Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Dog Attack

We had a St. Bernard when I was in sixth grade. His name was Baron. He was my best friend and protector, and never has any creature on this planet been more loyal than he was to our family. A bully followed me one day from the bus in seventh grade, talking to me like like we were good buddies, then dropped his books and punched me square in the face. I tried to hit him back but he blocked everything I threw at him. He threw me to the ground, straddled my body and raised his fist, and all I could think was, could this the end of Rico? A white and brown streak flashed overhead and he was gone, beside me now screaming, holding his arm with Baron growling three inches from his face.

Dad moved up into the deep country of rural Ohio, to hide from a society that enforces that annoying and inconvenient institution known as the law. Out there, the neighbors don't care about the derelict cars in the yard, or the pot plants growing in the back yard, or dogs that bark at one in the morning.

But there is nowhere to hide if your dog bites a guest.

Baron is a family legend, but when legends die, they can't be replaced. But dad tried a couple years ago when he got another St. Bernard. Arnie, presumably named after Ahh-nold, developed a brain tumor, and one day attacked dad's sister-in-law at a party and mangled her ankle before he could be pulled away. Nobody saw it coming. Rather than allow his dog to be put down, dad packed his things and disappeared without a trace, and the dog was given to a farmer in some southern state for safe keeping, where he most likely died soon after.

Dad moved quickly to replace him with the dog that he has today. We paid dad a visit for the July 4th weekend, and my youngest son Emmett, 19 months old, saw him first through the kitchen window and pointed with his tiny hand and said, "See? See?"

Dad warned me then, "keep the kids away from him, I'm not sure how he'll react around kids." But later I would find out, he really did.

I walked outside by myself and peeked around the corner at the dog.

"Hi Bob!" I called to him. He looked at me and growled, then barked a few warnings. "I'm not gonna hurt you boy. I hope we are going to be friends." I continued like this for a little while, trying to schmooze, to no avail, so I walked around to the front, where I saw a little spark, and childhood memories of Ohio nights flooded back, and I sprinted up the front steps and into the house.

"Honey," I called to my wife. "Get Emmett dressed." She looked at me askance. "Please?" I added.

"What's going on?" she asked.

"Fireflies." Jackson perked up. "Have you ever seen a firefly Jackson?" I knew he hadn't of course, but had I told him all about them, and he shook his head. "There are hundreds of them outside!"

He leapt to his feet and ran to the window. "Look daddy!"

"I know, get your shoes on!"

My wife handed me little Emmett and we ran outside, while Grandma stayed behind and poked holes through the lid of a mayonaise jar. The boys were in awe. If you've never seen fireflies, it's like being in a magical kingdom, where fairies prance and swirl around your head, like Christmas bulbs that float from the trees.

Emmett saw a tractor and decided to check it out, walked up to it and looked for a foothold to climb aboard. I was maybe twenty feet from him when I realized with a start that Bob was tied up in an enclosure not far from the tractor, and I started toward him with no urgency, because the chain surely wouldn't stretch that far.

I've always thought that tragedy moved in slow motion. Before my first step was taken, I heard the awful rattle of the chain. As my foot reached the ground, Bob leapt into view, and in three bounds opened his jaws and dwarfed my little baby and was on top of him. I yelled out and ran with terrible lethargy, as in a dream where everything else is normal but I'm slow and getting slower. I hit the dog from the side and grabbed him by the throat and started to lift him up. I thought he would fight me but he recoiled and sprinted away. Emmett was crying his scared cry, and any parent can tell you what that is, a cry that distinguishes itself from all others as being the most serious of all. I picked him up and looked at his face, fearing the worst -- a hanging eyeball, torn cheek, or missing ear. Nothing. I hoisted him onto my shoulder and let him cry it out and reassured him. I turned to see the dog, who looked serenely on, like nothing had happened. I wanted to rage at him, but I didn't want to scare Emmett anymore than he was.

Emmett stopped crying and pointed back at the dog, and Jackson ran up and yelled out, "Bob bit Emmett!"

Emmett said, "Bob. Bob."

"I know baby, it's ok."

"Bob. Bob." Each syllable was a dagger in my heart.

But Emmett was calm. I looked him over and there wasn't a mark on him, just some dirt on his head.

I was going to keep it quiet for a while, to gather my thoughts and decide what to do. I barely got my wife to agree to stay with my dad and step-mom as it was, this was surely going to be the final wedge between my father and I -- but my baby could have been killed. I was getting sick, my chest felt heavy and my mind was swimming with conflicting, incongruous emotions.

If I don't tell my wife, then what kind of marriage do I have?

What am I teaching my boys if I keep a secret?

What's more important, the safety of the boys or my relationship with my father?

If I tell my wife, then we will never visit again as a family.

Emmett isn't hurt, but emotionally he may be for life.

She has to be told.


Emmett saw his mommy through the window and struggled to get loose, crying out and reaching towards her. We all went inside.

Jackson resolved my internal confict for me. "Mommy, Bob got Emmett."

"What?" She looked at me with the question.

"Yeah, Bob knocked Emmett down and got on top of him, and I just managed to get him away. I don't think he is hurt, but he has been saying his name over and over again." I remained calm, and she stayed calm too. She took off his coat, and there on his forearm was the bite, a scrape that had broken the skin a little, and a spreading bruise the size of a fifty cent piece. She looked up at me with tears welling, but she still stayed calm. We took him into the bathroom and cleaned it up.

We told dad later, and he locked the dog in a van, but beyond that he never mentioned it again. His wife let it slip that it had happened before to another of their grandchildren.

