Monday, August 31, 2009

Know Your Dog: Sporting Group

If you are looking for a collection of dogs with great reputations, look no further than the Sporting Group. These dogs are bred to stand frozen--in both meanings of the word--for as long as a hunter requires; not flinch, whine, or run at the sound of a shot, and retrieve game without so much as nibbling at it. They are partners, junior partners, to their humans.

And when the long day of hunting is over, the long haired beauties of the group--the Setters, Spaniels, and Goldens--are expected to stand patiently, without complaint, as they are divested of the dirt and debris of the hunting field before being admitted to the fireside for a well deserved rest.

Some of America's favorite dogs are Sporting Dogs. At one time, Cocker Spaniels--yes, I am THAT old--were the first choice for American households--and frequently champions in the show ring. Other Sporting Breed fanciers ground their teeth as the Little Lord Fauntleroy of Sporting Dogs stood beside the 1 at Best of Group. But all over the country, Cocker lovers cheered.

I grew up in just such a household. Our red-blonde Penny was a city dog. But given outings "in the country", she was so "birdie", my father finally decided to take her hunting. She seemed to know that she was about to fulfill the destiny for which her breed was created, trembling and nosing the air as she and Dad drove through the crisp Autumn morning toward a friend's field where there were plenty of pheasant.

Dad opened the door for her and she was out in a flash! But he did not have time to get his gun out of the trunk before he heard a pathetic wail. Penny had plunged into a pit of sand burrs. Dad's hunting morning was spent removing sand burrs, one, by one, from Penny's silky Cocker coat.

I can't think of a better illustration of the juxtaposition of a dog's city upbringing and its in-bred instinct.

But some of Penny's instincts served her well in a city household. She may never have "frozen" in the hunting field, but she did "stay" at the dining room door while we were having family dinners. No nibbles of "game" for her until the family had eaten.

Cockers have long since fallen out of favor, in many ways, victims of their own popularity.

But another Sporting Dog, the Labrador Retriever, is now Number One Dog--America's most popular dog. And, sadly, many wonderful Labs are paying a steep price for their breed's well-deserved popularity.

Two years ago, my daughter and her family brought a rescued Lab, Georgia, to live with them. Georgia had just passed her first birthday. I fear her story is not unique.

Another family had bought Georgia as a puppy. She lived with them for about a year. Then, one day, she was dropped off at a local animal shelter where she sat alone in a cage for a month, acquiring behavioral and medical issues.

Why did Georgia lose her first home? Was she a Bad Dog? No. She was pretty much an average, normal Lab. She might have been intended as a hunting dog, but failed to perform up to expectations. Some people acquire Sporting Breeds and expect them to be expert gun dogs with little or no training. Some Sporting Dogs never do become accustomed to gunshot, regardless of training.

But Georgia's problem might have been even more elementary than that. Labs and other large Sporting Dogs have very long puppy-hoods. Well after they grow to adult size, their puppy behavior persists. High levels of chewing and high energy are to be expected. Labs are very food motivated, which, incidentally, makes them favorites of some dog trainers. It also makes them Counter Surfers. You forgot to put the birthday cake away? Sorry 'bout that!

Labs' popularity is well deserved because they are great dogs, if they receive the love and training they need during their extended puppy-hood. They'll jog with you. They love to swim--even in icy water. They're Happy Campers. They are the dogs who get along with everyone at Dog Beach or the neighborhood Off-Leash Park.

It's not uncommon to see them as a Companion Dog, assisting a child or adult with physical challenges.

Sporting Dogs have the potential to be loyal and obedient family pets. But as always, it is up to humans to help them achieve their potential. If you have the patience to see one of these dogs through puppy-hood, they will reward you every day of their life.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Know Your Dog: Working Group

At one time, dogs were placed in one of two categories: Sporting and Non-Sporting. But the increasing number of breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club and obvious differences in purposes for which breeds were developed and used led to creation of new categories. The newest category was created in 1983 when Herding Dogs were separated from Working Dogs for show purposes.

