On December 10th, we bid a tearful good-bye to our Siberian Husky Skye. She’d been one of our family for 13 years, and while I’m certain that there were times that she infuriated us, hindsight makes those times seem less horrible and of much less significance. The only thing that sticks out in our minds, and only because it broke our heart how she missed out on so much, was how we could never take her to a dog park, because when she was 3 years old, a neighbours dog wandered into our backyard and bit her in her face, one of its teeth ripping a whole right over her left eyes. The neighbours dog had many complaints against it already for viciousness, and sadly our Skye wasn’t the last problem with that dog. A few months later it ripped through a screen on a sliding door after being left to run loose in our co-ops common area, it tore into the house of one of our neighbours and attacked their cat, an animal that never left the safety of its home, and killed it. The owner of the dog did not apologize or offer condolences. Her response was that the cat always sat in the window, taunting her dog.
So, at the age of 3 Skye was attacked, her eye became swollen and it took a while to get her to heal as the bite became infected. But eventually it healed, but it did leave a scar, and not the kind of scar that you could see, far from it. Nobody ever could tell that Skye had been attacked by looking at her. The scar that was left was upon her soul, an invisible scar that was so hard to explain to other people. Most times when I tried to tell others who encountered Skye after that day about her scar, they’d look at me like I was just making excuses. Like it was some story I’d concocted to convince other people that she wasn’t a horrible dog.
Prior to the attack, Skye was a regular at the dog parks. She’d love to go to the leash free at High Park, she’d go in calmly and the moment that leash was unclipped from her collar it was like she’d taken flight. With a dash and a flurry of white fur she was gone. She’d run all over the leash free area, ignoring the other dogs. For her the leash free area wasn’t about socializing with the other pups, for her it was freedom. The ability to run fast and run far away from her owners.
After the attack that freedom was gone. From the day of the attack until the day she passed away, every dog that she encountered was a potential attack, at least in her eyes, and that mean that every dog that she met would end up being attacked by her. I think it was an aggressive defense, the kind of defense where if I attack you before you can attack me then I’ll be safe.
So we stopped taking her to dog parks, for the next 10 years she never really got a chance to experience that freedom again. We’d sneak her to the dog parks late at night, once everyone else had gone home and we’d let her go, but we couldn’t do that too often, so her moments of joyous freedom were few and far between. And once we got Mal, our Malinois mix, it broke our heart when we took him to the dog park and had to leave her home alone. But we wanted Mal to be well socialized. We wanted him to see other dogs as wonderful playmates, not adversaries or something to be afraid of. So every weekend we’d load our boy into the car and have to drive away listening to the heartbreaking cries of our girl.
Then there were the other dog owners, the ones who were confronted with Skye and her snarling, aggressive, vicious persona. I always felt so bad when I had to tell other owners to get their dog away from mine, I always cringed under their judgmental eyes. Only a few ever told me that a dog like Skye had no place being walked on a leash on the streets of Toronto. A viscous animal should be put down for the protection of all in our fair city.
Only my dog wasn’t a viscous animal, not all the time. Only when others ignored my pleas to give my girl distance. “My dog’s friendly.” They call to me and I’d have to yell back “Mine isn’t!” and then I have to deal with their being offended that I’d have a dog like that.
My neighbours had a dog when we moved in, now they have two. But when we moved in they had one, and one day while my neighbours was walking her dog, Skye busted out of the house and circled her dog. I was right behind her and dragged her into the house, but it was enough to unnerve my neighbour, rightly so, and from that moment on they were scared of our dogs. Then one day somehow Skye managed to bite their dogs paw, either the dog managed to shove its foot under the gate or Skye forced her nose under, either way she bit the dogs paw and we paid $120 for the vet visit and antibiotics, so it wasn’t a bad bite, that goodness, but it was enough to rip my heart out. I lived with fear that this dog would be scarred much the way my own Skye had been. Luckily that isn’t the case, since the dogs next door play happily with our new Doberman Frigga and our Yorkie, Wicket, they still aren’t fans of our Mal, probably mostly because they have never met, only barked at each other through the fence, but Mal has such an intimidating, scary sounding bark, I can’t blame the neighbours when they are worried about Mal and their dogs meeting. I’m sure they have Skye flash backs when they look at him.
On August 10th it will be 8 months to the day that we took Skye for that last car ride, and I noticed a few weeks ago that I no longer ache with missing her whenever I think about her, instead I smile and think about all the joy and laughter she brought to our family. The pain of her loss is still there, but it just doesn’t ache like an open wound anymore, now it’s more like a bruise.
On Christmas eve my family gave me a Yorkie, Wicket and he is a bundle of energy and attitude, and then in May our new Doberman Frigga. Now we get to take Frigga, Wicket and Mal to the leash free dog parks together, nobody gets left behind anymore. The dogs love it at the leash free, it doesn’t matter what leash free we take them to, each and every one is enjoyed. Frigga may not enter each leash free with the reckless abandon that the other two have, but she’s just a baby and still learning her footing when navigating among strange new dogs.
But I’ve noticed something about myself. I am still affected by the day that the dog attacked my Skye. When I hear a dog get aggressive with another dog, even if it’s just a mild bit of dominating that’s over as fast as it began, I flinch. I worry about other dogs being socialized well and when an owner displays a lack of regard for how their dog, who is acting rude and pushing another dog around, especially a puppy, is affecting the other dogs at the park, it really makes me angry.
The dog park closest to my house is full of lackadaisical dog owners, they come to the park, unleash their dogs and then ignore them. When their dogs squat to do their business they are totally unaware and somebody has to give them a sort of nudge in the form of pointing out their dog is leaving a messy deposit in the park that needs to be cleaned up. I’ve actually seen a few owners get annoyed that they are being dragged from their conversations to pick up after their dogs. I’ve seen an owner stand by and watch as his large German Shepherd pushed my Yorkie around, knocking him over and crashing into him, sending him sprawling and tumbling. The owner doesn’t stop it, his belief is that if I’m going to bring a small dog to the dog park I have to be prepared for him to be picked on. I don’t mind all of that happening to my dog, it happens all the time. What I do mind is an owner who stands by and allows it to happen over and over, repeatedly without any breaks in between. My Yorkie has the right to enjoy the dog park just the same as all the other dogs.
Last night a man came into the dog park with a 5 month old Boxer on a leash. He did not release his dog to allow him to run free, and when the other dogs ran over to say hi and try to get the pup to play he got mad at the ‘free dogs’. He walked around the leash free area and never allowed his dog any freedom, and he got all worked up when any free dog approached. All I could see was a future adult boxer that had been taught that other dogs got his owner all upset and therefore other dogs must be a bad thing, and he should defend himself from them, much as Skye did.
I’ve had a guy with a Mutt, give me a lecture about my Yorkie in the dog park, telling me that other dogs are going to kill him because he looks like prey. Listen, the rules of the dog park state that the dogs must play well with all other dogs , not all other large breed dogs. I have scars left over from the day my dog was attacked. I cringe when another dog is meeting my dogs for the first time, those first few seconds I almost hold my breath and have to force myself to look away and not put my own nervousness into the situation so that my dogs don’t get edgy and nervous because I am. But every time my dogs comes nose to nose with a new dog for the first time I always worry that a simple five second action can lead to a life time of defensive aggression, and I just would hate for that to happen again, to any dog, not just my own.