[Trigger warning: There are pictures of the injuries after the jump, including some shots from the ER. If you got here from Facebook, the expanded content may appear by default. Proceed with caution if you would rather not see that kind of carnage.]
Well. Writing is how I process things, and I would be lying if I said this wasn’t keeping me awake at night. (Graham, too.) It’s not every day you watch a dog try to rip your family apart.
On December 26, Graham, his dad, and I took the dogs and Grayson for our usual morning walk. The dogs were leashed, as always, and I had Grayson in the stroller. The morning walk is the long walk for us, and the route doesn’t vary. Graham’s mom was back at our place, getting ready for that day’s family gathering at 2:30.
Between 8:30 and 8:45, we were about to cross Brookdale Ave., the last side street on the route before turning down our own street. On the south side of Brookdale (3100 block), I saw a guy yelling at two dogs the way a lot of people in Oakland yell at dogs. (Oakland has a huge problem with people who get dogs for protection and then neglect or badly mistreat them.) The dogs looked like pit bulls from where I stood…also not uncommon around here. One was completely unrestrained, and one was on a rope “leash.” Neither dog, we would learn, had a collar or tags.
After we crossed Brookdale, the unrestrained pit charged from half a block down and went for Rodney. Graham’s parents’ mini schauzer, Maggie, was slightly ahead, and Graham’s dad was able to pick her up. I was a few steps ahead with Grayson, and the stroller was pointed away from the scene. The owner (who claimed he was not the owner) ran after his unrestrained dog…or was dragged by the one he had on a rope. Couldn’t tell you which, honestly.
I can honestly tell you that I might recognize the dogs in a lineup, but couldn’t tell you anything about the dude who was with them. Male, for sure, but white? Hispanic? Not even sure.
Before the owner reached us, the unrestrained dog was going for Rodney’s throat. Our dog is alive today because Graham’s left index finger was between the attacking dog’s jaw and Rodney’s windpipe. Rodney’s wounds speak to the determination of that pit — he had deep punctures in both shoulders, some in the face, one on the top of his head, and numerous lacerations under his legs and about the face.
Graham still has a left index finger because the pit didn’t manage a “death shake,” a term that’s a lot funnier when you’re describing what a terrier does to a toy. But it was close quarters. Graham’s dad also sustained a bite on the back of his left hand trying to pull the dog off while also holding Maggie out of the way. I got hands on the scruff of the attacking dog a couple of times, but was trying to stay between the dogs and the stroller. The rope-leashed dog was agitated, but didn’t get into the fight. The presumed owner of the two dogs (because I do not believe they weren’t his) was utterly useless.
I could be generous and say he was trying to keep the other dog out of the fight, or I could point out that he thought kicking the dog with its teeth sunk into my partner and our beloved pet was an effective tactic (it was not). Both are true.
It felt like it went on forever, but the attack lasted somewhere around 48-60 seconds. Graham figured that out by counting how many obscenities I screamed at the dogs’ owner and estimating about 4-5 seconds between them. It sounds like a joke, but it’s true, and I’m still dealing with the realization that I completely lost my shit. My voice got even shriller when Graham said, “He’s got my finger.”
We don’t know what finally made the dog let go. By the time he did, I didn’t know whose blood was whose, but it was dripping on the sidewalk and looked pretty bad. Graham was already in shock and had a hard time standing up. A neighbor we often see and say good morning to (but don’t really know), appeared to silently hand us some paper towels, then faded back. The dogs’ owner took the dogs, crossed the street, and headed north on Brookdale, never to be seen again.
There were two other witnesses — they came from the other side of Brookdale, but at least one of them was hella stoned, and the other was on his phone. The hella stoned guy walked with us up to our street — he lives down here somewhere and I’ve seen him before. He was all “You should get that guy’s contact info. You should call the police.”
And he was partially right. I made a split-second decision on the street, one I’ll probably continue to question for a long time, even though, intellectually, I know I’d probably do the same thing all over again. I wanted the guy to get in trouble. I wanted the dogs taken away (even though I know what that means). But what I wanted most was to get everyone wrapped up and over to the vet and the ER, respectively, and I was the only driver left uninjured. So I let the asshole with the out-of-control pit bulls get away and headed back to the house. I took Maggie’s leash, Graham’s dad carried Rodney, and Graham stumbled along as best he could.
Point of order: This dog attacked a smaller dog and also bit a blind man carrying a white cane and a senior citizen. Imagine if Rodney were a service dog…?