Those breeds retained in the Working Group tend to be large to very large and very strong. Rottweillers, Great Danes, Akitas, Saint Bernards, all belong to the Working Group, not to forget Newfoundlands, the various Mastiffs, and Great Pyrenees. (Hint: As far as I'm concerned, the "Great" in Great Pyrenees refers to the size of the dog, not the altitude of the mountain range.) Boxers and Samoyeds are among the lighter weight breeds in this group.

These dogs are designed to do the heavy-duty work that humans are unable or unwilling to do. Pull a sled for miles in sub-zero temperatures? Swim through changing tides and ice-flows to rescue shipwrecked sailors? Scale the Alps pulling wagons loaded with weapons for Roman Legions? Slog through twenty-foot snow drifts to deliver brandy in cute little mini-kegs to freezing travelers? No Problemo!

These are the dogs of daring-do.

They are also enshrined in children's literature from Nana to Clifford and Carl. Who can resist a massive canine who restrains a child from running into a busy street or restores a fallen blanky or teddy to a crying baby's crib?

But. Wait. One. Minute.

Their considerable dimensions and strength alone...make many working dogs unsuitable as pets for average families.

This is a quote from The American Kennel Club's description of Working Group Breeds.
These people know and love dogs. Many of them have spent their adult years breeding, showing, and loving Working Dogs. If you have a Working Breed or are thinking about acquiring a Working Breed, read the AKC's brief, but essential, introduction to this group.

Not one of the Dogs of My Life has been a Working Dog. But I have known a few memorable Working Dogs. Some are among the sweetest, most obedient dogs I have ever met. One--yes, I mean you, Onslow--is a lazy, super-sized lap dog who would drink the brandy and expect You to pull Him on a sled.

But two totally unsocialized Working Dogs initiated one of the most traumatic scenes of my life. Their brutal attack eventually resulted in the premature death of my beloved Good Soldier, Champers.

If you are willing and able to spend hours socializing your dog; if you are willing to objectively assess your dog's temperament and provide it with quantities of supervision, exercise, and, yes, "work" to make it a companion, not a menace--a Working Breed might be the dog for you.

If not, get a Shih Tzu. Join the millions of Toy Breed owners who like to tell everyone within earshot, "He thinks he's a Big Dog."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Defensive Dog Walking II

I mentioned that I try to start my dog walks between 5 and 5:30am. That's because the neighborhood is VERY quiet. People who think it's a good idea to let their dog loose "out front" for a quick pee before they close it up for the day are still sleeping and junk yard dogs are sleeping.

My husband takes the evening walks--usually after 8pm, when dog activity is winding down; a precaution, but not sufficient, as we found to our sorrow. The attack which injured John and Bingley and killed Portia occurred well after 8pm.

We slept in a bit this morning. It was 5:45 am when I fastened Bingley into his harness and clipped on his collar and harness leashes. It was a clear, lovely morning. The rooster that I usually hear thirty minutes earlier was still greeting the day. It was six weeks after Portia died before I got the courage to complete my old walking circuit, passing the place of the attack. I have now done that twice. Today I intended to.

Then, as I was coming down the hill where I turn into the street where the attack happened, I noticed a garage door opened, the light on. I paused, waiting to see if someone was backing out a car. No sound of a car motor, no car lights. That particular house is home to a large mixed breed dog who frequently barks from the confinement of his backyard as we pass. Once or twice, I've waited about a half block away while he is transferred, leashless, from house to car or car to house.

Decision time. I was well beyond the halfway point of the walk. I wanted to get home in good time because I had things to do before taking Bingley on his Big Weekly Treat, his Tuesday morning walk with Marilyn's pack: Franklin, Hattie, and Ruby.

