Dealing With A Dog Attack While On A Walk (Part 1)

Part 1… In which I tell you the frightful tale of how Tramp and I were charged upon by a Labrador on our daily walk.

This incident happened on the morning of March 27, 2015. I’m writing this partly to vent, and partly to analyze how I might have handled the situation differently if it were at all possible to do so.

In Part 2 of this blog post, I’ll be talking more about how to avoid situations like these, and what you can do to prepare yourself for a similar scenario.

On our morning walk today, Tramp and I were on one of our usual routes through our neighborhood. I live in suburban Quezon City, in case you were wondering.

We were headed towards a street corner, and a few meters ahead, I spotted a black Labrador running around with no owner in sight. I waited before proceeding. The black Lab took off in the direction of a man with a leash and disappeared behind a house.

Thinking it was safe to resume our walk, I walked on with Tramp giving him free rein to sniff the tall grasses on the empty lots along the side of the road.

Someone was calling out behind me. I turned and saw the black Lab again, pouncing away from her owner. I tried not to make any big movements to attract her attention but in another few seconds it was too late.

She spotted us. More precisely, she spotted Tramp. There was no intention to sniff, to circle, to size up this stranger dog in her territory. I read it in her body language the instance she saw my dog: she meant to charge and bite Tramp.

I tried to make myself as big as possible, holding up my arms and facing her full on to assume an intimidating posture. Things that usually work with reasonable dogs. But this girl was not to be reasoned with. She was single-mindedly barreling towards my dog who as yet was oblivious to the fact that a 30kg labrador was charging towards him.

A few seconds before the moment of impact, I tried to scoop Tramp up, but he slipped out of my grasp just as the lab closed the distance between us. I screamed and kicked at the Lab, panic increasing as I saw her mouth open with the intention to bite.

Her jaws closed over him, but her bite placement was not strategic enough to do damage. She tried to grab Tramp’s rump, but thankfully my little boy’s butt was wide enough and compact enough that she couldn’t get her jaws around his back or sink her teeth into any loose skin. (I can see the humor in the situation now, but really I’m just glad things didn’t end worse than they did.)

I yelled for the owners to come and control their dog. I kicked and screamed at the Lab, pulling Tramp away by his leash as I did, wondering in the back of my head if I should let him go, but deciding that I didn’t want to deal with two dogs out of control because Tramp by now, true to his terrier nature, was not to be bullied and was game to take on the fight.

The dogs circled and lunged at each other – the Lab trying to get a bite in, while Tramp was struggling to get around to retaliate, and I tried my best to stay in between them, pushing the Lab away and kicking at her then spotting the choke chain that was dangling around her neck. I grabbed for it, realizing that doing so or physically restraining her could end up in her turning on me and attacking me instead. I was prepared to take that bite.

At some point, the Lab swung around trying to get around me at Tramp just as I managed to get my fingers under her collar. Her weight ramming against my legs caused me to lose my balance and I found myself hitting the floor. Thankfully, we were on the grass and not on the pavement. Even as I fell I decided I wasn’t going to let go of that chain.

My face was so close to the Lab’s mouth, I remember thinking “I hope she doesn’t decide to chew my face off!”.

It was only at this point, as I was struggling to get back onto my feet while holding on to her chain and pulling Tramp and the Lab apart from each other that the Lab’s owner came STROLLING towards us. Yes, literally “strolling”! There was no sense of urgency that I could detect.

The owner came up to me and I handed off the dog, the Lab swung around again and made one last attempt to snap at Tramp. Fortunately, the owner did not let her go.

The man was saying something to me, my ears were still ringing from the fall but I’m pretty sure there was no apology in there or no inquiry into whether or not I was injured or if my dog was injured.

I just wanted to get clear of the dog who was still struggling against her leash, so I started to walk away with Tramp, just as the man was saying “Dapat binitawan mo kasi e!” / “You should have let him go!”.

I’m not particularly confrontational, it takes me a while to process and weigh the deeper meaning of words, especially when I’m recovering from a dog attack, the rush of adrenaline and when my ears are still ringing from a heavy fall. So I’m not pretty good with quick comebacks or retorts. As the distance between us and that situation grew, I realized what he had been saying to me:

“You should have let your dog go!” In essence, he was saying that it was my fault, that my restraining my dog made it worse, that I fell because I wouldn’t let my dog go. Jerk! (stronger expletives withheld here)

Having moved far enough away, I checked Tramp for bites – immensely relieved that I only found him drenched in drool, and maybe with a few hairs pulled out – and dusted myself off. I was surprised to discover that I had somehow managed to scrape my elbow against the pavement, though I couldn’t remember at exactly what point that had happened. I felt a sharp pain over my right knee as well whenever the fabric of my pants would rub against it as I walked. Tramp, on the other hand, seemed to have recovered and forgotten about the incident completely already. They really do live in the moment, don’t they? Whereas I would hold on to these emotions for hours, and even days beyond the event.

Some neighbors who had heard the commotion had stepped outside their houses and asked me if I’d gotten bitten. I wondered, Isn’t anybody gonna ask if my dog is ok? It was then I realized how things must have looked – me being on the floor, struggling with the dog – they must have thought that I was getting attacked. I explained: “She was after my dog! I was trying to block her.”

I walked away with Tramp, feeling worried for the black Lab, because I knew the story would likely go the other way and she would be labeled aggressive towards humans.

Throughout this entire incident, I was never angry at the dog, I could feel all my frustration and rage being directed at the owner – for allowing their dog-aggressive dog off leash, for not moving faster to help us, for letting their dog become like this.

It was a frightening experience, to be sure. Having seen a variety of bite cases, and knowing that one wrong bite on Tramp’s neck, or head, or on his spine could have ended in tragedy, I am just extremely grateful things turned out the way they did. We have had encounters with dogs before. There are many free-roaming Aspins (Philippine native dogs) that meet us on our walks. I’m pretty good at reading body language and determining whether we can meet and socialize with a dog or if we need to give a dog a wide berth. Dogs off leash particularly Aspins are easy to read, they will tell you when they are uncomfortable, or anxious or stressed and they will respond to me and my dog’s body language appropriately as well. This dog that attacked Tramp was not an Aspin, she was a Labrador that escaped her leash. I have always felt that these – the dogs that are unsocialized and that deal with a lot of barrier frustration on a daily basis – are the more unpredictable and the more difficult to deal with.

Stay tuned for Part 2 wherein I’ll be giving you tips to avoid situations like these, and what you can do to prepare for a similar scenario.

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