We love our pets. They’re part of our family. And I truly believe they love us, too.
I adopted Ferris Bueller in 2003 just after I bought my condo. He was a big, lumbering spaz. He ate everything – DVDs, kitty litter, even my couch! He swallowed a ball at a dog park that needed surgery to get it out, then flipped his crate over, while he was inside it, cutting himself down to the muscle, requiring another surgery. He slobbered his way into my heart, a true companion.
When Miss O came along he adjusted pretty well. The best way to describe his attitude towards her was curious indifference. He sniffed her, he gave her a glance every now and then, but other than that, he wasn’t really interested.
Mr. O was away and Miss O and I had just come home from visiting him. I put her down in the other room and went to feed Ferris. He was sitting, waiting for his food. I was just around the corner in the pantry, filling his bowl.
I saw Miss O toddle in (she was only 18 months old at this time) from the other room. I told her to stop, but she didn’t (or couldn’t – toddlers aren’t really in control when they’re walking). She saw the open pantry door and, because she had just discovered the magic of closing doors, decided to close it.
That’s when it happened. I will never know what the exact trigger was. Was he correcting her because she wasn’t listening to the pack leader? Was he protecting me and keeping himself from being separated from me? Or was he simply pissed that she closed the door between him and his food? Whatever it was, it was scary as hell.
He snapped his teeth at her face and clawed at her, knocking her down. It was the most frightening moment of my life, and that includes having an emergency c-section at 32 weeks pregnant.
I don’t remember what words came out of my mouth, only that I yelled. Ferris stopped immediately. I then threw him out of the house – there might have been a few 4-letter-words shouted at him – and began to examine Miss O.
She was understandably upset but I held it together. I held a wet paper towel to her cuts, and sang to her to calm her down. She was okay, but her injuries were going to need medical attention. I grabbed the portable DVD player and a couple videos and headed to the ER.
Thankfully her injuries just needed some cleaning and medical glue. We were very, VERY lucky.
After a pet bite there are a few options for families to consider. Though I understand that in some places a biting dog would be immediately put down, that’s not the law, nor is it the recommendation of vets in our area.
I called anyone and everyone I knew to be experts in dogs. They all had differing opinions on everything. Will he bite again? Some said yes, some said no. Can he be trained? Yes and no. Should we ever let him around Miss O again? Yes and no.
After all the calls we were left with 4 options to consider.
Surrender. To surrender a pet means to give him to a shelter or the local animal authorities. This is a pretty extreme option, especially because a dog with a bite history is likely going to spend the rest of his life in a cage.
Re-home. Find a friend, family member, or other person who would agree to adopt him. Obviously you have to be completely honest about his history. Not disclosing that he’s bitten a person could leave you open to a lawsuit. Also, with older dogs it can be easier to find a new home if you offer to pay medical expenses.
Separation. Keep the child and dog separate. Put up gates, get a crate, or keep the dog in a separate area in the house so he’s not in contact with your child. This can be tricky, depending on the layout of your home and the age of your child.
Training. Hire a professional trainer to work with your family and your dog to establish rules and expectations. Both the dog and your child can learn how to interact together. Younger children may have difficulty with training, and children should still always be supervised with pets.
What Worked for Us
It took a while, but we did eventually find a solution that worked for us. We purchased 2 baby gates with clear plastic panels instead of bars and hung them in 2 different doorways. We keep Ferris on one side, Miss O on the other. The panels give us some extra security because she can’t reach through into his space.
We didn’t opt to get further training for Ferris because training is for both dog and master, and Miss O was simply not old enough to learn to be master. It has come up in the years since, but we’ve recently learned that Ferris has 2 masses growing in his spleen and most likely has a very limited amount of time left. And while he seems fine, dogs in pain are too unpredictable to be around children who can easily poke, prod, or touch them in the wrong way.
Miss O has no memory of the incident. She has no fear of dogs and loves Ferris. She hasn’t yet questioned why other people let their dogs roam around while Ferris has to stay in our room. I’m still working out what my answer would be…
It’s been 2 1/2 years since the bite and our solution still works for us. We took down one gate about a year ago and put Ferris in just our bedroom, while Miss O gets the rest of the house. At 12 years old all he really needs is a comfortable place to sleep, and at 4 she needs to be able to get to the bathroom.
I know our choice is not what everyone would have chosen. And that’s okay. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way to handle a situation like this. I know my child is safe and I’ve been able to keep my commitment to my companion of 12 years.