I took my own advice, turned around and headed back up the hill, retracing my steps. Would there have been an Incident? I'll never know. But Bingley had his Big Treat. He's sleeping soundly on the love seat in front of the desk where I'm typing. I'm glad I didn't take a chance. The pleasant morning I've had beats any trip to even the best emergency vet's. Believe me. I know.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Know Your Dog: Terriers

Last I heard, the Terrier Group has won more Westminster Best in Show's than any other group. This is no surprise to me. Terriers are dogs with a spring in their step, confidence in their bearing--and that certain something--Attitude. Many terrier breeds blast the top off the Adorableness Scale. They inspire "aww", not awe. From my totally biased perspective, the "least terrier of terriers", the Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, is the most adorable of the adorables. With its long, soft, wavy blond coat, warm brown eyes, black nose and merry gait, it comes close to being the Platonic Ideal of Dog.

But I would not recommend a terrier to a first time dog owner. Not even my beloved Wheatens. The reason lies in the original purpose for which they were bred. There is no way to put this delicately. Terriers were bred to kill. (Ooops! Should I have put a Content Warning at the top of this post?) Not only were terriers originally bred to kill, they were bred to be Independent Contractors, not Partners, as are Sporting and Herding breeds. Given their own territory--yes, the Latin word for "earth" is the root for both "terrier" and "territory"--terriers as small as Yorkies and as large as Airedales roamed at will, searching out vermin "with extreme prejudice". Their territory might have been as small as tenant cottage or as large as a farm. Terriers were also used to control rat populations in mines. My beloved Wheatens "assisted" poachers. You don't need a gun when you've got a terrier.

Terriers are high energy. I observed one Jack Russell for more than a year before I saw him stationary. My Wheatens, Champers and Britches, could jump from sitting position to human eye level, their preferred way to welcome guests. My preferred way to see the rapid departure of door-to-door solicitors.

And dig. Terrier = of the earth. Enough said.

And hang on to whatever is in its mouth. I am sure there are terrier good citizens who obey the command "Drop it!" But if you are too weak or too cowardly to pry your terrier's jaws opened to guarantee that he "drops it", you shouldn't own that dog.

I am convinced that terriers are very bright. They DO understand your commands. They'll get back to you on the compliance part.

But for all their spirit and attitude, terriers need human companionship. I once overheard a conversation between two Airedale people discussing the lengths to which their Airedales went to get back into the house when they had been left alone outside.

I am not convinced of the wisdom of leaving any dog outside alone without access to indoors--preferably the house. But leaving a terrier outside is a Big Mistake. What they can't dig under, they can jump over. And given their independent spirit, it is essential that terriers be well socialized and learn to love and identify with their humans.

There are Dog People. And there are Terrier People. If you are not a Terrier Person, don't invite one into your life. You will both be miserable.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Defensive Dog Walking

Regardless of the size or breed or mix of your dog, there are potential hazards every time you leash it and take it for a walk. But most dogs really need and love walks--and walking a dog is good for a human, too.

Clearly, there are unforeseen events that cannot be avoided. But, there are some measures you can take to prevent preventable disasters.

First, look at your walking equipment. Check the fasteners. Do they actually close tightly? Do you see fraying on a collar, harness or leash? As my dogs have gotten larger, I have paid more attention to the quality of collars, harnesses and leashes. Bingley, The Survivor, has a custom made Martingale collar by Laurel Ehrenfreund. His leashes and harness are from Bingley needs both a collar and a harness because he was a successful racer and still thinks all furry critters need to be chased. Your large dog might be very laid back, but prepare for the unexpected. Long leashes should not be used for larger dogs. You shouldn't require a degree in physics to realize that the longer the leash, the greater the pull. I use a four foot leash on Greyhounds and shorten the leash if I see potential for concern.

Smaller dogs have, traditionally, been walked on longer leashes. But NO dog should be walked on a leash longer than six feet. EVER.

