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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.

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