Once home, I got the humans cleaned up and wrapped up as well as I could. I called the vet and freaked the receptionist out; Rodney is a favorite over there, what with his temperament and the frequent fructosamine/glucose checks. I took Rodney first because it was fastest and because I didn’t think I could patch him up.
Also? Graham had just put himself between Rodney and a pit bull. I didn’t ask, but I knew he wouldn’t go to the ER before Rodney was safe at Oakland Vet Clinic, anyway.
Dr. Dorsey was on duty and they took him right in. She said they’d clean him up and take care of the wounds, feed him, and do his insulin shot, and that I could call for an update as soon as we had the humans settled at the ER.
“Which ER would you recommend?” I asked.
“The closest one?” she responded.
Fair point well made.
I went back to the house and got a few things ready for Graham’s mom to watch Grayson whole we were gone. (He’s still a smoothie-a-holic — feeding him is a pain in the butt sometimes.) We also had her call the family to cancel the gathering that afternoon. We went to Alta Bates and were in triage by about 10am.
Pro tip: The ER is mandated to report dog attacks to Animal Services. This does not mean that the report will reach Animal Services, exist in their files, or prompt any action from that agency.
Additional pro tip: California is a “No free bite” state. Animals with even just one bite report are put down…if they can be found.
Triage was fun. The nurse’s name was Graham. While he got on my Graham’s case about still not having a primary care doctor (he does now), I called the vet and found out we could pick Rodney up anytime, especially if he might eat better at home. He still hadn’t eaten breakfast, and no food means no insulin. On the flipside of that, hey, at least he was already at the vet if his sugar went out of whack. But they’d patched him up, given him an antibiotic and two pain meds, and tested his levels — he was clear to go home.
Which was a huge fucking relief.
The triage nurse convinced us that no one was going to need emergency surgery, and the dog was okay, relatively speaking, so we decided to call Boxing Day back on. Because we’re idiots, maybe, but also, and mostly, because Graham’s family doesn’t get together much — Boxing Day has become the one day we can all count on and plan around. So we called one aunt and put her in charge of calling the other aunt. (It’s a small family.) We just put it off until 4.
After triage, we waited another hour or so to get into Urgent Care for treatment. There, they cleaned everything out, administered tetanus shots, hooked Graham up to an IV with antibiotics and then a painkiller, and x-rayed Graham’s hand to see if there was a break under the swelling (there wasn’t). Eventually, they sent father and son away with prescriptions and bandages.
No stitches. They leave dog bites open to decrease the risk of infection.
(FWIW, it’s apparently very unlikely to get rabies from a dog in this town. They run periodic tests, and it’s Oakland bats you have to worry about, not Oakland dogs. I know this because the only Urgent Care doctor on duty took the time to go google the stats or something while Graham was bleeding onto an absorbent lap blanket. Weird.)
While they were waiting for the x-ray, I went home for a bit after getting them some food (they hadn’t had breakfast and needed to eat before taking antibiotics). I confess that I went home to make sure Grayson had a nap. His nana could manage lunch and playing, etc., but he protests naptime, which includes the pre-nap diaper change — dude can go all WWE on the changing table. Our son is really strong, and his nana is 75. Indeed, she’d tried to put him down and he wasn’t having it, so…
I got the baby down, got a few things set up for hosting Boxing Day (seriously, almost everything was already staged), and sent Nana off to nap with the baby monitor. I picked up the guys, dropped off the prescriptions, picked up the dog, and got everyone home. And then I disappeared to roast meat or get the table leaves or cut up some cheese or whatever. Family came. Food was eaten. Presents were opened. And then prescriptions were retrieved and everyone passed out. I think.
The following week, Graham rested and took meds and I took full-time baby duty and wound care. I can say that the house didn’t fall in and the garbage got put out, but it’s nearly February and we have not de-Christmased. But Grayson and I had a lovely time hitting up some local parks each afternoon and playing with all of his Christmas presents.
Rodney felt like his old self the very next day and tried to chase a squirrel in the backyard when he went out to pee. This is likely because I misread the directions on his anti-inflammatory/pain med and he got a double dose every day until it ran out. We kept old t-shirts wrapped around him, and we coned him to discourage head scratching and feet licking. He had no walks for a week, then had short ones. We managed our first morning walk on the usual route two weeks later.
Graham’s hand hurt. A lot. Like, here’s-your-prescription-for-narcotics a lot. But we could see the swelling going down slowly, and his mobility improved every day, so we were hopeful, even though the wounds were gross to look at. Seriously, I’m good at first aid and not afraid of blood, but I’d never treated dog bites before. We followed all of the discharge instructions, including getting in to see a hand specialist the week after the attack.