Observe and learn your dog's body language. Some dogs are obvious. If they are focusing on another dog, human or critter, their ruff will stand up and they will utter a guttural growl. But many dogs send much more subtle signals. My Wheaten, Champers' signal was a marvel of nuance. It took me several years to recognize it--just the slightest stiffening of posture. But once I recognized it, I took evasive action either by turning him around so he could not make eye contact with the other dog, or by crossing the street to put distance between him and the other dog.

If you are approaching another dog, watch for signs of arousal, particularly a "staring match" between your dog and another dog. Not. A. Good. Sign. This is not a time to worry about "sending anxious messages down the leash". This is the time to take action. Change directions. Cross the street. Tell your dog "NO!" in a firm voice. I promise you that taking the time to retrace your steps in order to avoid a confrontation will take far less time--and money-- than a emergency trip to the vet with a bleeding, traumatized dog.

If your dog shows signs of wanting to chase another dog or critter, lifting its back legs to remove its "motor" is the best intervention. But sometimes, all you have time for is to wrap a leash around its front legs or straddle the dog and hang on for dear life.

If you are walking a small dog and are approaching a large dog that you do not know for a fact is a long time friend of your dog, Pick Up Your Dog !

If you choose to allow your dog to "say hi" to another dog, face-to-face is not a dog friendly way to introduce them--not even dogs who know each other. If the other dog's human doesn't understand that fact, you might think twice about putting your dog into close proximity with the other dog. Someone who doesn't know that nose to rear is the best way for dogs to be introduced or to greet old canine friends can't be trusted to act promptly to defuse sudden hostility between dogs.

And don't tell me "My dog loves everybody." "They're old friends". Just this morning, Bingley walked with three "old friends". Old friend Hattie was having a Very Bad Day. Hattie's chronic illness had flared up, and Bingley got a growl from her instead of a sniff. But fortunately, I could trust Hattie's human to defuse Hattie while I distracted Bingley. And a happy walk was had by all.

If you are walking your dog on a retractable leash on a city or suburban street, or in a city or suburban park you are inviting Trouble. Trouble for your dog. Trouble for every dog you meet. Ultimately Trouble for You.

All of the above tips assume that your dog and the dogs you are meeting are leashed. Coping with unleashed dogs introduces a whole new level of risk. A later post will address this problem.

But obviously, I don't have all the answers to the problem of off leash dogs. If I did, Portia would still be alive, and I would not be writing this blog.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Danger to Self and Others

One bright morning a few weeks ago, L was walking her two Greyhounds on a public path, when, about twenty feet away, a woman was walking two dogs--neither on leash. One was a medium-sized mixed breed. the other was a... Bichon.

Other than being confronted by a loose Junk Yard Dog, I cannot imagine a more frightening prospect for someone with any one of a number of large dog breeds on leash than to see a small, unleashed dog nearby. I don't know what makes them do it, but, small dogs apparently have a need to confront larger dogs face-to-face, sometimes darting back and forth, just to be sure to get the larger dog in a lather.

L stopped, put her dogs on very short leash, and called out to the woman to please leash her dogs. While the mixed breed was obeying the woman's command and staying put to be leashed, the Bichon trotted up to L's two Greyhounds.

If this had been an old Disney movie, the Bichon would have given a play bow and the Greyhounds would have play bowed in return. But, in case you haven't noticed, life rarely imitates old Disney movies.

L's Greyhounds are not only the product of thousands of years of breeding designed to make them efficient machines in the pursuit of small creatures, L's Greyhounds also had been trained and rewarded from puppyhood for doing just that. They are retired racers from one of the tracks still operating in the United States and Tijuana. But thousands of years of breeding and training from puppyhood cannot be "retired".

L hung on to her dog's leashes for dear life, until she was pulled over, hitting her head on the hard ground resulting in lacerations and abrasions. The greyhounds snatched the Bichon, trading it back and forth, shaking it like a toy. As L struggled to her feet, dirty and bleeding, the Bichon's owner picked up the little dog and ran, shouting over her shoulder that she was sorry and hoped that L was ok.

