A horrible thing happened

It was on a beautiful hike, the bold coast in Cutler Maine, Tuesday early morning, a super hot last day of June. We’d had our picnic and emerged from the forest to the high bluffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, after about 2 hours of hiking. It felt like someone turned on the air conditioning! Gloriously refreshing! My two dogs — 11 year old Bee and my 100 lb german shepherd, 3.5 year old M’Ocean — were behaving so perfectly. They’d trot along a little way, turn back and look, waiting to make sure they didn’t lose track of us.

Our dogs made us so proud as we passed other hikers including a couple of families with kids, old people, dogs. A couple of times one of my dogs would leave the trail, and I’d say, “stay on the trail!” My husband, Albert, was so impressed with how well they were listening to us and keeping track of us, and having such perfect social interactions. We had our picnic in the coolness, everyone drank water. Worried that Bee might overdo, we started back. A chipmunk ran across the trail and the dogs didn’t even blink. I told Albert, “See how they aren’t interested in prey? That’s because the are using all of their energy on the hike.” “Yes, and that’s probably why their social interactions are so relaxed,” he remarked, “No energy for jumping up.”

Maybe 30 seconds or a minute after we said, M’Ocean disappeared around the corner. I heard small dog barking and then screaming! Lots and lots of screaming! I ran, screaming as I ran, “stop screaming! Please stop screaming!”

And there were four screaming women with M’Ocean, and something in his mouth. I reached his collar just in time to see him shake and throw down a tiny dachshund. M’Ocean immediately laid down, and looked around with a “I just woke up” or maybe “did I do a good job?” expression on his face. Both dogs instantly acted like this was just any ordinary moment, and we were making friends with new humans who apparently weren’t planning on eating Harvey (as it turns out is his name).

I don’t really know what my dogs were thinking because I was mostly watching Harvey. I thought for sure M’Ocean had killed him and now I prepared myself to see him die. Harvey weighs at most 9 lbs, and M’Ocean had flung him down like a prey animal, like a rat. A friend this spring was charged by a rabid raccoon, and similarly her dog shook it and flung it down and that had killed it instantly. So I expected the little dog was about to die.

All of us humans were beside ourselves, trying to calm ourselves. Harvey’s mom, Deb, was breathing big gulps of air, trying not to cry. She said some kind and comforting things. Saying Harvey should have been on leash too. They found a towel to wrap Harvey for a carry-out, I saw blood and a gash, apologizing to the world and God and our dogs for having failed, and of course the whole thing was 100% my fault.

Deb gave me her phone number, I stood there, called her, leaving the message that I was the lady who owned the german shepherd who attacked her dog. I said I’d pay for whatever she needed. Another hiker came through, another kind woman with powerful muscles who carried Deb’s backpack out so Deb could carry Harvey.

We all walked silently, and unbelievably, Harvey started to rally. Now and again, I saw a tiny smile cross Deb’s face and Harvey was able to walk a little bit. I felt like I could breath a little bit better, watching her alternating carrying him with walking him. My husband and I got to the car with our dogs on leash. I have never felt like such a failure, so ashamed and full of despair. Not just what would happen with poor Harvey but also what now would happen to M’Ocean? What had started as a happy vacation/adventure day was ruined for all involved. The vet in Machias was closed, but maybe there was a veterinarian an hour’s drive or two hours drive away? We all parted ways.

Later that afternoon Deb called to say they had finally found a vet, and now Harvey had four punctures and two staples. We talked again this morning and she told me the vet was thinking that maybe the fact that Harvey was intact had something to do with it? He had an undescended testicle, so he had been left intact. So, I don’t know about that, but goodbye testicles. I just got off the phone with my veterinarian and Mo is being neutered today.

I’ve ordered four different muzzles, as he’s got a very long snout, and they can be tricky to fit, but I know exactly the kind he needs. I don’t know why it took this for me to realize duh, he should be wearing a muzzle off-leash. If he had been wearing even the lightest weight muzzle, he never would have been able to pick up or bite the dachshund. That entire situation would have been no big deal. M’Ocean is an extremely powerful dog, but he’s not an untrained dog. Putting a muzzle on him would have slowed down the interaction tremendously.

It also would have helped if Harvey’s friends had said a firm “No!” or “Drop it!” instead of screaming, so that’s my one piece of advice to small dog owners. Don’t scream. If something like that happens to you, praying that it never does, deliver a calm confident clear authoritative “no!” or “drop it!” cue. Sometimes I’ve said “go home!” to an approaching dog, and that works well. Screaming escalates excitement, anxiety, aggression, and it can confuse a dog who doesn’t realize you are screaming about him!

Deb told me Harvey got away twice. One of Deb’s friends regrets that she didn’t pick up Harvey when she had a chance, because she understandably wasn’t sure if M’Ocean might bite her! If M’Ocean had been wearing a muzzle, even screaming wouldn’t have happened.Muzzled, that incident would not have taken place. Dogs are animals! No amount of training can entirely override instinct. How did I forget that! Training isn’t just about education, we can’t forget that our dogs are predators, and any dog can be dangerous (but most especially a big dog!).

So, muzzle and neuter. Everyone. If you have any doubts at all, muzzle and neuter your dog.

5 thoughts on “A horrible thing happened

  1. Oh Jenny, what an awful day. My heart was in my throat when I saw the title of your piece and I was panicking as I read it. Thank goodness Harvey’s owner was calm (enough) and that Harvey was tough. I can totally empathize with you and with her. Traumatic all the way around.


    1. When I spoke to her this morning I almost slipped and said “I love you!” For this lesson to happen with her, all i can say is thank God. And thank god that Harvey is so squirmy. She told me he weighs 9 lbs.


  2. This happened in our yard, our daughter’s dog took our Westie by the throat/neck and I thought for sure she would not have made it but thank God she did. We are always very cautious with our dogs, needless to say we never know. Grateful that the dogs were fine in your experience. I adore animals but never trust one completely, as they are animals and despite how much we love them and them us, they are unpredictable. Grateful for you that everything was saved.


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