That night after Emmett went to sleep, my wife and I talked for a while.

"Never again," she said. "We are not coming here again."

"I know."

She studied me for a moment. "I'm sorry honey, but I can't be in this position. You're father simply isn't responsible enough to..."

"Hon, you don't have to say anything, or explain anything. My little baby could have died because of that fucking dog. Nothing else matters."

She reached for my hand. "You probably knew I was going to say that."

"I did. I didn't know how to handle it, or what exactly to say about it."

"I would have killed you if you didn't tell me about it."

I paused.

She said, "You thought about not telling me."

"Uh, well, it's just that I... Listen, I know what a neanderthal my father is, but you know I love him. I didn't pick him you know, and even though it's his fault, I'm all that he has in this world. I'm sorry, but I'm confused and don't know what to do."

She squeezed my hand. Thank God, she understands.

Emmett cried out from the porta-crib, "Bob?"

We shared a worried look. I picked him up and layed him between us. Normally he goes to his mother, but tonight he snuggled tightly against my chest. My wife put her forehead to mine and together we fell asleep.


Mr. T said...

Wow.. I just don't know how to respond. I sympathize with the "you only get one family" and not wanting to lose that but on the other hand you have a man that outright lied to you about the history of a dog.. a dog that could have ended a child's life.
I think that is what gets me more.. not the dog, dogs are animals and some animals (even humans) are wired wrong, no its the fact that your father, Emmett's grandfather put your family at risk by giving you a false sense of the environment you were staying in. Oh I'm sure he feels he gave you adequate warning "not sure how he is around kids" Did he fear you leaving that much that he would glaze the truth? I want to feel rage against a man I don't know. But instead I feel pity for him. The loneliness he must feel for the choices he makes.
I am happy to hear that there was no serious physical injury. Wishing you the best in the aftermath of this close encounter with tragedy.

Scott said...

Yeah T, you've nailed the dilemma. I pity him too, and I don't hate the dog, even if I couldn't bring myself to come near him afterwards. I'm glad that you understand the complexity of the man and the situation. I feel conflicted, like I should just never go there again. But then my dad would be alone. In ten years he'll be too old to support himself, and I'll be the only person who will care enough to prop him up.

jenbeauty said...

That totally and completly sucks Scott. {{HUGS}} for you and your baby and your wife. Very traumatic for everyone.

So sorry your trip to Ohio could not be more fun. I am in Columbus and know Berlin very well. My husband is from that area, but he is not Amish...lol!

Again, sorry about the parent situation. I feel pity and anger for your father. It realy boggles my mind that grown adults do not know better. If it is any consulation my trip was not the best either and my cousin's husband is a neanderthal.

Scott said...

Besides the incident Jen, Ohio was great. I have a lot more to say about it later. I got ideas for about five posts over the weekend. Family is always good for that.

Thanks for the hug!

Mrs.T said...

That made me want to throw up. My husband is much more diplomatic and less emotional than myself. I'd have left the moment it happened.

Scott said...

I hear you Mrs T. It would have been the right thing if I were only considering my boy.

Ashynioki said...

Very scary, and sad. I sure hope Emmett is going to be alright. He was so little when I talked to you guys in Macy's, even though it has been a while.
I've both lost a beloved dog because of an incident with a friend who was horrified of them, and been almost happy to see one go that nearly took out my niece's eye.
You and your wife made the right choice. And what about Jackson, huh? Kids do an excellent job keeping you honest, don't they?
Like Mrs. T, your father's reaction struck me. It made me think. I wonder if, in a way, he sees himself as the dog. Perhaps he tries to save his pets from the consequences of their actions because he knows no one can save him.

Mrs.T said...

Hey Scott, shoot me an email mrstalkington@yahoo.

Scott said...

Thanks Ash,
We were worried about him for the whole weekend, but he seems to have stopped saying the dogs name over and over again. I've been thinking about posting a picture of him, but like Mrs. T, I have to err on the side of paranoia. I want to keep this honest and don't want people to know who I am that live in my town. But he is bigger now, walking and saying words, and one phrase, "Here you go."

Interesting observation, he obviously does project himself onto, and thus is protective of his dog.

Anyone reading this has to check out Ash's poetry! Keep up the good work over there. I checked out a couple of your novel starts. You have the gift.

BushCheney08 said...

nice blog!


BushCheney08 said...


Master of None said...

Great story. It's a tough situation to be in, but it sounds like you are making the right choice.

Scott said...

Master of None,
Thanks for stopping by, and for the vote of confidence.

What's up with BushCheney08 huh? He's been leaving the same post on every blogger website he finds. Lol? Can you say disingenuous?

trinamick said...

Man, that's nothing to play around with. You know from my site that my mom was just attacked by a pit bull and the guy knew his dog was dangerous. Dogs like that need put down.

That said, my grandpa's dog attacked my 2 yo nephew and tore his face open - just missed his throat. My grandpa didn't have the heart to kill the dog himself, so my uncle took care of it. Thankfully, my nephew didn't end up being afraid of dogs, but at 14, he still has the scar on his face.

Scott said...

Trinamick - Oh my God! I'll find that story on your blog and comment there. Your reality is what I most feared. I'm lucky to have gotten off with a warning.

BushCheney08 said...

wow. . . thats a really sad story.

BushCheney08 said...

I was attacked by a dog when I was 9. I got bit in the back. After that I resented all dogs until a few years ago when we got a deaf one and he was really nice.