In a sense, L is ok. An examination revealed that she was not concussed, as had been feared. Her scratches and lacerations are healed. But in another sense, she will never quite recover from the trauma of that day. L has always followed leash laws. But now, she walks her dogs with extreme vigilance, wondering what more she could have done to have spared the loose Bichon such injury.

The answer is, of course, it was not L's job to protect that poor little Bichon. It was its owner's job. I pray that the Bichon did not have to give its life for its owner's education.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Know Your Dog

Just because you like the appearance or personality of a particular dog does not mean that you will be able to tolerate each other. Every dog is an individual. If you bring a dog into your home who is not a very young puppy, it will already have established behaviors that may be irritating or destructive and require forbearance and patience on your part to correct. If your dog has had neglect--or heaven forbid, abuse--in its background, or spent time in a rescue or pound without much human interaction, you might see some irritating behaviors that are never totally extinguished.

There are also basic physical realities to each breed or mix. An English Bulldog is unlikely to become your jogging companion. A Dalmatian will probably not want to cuddle in your lap for hours of quiet reading or tv watching. Some dogs will never get very big. And some dogs will get very, very big indeed. I have heard from a reliable source that a major reason people get rid of their Irish Wolfhounds is that their Irish Wolfhound grew so big! Would you think less of me if I said that sometimes I'm tempted to think some people are too dumb to breathe?

One important thing to consider when choosing a dog is which of the seven groups it belongs to: Sporting, Hound, Working, Terrier, Toy, Non-Sporting, or Herding. But even this is not always helpful. English Bulldogs and Dalmatians both belong to the Non Sporting Group. Therein lies the greatest point of similarity between the two breeds.

On the other hand, dogs within the Sporting Group are more likely to have some commonalities: soft mouths, willingness to return thrown objects, physical endurance, relative toleration for inclement weather. It's no wonder that many family pets come from this group. My first dog, Lucky Penny--Penny to her friends--was a Cocker Spaniel, a member of the Sporting Group.

The Herding Group is another group whose member breeds have some predictable commonalities. The tendency to run circles around groups of people, or other dogs and animals is one. What a surprise! The most frequently mentioned candidates for Smartest Breed are from the Herding Group. That is because for generation upon generation, dogs who recognize and reliably obey subtle vocal or hand signals from their handlers are selected for breeding. Voila! Well bred herding dogs obey voice and hand signals more reliably than say--terriers, or sight hounds.

With this, dear reader, I shall pause and return to this subject later. Any time I discuss terriers and sight hounds, I am flooded with bitter-sweet memories, because two of the Dogs of My Life were terriers. Three, including The Survivor who is sleeping in the next room, were sight hounds. And one, the unforgettable Daphne, was a terrier-sight hound mix. Not an obedience champ in the group. But I wouldn't have wanted to miss a one of them.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Junk Yard Dog

Junk Yard Dog is a shorthand phrase that I use to describe a type of dog that is becoming more and more prevalent--at least in San Diego County. Herewith I will examine the phenomenon of the Junk Yard Dog and its sub-categories.

I'm guessing that one type of Junk Yard Dog has been around since earliest times in areas where law enforcement is uncertain--either because of isolation or pervasive crime. By definition, ordinary citizens cannot look to law enforcement for protection from these unfortunate creatures.

However, another type of Junk Yard Dog is now a part of both city and suburban life, one that is introduced into a community that expects and usually receives the protection of law enforcement. I first saw the beginnings of this about fifteen or twenty years ago. This is what I have seen in my quiet suburban neighborhood. A new family moves in. It is their first house. Everyone greets them and admires the work they do on their landscaping etc. Shortly thereafter, they acquire a puppy--sometimes from a newspaper ad, sometimes from a rescue organization.

Those of us with dogs stop by and admire the new puppy. Some people invite the new puppy over for play dates. Some people suggest dog training classes. The new owners smile and ignore these overtures. The puppy grows. A sign is posted on a gate or fence. Beware of Dog or Guard Dog. The owners of this now adult sized, completely unsocialized puppy/dog consider the sign to be sufficient protection against further liability. Some owners don't even bother with a sign.