Just making that appointment took an hour. Literally. Stupid holidays. But we’ve been happy with Dr. Josh Richards at Webster Orthopedic. He and the scheduling staff really went out of their way to get us on the calendar as soon as possible. His exam showed no obvious lasting damage — the tendons and nerves had been scraped, maybe, and that hurt, but nothing was severed. Surgery was unlikely. He gave Graham a exercise to stretch out the tendons as they heal, said, “It’ll hurt and you’ll hate me, but it’s the most important thing you can do,” and sent us home.
He also cleared Graham for diaper duty, which was awesome, and said the finger would be sore and annoying for 3 to 6 months, but that Graham could probably get back to rowing in a few weeks.
The second time we saw Dr. Richards, he was really pleased. The mobility improvement was excellent — there’s no better patient in the world when it comes to following orders about stretching exercises. He gave Graham another stretch to do and gave us the option of coming back in two weeks, but said we could cancel that appointment if progress continued. He also confirmed that there was no “too much” with the stretching and regular use — pain was okay as long as it didn’t increase.
So, yay! Everybody’s okay!
As for the attacking dog and his owner, we’re keeping our expectations low. We never got the call we were told to expect from Animal Services. I tried calling them and leaving a message, but nothing came of that. I called OPD’s non-emergency line to follow up, and they put it (back?) on the screen for Animal Services to follow up. Since then, I’ve gotten a call from AS, during which I had to retell the whole thing yet again — they had no report from the hospital and no notes from my OPD call. I offered to send the injury pics, and they asked me to fax them (to the 1990s). Graham’s gotten a voicemail from them.
That’s it, though, and this is why I keep second-guessing the decision to let the guy go and just go to the hospital. We have no info. I’ve driven around looking for the dogs since, but I haven’t found them. I did call the daycare on the south side of the 3000 block of Brookdale, though. Every day, parents park at that corner to drop their kids off, and this dog attacked a group with a toddler in a stroller.
Grayson was facing away and, as far as we know, didn’t see anything. Still, there’s a solid chance that hearing me screaming on the street shocked him a bit; he was fine that day, but clingy for some time afterward. Then again, the thing about toddlers is that there’s 106 reasons they could be clingy on any given day, and at least three of those were in effect for most of the weeks following the attack. So…no way to know.
He has been very careful, for the most part, with Daddy and Rodney, and he knows they have booboos (“Ow,” he says solemnly). One afternoon last week, he came across the plastic bin we’d been using to soak Graham’s hand. He took it into the bathroom, put it in the sink and said “wa-wa,” then brought me the peroxide bottle that he found on the sink.
Kids, man. They don’t miss a trick.
It took us both several weeks to be able to sleep at all well again without reliving the attack when our eyes closed. After 10 days, we took Rodney back to get his two stitches out. As we sat in the vet’s waiting room, a couple brought in a HUGE German Shepherd (or related breed) — leashed, but barely under the control of the owners.
I got twitchy. I picked up the baby and asked if we could wait on the other side of the door, by the cashier. I needed a barrier between my family and a dog that I didn’t know, one that was clearly antsy and could get away from his keeper.
This…is unlike me. There’s a reason we avoided naming the breed of the attacking dog for a while — I’m not fond of breed-haters, and I’ve always loved big dogs. I have an especially soft spot for Rottweilers — the bigger, the better. (Ours was 175 lbs. and goofy as hell. My brother’s was slightly smaller, but considered himself a lap dog.) And I have friends who are responsible owners of pits and other “aggressive” breeds, and their dogs are amazing.
And here’s the thing: I’m still not mad at the dog. Years and years ago, that might have been my reaction, and I wondered if I might, eventually, blame the dog despite knowing better. But no. The blame lies squarely with the owner…and maybe a little bit with OPD, which tells worried citizens that their best defense against burglary is a big, scary dog. (It’s not.)
But I am…twitchy. I pick Grayson up around unleashed dogs of any size right now, or at least steer him in the other direction, even when they’re playing fetch in the park, even though I know a dog whose owner takes him to play fetch in the park is not the one likely to harm my family. Nothing I know about dogs and people has changed, but I remain twitchy.
Being twitchy around less stable dogs is not a safe position to assume. It’s also not fun.
I’m sorry, dogs of Oakland. I can’t trust you right now. I don’t know how long it will take to deal with this fear, but I’ll work on it. It’s not your fault. It’s entirely the fault of negligent jackass owners who don’t deserve you, but it’s going to come out at you. Forgive me, puppies. I’m going to need a little time.
Pictures below. Rodney’s pics are from after he was cleaned up and only show the topside injuries. Graham’s are from the ER. :::