people often asked what I thought about euthanizing aggressive dogs. Five years later, I still struggle with an answer. Of course I don’t want Buddy euthanized. In fact, I feel an incredible amount of empathy for him. But what if next time Buddy is outside, a child is the one walking a dog past Plum Street? And what if that child’s dog weighs twenty pounds instead of Floyd’s solid fifty? Legally and probably morally, the blame is with the family, but placing blame doesn’t help Buddy.

The next day, Thanksgiving afternoon, after a few extra slices of fried turkey, Floyd walked with us again. We avoided Plum Street, and I’m pretty positive we’ll avoid that street in Owensboro from now on. At first, Floyd moved beside me with his tail tucked against his legs. But after a quarter mile, his tail started rising and rising, until it was swaying full steam again.

The Food Thief: A Heist by a Food-Driven Dog

Last spring I caught Floyd in the basement a few times, tongue hanging out, tail wagging. Our basement is unfinished, exposed pipe, concrete floor, and cinderblock walls. It’s not a cozy space, and the dogs rarely hang out in it. So, when I saw him downstairs and so happy about it, I noted it. I remember noting it the second and third time I found him down there too. After a brief investigation, I found nothing suspect and finally guessed Floyd had found some remains our cat had left behind. Floyd has always been extremely food-driven, and he’ll eat anything, so I didn’t put any more thought into it.

We think Floyd is a chow-Lab mix. He’s ten, wears three layers of copper-colored fur, and a spotted tongue. Floyd is the most laid-back dog in our pack. Nothing fazes him, but then again nothing really excites him either. He likes to walk, but he doesn’t love it like Adriana, who races to the door when she hears her leash jingle. He likes car rides, but not as much as Meadow, who acts as if having her head out the window is the equivalent of a ride on Space Mountain. But, there is one thing that gets Floyd riled up and that’s food.

I’ve fostered food-driven dogs before, but Floyd takes it to another universe. We feed the dogs twice a day, morning and late afternoon, and he devours his food so fast there’s no denying his obsession. I timed him once. It takes him 8 seconds to finish ¾ cup of dry dog food, two vitamins, and a dropper of CBD oil. Over the years, we’ve tried everything from training bowls to hiding his food under giant rocks, but nothing slows him down.

And I get it. When we found him, he was living on the street and not doing it very well. He was mangy and emaciated, nothing but rib bones and patchy fur. Ten years later, he still acts like every bowl is his last. Because of his passion for food, we have to monitor his weight, closely. He normally weighs between 45-47 pounds, and it’s important to keep it within that range because he’s had surgery on both rear knees, and arthritis is a continuing problem.

So, imagine our surprise when we took him for his six-month dental checkup and Dr. Dan told us he had gained eight pounds! I hit me right then and there that I hadn’t weighed Floyd the month before. It had been two months since his last weigh-in, and back then, he had been a healthy and lean 47 lbs. I was horrified. Sure, he had looked a little heavier recently, but he still wore his winter coat, and with his three layers of fur, he always looked thicker. But eight pounds?! Mason and I interrogated each other about how many treats we give him daily, then we racked our brains about some other possible food source. But, we couldn’t come up with a single reason for his weight gain. How had it happened?

We found out the reason later that night, when Mason went to the basement to fill up the food bin. For years, we kept the sealed bags stacked on the concrete floor without any problems. We piled them next to a huge Tupperware bin, where we mix up two kinds of food. Mace noticed one bag was extraordinary light, like only half-full light. Guessing I’d already mixed half of it, he checked the top, but it was sealed. He scrutinized the bottom, but it was completely intact. He thought maybe Amazon sent us a defective bag.

Finally, after several more minutes of close examination, he noticed a nickel-sized puncture at the back. The hole blended in with all the dietary information, but it was there and big enough to squeeze out a few pellets at a time.

Mason called me to the basement and showed me the hole.  Around the edges, the puncture had grown a little wider, and the plastic coating had worn away, revealing duller copy. It was the only physical evidence of any heist. That’s when it all came together. Floyd had put on eight pounds in two months because he’d been slowly but consistently stealing pellets from a thirty-pound bag of dog food. He had gotten away with half of it too. That’s why I had found him hanging out in the basement last spring, looking all happy and satisfied.

I don’t know what surprised me the most, his craftiness or his restraint. How did a dog who devours his food bowl in seconds have the restraint to steal pellets so slowly? If he would have ripped the bag open, we would have noticed, but stealing a few pellets at a time never caught our attention. Even after ten years of living with Floyd, he still manages to earn my respect.

Needless to say for the last couple of months, Floyd’s been on a rigid weight-loss routine. Although he’s been happy about the extended walks, he’s been downright grumpy about his diet. So, we are all thrilled to announce that last week at his bi-annual checkup, he weighed a healthy 47 pounds.


Pretty Boy Floyd Falls for Dawn

floyd close up


It was the middle of the night. The bedroom fan rhythmically whirled. The window was open, and a soft breeze carrying the scent of honeysuckle blew through the screen. A warm front was moving in from the south. Wondering what had woken me up, I heard Floyd’s tail thumping against the hardwood floor. He sleeps next to the bed.