Before long, dog walkers and parents with young children in strollers learn to cross the street before passing the house where this dog lives, hurrying by and praying that the gate is closed and the dog has created no hole in the fence.

What I have described is the most benign scenario. Sometimes the new family doesn't bother to socialize with neighbors, just moves in with their neglected, unsocialized dog, and ignores any attempts at neighborly contact.

Sometimes Junk Yard Dogs are restrained with heavy chains which restrict their ability to find shade or shelter from inclement weather. Sometimes they are given the run of the house and yard. One particularly unnerving Junk Yard Dog on the end of my block was "confined" by a shaky wooden fence against which he threw his weight as he barked and growled. As the terrified walker turned the corner in front of this dog's house, the dog would run into the house and throw himself against the front window, barking and growling.

To avoid this, I learned to walk my dogs--now I have just one--between 5 and 5:30am, while this "guard dog"and others like him are evidently resting from their labors.

I am informed that his family has recently moved. Who says that there is no upside to the bursting of the real estate bubble?

With the departure of this JYD, and the euthanizing of the JYD who attacked my husband, Bingley, killed Portia, and three years earlier had attacked my wonderful greyhound, Zephyr, we are left with a mere two JYD's on our block.

But. A new family has just moved in. They have recently acquired their first TWO dogs. One is a tiny Toy Poodle. The second is.....a Mastiff-mix puppy. I don't believe that they intend either of these dogs to be a threat to their neighbors. However, both parents work. The dogs spend long hours moving from garage to back yard in the summer heat. AND, since one dog is "so little" and one dog is "just a puppy", they see no harm in letting these dogs loose while they putter in the front yard.

We are still at the "friendly intervention" stage. One concerned neighbor has convinced them that puppies should not be left alone all night in the garage to bark and whine. We are working on the idea that dogs should not be let loose while owners do gardening. Will a four pound toy poodle survive until its owners learn to confine it? Will the Mastiff mix puppy be sufficiently socialized to be a good neighbor? Stay tuned. If not, the Mastiff mix will probably become one of a third variety of JYD. The JYD by default.

Junk Yard Dogs, either the "guard dog" or default variety, in otherwise law abiding neighborhoods, present unique challenges to law enforcement. Gang members aren't strutting the streets accompanied by obviously vicious dogs. But our streets are not safe for other dogs, people, or, especially, children.

The topic of Junk Yard Dogs is related to the July 11 post about a dog attack in Vista. It is the classic scenario of a JYD attack. And the dog in question was a pit bull, the current epitome of a JYD. As things are now, not every pit bull is a JYD. Not every JYD is a pit bull. The dog who killed Portia was not a pit bull. But he was definitely a JYD. There are courageous people dedicated to turning pit bulls into loving pets and good citizens. However, there are, apparently, many more people just as determined to boltster their shaky egos, intimidating others, by arming themselves with unsocialized pit bulls, whose physical characteristics make them ideal for such purposes.

Junk Yard Dogs are an important part of the current situation making dog walking difficult and risky in San Diego County. But they are not the only part of the problem. Another part of the problem is the dog owner who has probably taken his dog to obedience training and believes that "my dog will always obey me", or "my dog loves everybody". These dog owners are as at risk of loose JYD's as are law abiding dog walkers. And, their dogs, given the precise circumstances, could cause death or injury--in less than 30 seconds.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dog Attack

In Vista, San Diego County, around 7 pm, July 5, 2009, Kathi and Don were walking their three greyhounds. A few doors from their home, they heard a noise from behind them. A male pit bull, broken chain around its neck, charged straight for their female, Chantal, and started biting her neck. Neighbors came to the scene with a large stick, which Don applied to the attacking dog to no avail. In order to subdue him, Don had to drop his entire body over the pit bull and pin the dog against a fence.

Kathi ran home with her dogs, called 911, and took Chantal to an emergency veterinarian. Chantal’s wounds were closed with many stitches and a drain was necessary in one particularly deep laceration.

County Animal Control and Sheriff’s Deputies eventually found the loose pit bull, followed him to his home, and gave his owner a warning and advice on how to better secure his dog.

Court hearings are pending.

An entire neighborhood now walks in fear. Chantal’s wounds are healing, but she is understandably nervous on her walks. And Kathi and Don—indeed, all their neighbors—arm themselves with mace, pepper spray, and sharp sticks when they walk their dogs.

Monday, August 10, 2009


Six months after we were married, my cousin gave John and me a black toy poodle puppy. The puppy's mother was named Dolly. So, naturally, we named our puppy, Mame.

Eventually, we had two children: a daughter and two years later a son. Having been born into a doggy family, they took all dogs as friends.

One bright spring morning when Daughter was four years old, she begged to take Mame for a walk. John and I were pleased that she was picking up on an important family ritual. So, out she set: Mame on leash and two year old brother walking along beside her, under John's watchful eye. Our next door neighbor, doing a little gardening in his front yard, smiled as the adorable trio passed his house.

No one noticed when the woman who lived across the street from us parked her car in front of her house. She opened the back car door, letting out two dogs--herding dog mixes--to let them run up to her front door.

But they had seen Mame.

By this time, our little trio was two or three houses up the block. John took out at a run as soon as he saw the dogs streak in their direction. It didn't take 30 seconds for him to arrive and remove a limp, bleeding Mame from one of the dog's mouth.

Thirty-five years later, my hands are sweaty as I contemplate the full horror that might have befallen my beloved children that day.

John rushed Mame to Doc Weaver as I sought to comfort my terrorized children, all the while being overcome with guilt for placing them in such jeopardy.

Mame was in surgery for hours. She stopped breathing. She responded to resuscitation. A few days later we brought her home. She had an incision from her throat to her pelvis, another three quarters around her small body. There were stitches at her throat and on the back of her neck.

Kindly Dr. Weaver refrained from scolding us for the risk we had taken with our children. But he did caution us from taking Mame on walks. "There are too many loose dogs, and she is just too small." We took his advice.

Mame lived to be more than sixteen. Every time we took her to the vet's, Doctor Weaver's receptionist said, "That dog is a miracle." She was. But Mame's survival was not the most important miracle of that terrible day. The more important miracle was that our children were not bitten--or worse.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Danger to Self

For sixteen years, our family dogs were Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers: Champers and Britches, to be specific. They were usually walked several times a day.

One morning as I stopped to wait for a light to change so I could cross a street, I heard a choked sound coming from near my feet. I looked down to discover that Champers had a creature in his mouth. I could see four little, furry legs moving frantically and a little head twisting and turning for air.

I bent down and pried Champers' jaws opened, and out popped a Yorkshire Terrier that I had seen being walked on leash many mornings. No sooner had I sprung the Yorkie from Champers' mouth, than Britches snapped him up. As I pried her jaws opened, a young man, the adult son of the Yorkie's owners, strolled up, leash in hand.

"Gosh!", he said. "Hope he's not hurt," and watched as the Yorkie scampered quickly away from my dogs.

I suggested he have his dog examined by a vet asap. Because the Yorkie was moving, the man didn't think that would be necessary.

I did inquire, why, since he had a leash, it was not attached to his little dog.

It had been, he told me. But when the Yorkie had spied my Wheatens almost a block ahead, it had pulled and pulled. "He wanted to come up and say 'hello' to your dogs."

I was speechless.

Champers was more than ten times the poundage of the Yorkie. Britches was about six times the Yorkie's weight. Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers are known to be among the most congenial, easy-going of terriers. But they are terriers. And they have been guarding houses and farms in Ireland for hundreds of years. Next time you see a Wheaten, look at its jaw. This is a serious dog.