Paws pitter-pattered down the hallway and I assumed Floyd’s sister Sara was moving to her own sleeping space in the spare bedroom. Even though Floyd is currently the only male in a pack of seven dogs, he’s never cared about any other female except for his littermate and me. But as her clicking nails moved closer and Floyd’s tail whapped harder, I recognized the distinctive jingle of the tags on Dawn’s collar. Floyd was excited about seeing our foster dog Dawn.

Since that night, I’ve noticed them playing on several occasions. Once, I even walked by when Floyd was rolling on his back and jawing back and forth with her. Could our Pretty Boy Floyd finally be falling in love? It makes sense, doesn’t it? Dawn’s is beautiful, her coat as shiny as coal, plus she exudes the worldliness of street life.

Floyd’s Road to Recovery

floyd in hat

It’s been a week since Floyd’s ACL surgery, and he’s already putting weight on the knee. This week we start physical therapy, which we’ve chosen to do ourselves to save money. It basically means massaging and stretching the leg with ten minute leashed walks twice a day. Right now, Dr. Au recommends seven more weeks of therapy.

As far as Floyd’s demeanor, he hates the “lampshade” collar, but in another week, his sutures will come out and the shade comes off.

Overall, he’s not as grumpy as I expected. They recommended crating him for the first few days, but he suffered an anxiety attack in the crate, drooling all over the place. Instead we’ve decided to keep him in the bedroom with his dog bed and a bone, where he seems perfectly content.

Floyd likes funny movies, so over the weekend he watched Big Daddy and What About Bob? 🙂

Floyd’s ACL Surgery Update by Melissa

We dropped Floyd off at the Blue Pearl Vet at 7 AM yesterday, and three hours later his surgeon called, saying his ACL procedure was a success. Dr. Kevin Au had every reason to believe that in a couple of months his knee would be 95% back to normal. It will never be 100%.

In previous years, both times our dogs had needed similar surgeries, the doctor had used fishing wire to replace the torn ACL.

But Floyd’s surgery was different. Because of the high rate of failure (basically, the fishing wire kept snapping) they’re using a different method, which involves Dr. Au “reshaping” Floyd’s bones so that an ACL isn’t even necessary. It’s called TPLO. Click here for more information.

As I was researching knee surgery for dogs, I found a veterinarian (not a specialist) in Owensboro, Kentucky that would operate. Without having X-rays in front of them, we received an estimate of $2000, almost fifteen hundred less than Dr. Au. The price was significantly cheaper but we still had reservations because it was the flawed fishing wire procedure.

We debated taking Floyd to Kentucky until we found out that the Blue Pearl Vet would knock 20% off our bill because Floyd was rescued, and we worked for a non-profit animal rescue agency. We had to provide paperwork proving that ICHBA was a 501(c) so unfortunately they don’t offer the deal for anyone that adopts a homeless animal.

We pick up Floyd, our grumpy momma’s boy, this afternoon. And then it’s two months of recovery time. I’ll keep you posted.

Floyd Ripped His ACL

Sara and Floyd creek run(Floyd and Sara; Mason and I found Floyd on the side of a country road in Robertson County. Click here for his background.)


Floyd, a six-year-old chow-lab mutt with a coat as copper as cedar bark, is a quiet dog. For the most part, he remains expressionless, rarely showing much emotion at all. He’s been a member of our pack for five and a half years.

Floyd’s biggest problem besides his withdrawn attitude is an angry streak that we can contain but have never erased. He won’t lunge, bite, or bark at other dogs, walks like a pro on a leash, and retains an unshakable loyalty, but he values personal space. And if another pack member invades it, he’s known to snap, all while wearing that same aloof expression.

For all his grumpiness, we love Floyd, understand his limits, and treat his outbursts with a calm assertiveness, which he responds to immediately.

But Floyd does have one passion that changes his normally stoic disposition into an obviously euphoric one, like he’s high on natural drugs. The moment we unhook his leash, giving him free reign over the six acres of woods behind our house, Floyd changes into a joyful mutt. It’s like the wilderness is his paradise.

From mid-March until mid-October, we can’t walk in the woods because the foliage and ticks are dense, but starting at the end of last month we’ve been trekking through the forest daily.

Floyd had been able to run through his utopian playground a handful of times. Then, one day, he returned particularly early in the walk, still wearing his elated face, but lifting his right rear wheel, paw hanging loose.

I checked the leg, found no visible injuries or swelling and waited. After a few days, he put weight on it, even stood on it to pee, but his limp didn’t improve.

Yesterday, we visited a specialty surgeon in Nashville, Dr. Kevin Au at BluePearl Vet. We needed a referral to even get through the door.

We found out that Floyd had ripped his ACL doing his favorite thing in the world, running through the woods. Next week he’ll have surgery, followed by eight weeks of living contained in a small room or crated. If he had been small or old, Dr. Au didn’t recommend the ordeal. But, because Floyd has a potential of six to nine more years on his legs, we feel it’s the only humane way to deal with it.

Out of the eight dogs that have been part  – at one time or another -of our permanent pack, three have needed the same surgery, and I know of two other dogs I meet daily on the greenway that have recently had medical procedures on their knees. Since ACL injuries in dogs are so common and RIDICULOUSLY expensive (thank the universe I’ve been working for three months,) I’ll be writing about the process. I hope these posts will provide someone else with help and insight.

Poor Floyd. He’s going to lose the entire 2014-2015 winter season of running through the woods. And poor us, I bet he’ll be a bear to live with 🙂