I walked home in shock, knowing that Champers, Britches and I had had a narrow escape. My sweet, funny dogs had come very close to causing serious injury or death to another dog. Because Yorkies like to challenge bigger dogs. Because Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers were bred to keep Irish farms clean of vermin. Because one irresponsible adult had set up our dogs for tragedy.

Twas ever thus.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Just in time for the early days of this blog, sheriff's deputies have fined numerous dog owners in nearby Encinitas for running their dogs off leash during on leash hours in parks of mixed use. The mayor of Encinitas apparently believes that sheriff's deputies have more serious matters to attend to.

I wonder if the good mayor has ever heard of the "Broken Windows" theory of law enforcement.

I have emailed Mayor Houlihan expressing my support for the deputies' action.

This incident highlights an unfortunate, and, from my experience, growing antagonism between on leash and off leash dog walkers. There are communities that are entirely off leash. I do not take my dogs into such communities. Vacation and resort areas frequently are totally off leash. That's the way things are and if I have a dog that cannot safely roam loose--as my sight hounds certainly cannot--I should not take them into such areas.

However. In cities and residential areas, on leash dogs should be protected from unrestrained dogs.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Dog Attack

In many ways this is a typical account of a dog attack.

A few days after Portia died, I was in my local knit shop for a little nerve and yarn knitting. They were having a sale. A customer came in and bought a bunch of yarn. As she was checking out, she announced that she really shouldn't be spending any money on yarn. She had a $600.00 veterinary bill to pay because her dog had attacked and injured another dog. She was a nice, responsible person and was clear about her financial obligation in the matter.

This is what had happened. It was a very hot day, and as she was preparing dinner, she opened both the front and back doors to her house to get a breeze going. Her dog was lying quietly on the floor, apparently sleeping.

Then, someone passed in front of her house, walking a dog on leash. In a flash, her dog changed from sleepy, relaxed pooch to vicious attacker. "It took less than 30 seconds."

Funny. I knew she would say that. Every time I have witnessed a dog attack, that is exactly what I have said. "It took less than 30 seconds."

Portia's fate was sealed in less than 30 seconds.


I have turned on comments. Do remember that this is not a forum in which to argue about the merits of leashes and restraints for dogs. This is a place to report attacks that are caused by unrestrained dogs. I plan to keep a record of all such reports. If you wish to report in comments, please, also email me with a complete account, including date, time of day, location and other relevant facts. If the situation is to be ameliorated, it is important to understand the extent of the problem. Although my focus is San Diego County, I will record attack reports from any jurisdiction in the United States. I have heard that other communities are also becoming unsafe for dog walkers.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Point of View, Biases, etc.

I'm guessing that this will sound a little extreme to some readers, but it is my belief that any dog off leash outside its house, a fenced yard, a designated off leash park or otherwise confined, is a potential menace to other dogs, humans, and, particularly itself.

I also believe that retractable leashes are inherently inadequate for keeping a dog and its walker safe.

On the other hand, I have no grievance against any particular breed of dog. Nor do I have any grievance against any size of dog. People, by their ignorance, laziness, negligence and pride create the situations leading to the pain, expense, and death caused by dog attacks.

Anyone who has a long history of dog ownership has done stupid things in relationship to a dog. Letting small children walk a dog. I've done that. Eating a meal with a food aggressive dog and another dog sitting near the table. I've done that. Failing to adequately check for escape holes in the perimeter of a new yard. I've done that. But I've also learned from those mistakes.

I hope that reading this blog will make people think and modify their behavior, sparing themselves and their canine friends misery.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Welcome to Friends of Portia. The purpose of this blog is to make San Diego County a safer place to walk dogs on leash. It is dedicated to the memory of Portia, a beautiful four year old greyhound who was walking with her doggie companion, Bingley with John, my husband, when she was viciously attacked by a dog that was negligently let loose while his owner rolled a trash can to the curb. In spite of state of the art veterinary care, she died a week after the attack.