Saturday, April 16, 2011

Supervised Visitation

We have a dog.  His name is Achilles and he is a nine-year-old Siberian Husky.  He is beautiful, cuddly, and full of character.  A few years ago he was selected as Rachael Ray's pet of the month and was featured on her website for several weeks.  He is very loved and well cared for.  We have had him since he was six weeks old.  He has never been abused, neglected, or treated poorly in any way.  He used to occupy a cozy bed in our room and a prime spot on our Christmas cards.  He lives with my parents now because last September, while my husband was away on business, he bit my beautiful baby on the face. 

Sorry, didn't mean to shock you.

So here's the situation:  My son loves Achilles.  Always  has.  As a matter of fact, he can't leave him alone.  As soon as he was able to walk, he was after that dog.  He loved to "pat" Achilles, get right in his face, try to ride him, you name it.  I always joked that it was a good thing Achilles was such a good dog.  The only time I had ever seen him show any aggression was years ago, when I was approached by a shady looking man at Riverside Park in my hometown.  My sweet puppy bared his teeth, growled, and suddenly looked like his close cousin the wolf.  Shady man quickly departed and Achilles got a pat on the head and an extra treat. 

Anyway, so back to baby boy.  My husband had been away on business for about a week and a half.  Achilles always did tend to get nervous when the "alpha dog" was gone, often not eating well and patrolling the house.  To make matters worse, my son often liked to pull his tail, touch his feet, and generally do little things that Achilles probably did not like.  I should have known.  I should have known.  It's easy to say that now.  So, the three of us (my daughter, son, and myself) were playing in my daughter's room.  My son toddled off toward our bedroom.  We have a glass door to the outside in there and he liked to look out the window.  So, after a few seconds I slowly got up to follow him.  Suddenly, I heard growling and barking.  In the nano-second it took to get there, I found my son curled up on his back near the dog's bed and Achilles over him making noise.  To this day I don't really know if he was still growling or whining or what.  In a fog, I grabbed his collar and put him outside.  I picked up my son and realized that he had several pure white scratches covering the right side of his face.  I think by this point I was muttering "Oh my God!"  My daughter was yelling "What did Achilles do to Brother?" and at some point, she peed her pants.  I took my son to the changing table, examined hus face, called the doctor, and told my daughter to put her shoes on so that we could take a trip to the doctor.  At some point, I came to my senses, ran to the neighbors with my now screaming and bleeding baby, and told them what had happened.  They took over from there.  The husband got my son and myself into our car while the wife stayed with my daughter.
You get priority service when you run into the ER with a baby who has bitten by a dog.  Somehow, they knew we were coming.  I still don't know, maybe my neighbor called, maybe I did.  The next two hours were terrifying and painful, from watching them seal up my hysterical baby's wounds, to trying to explain what had happened to various people, including my frightened, angry, and confused husband who must have felt so awful being so far away during this madness.
My mom arrived by dawn the next morning.  My husband cut his trip early and came home two days later, with the instructions that "that dog" better be long gone by the time he got home.  My sweet husband had turned into full "protect the family from rabid beast" mode.  I think we would all have been less frightened, betrayed, and angry if it had been a strange dog, but the fact that my son was assaulted by our beloved pet is something we are still all dealing with.  For days I kept waiting for DHS or animal control or someone to knock on my door, with their forms and their judgement.  I went from wanting the dog put down, to worrying that someone would come and tell me that he had to be put down. 

My son is fine now.  He still has some small scars which people tell me are not so noticable, but I see them every time I look at him.  He still loves Achilles.  I don't think either of them has any memory of the incident.  I assume what happened is my son startled him while he was sleeping.  He was likely frightened and cornered and reacted instinctly.  I don't think he is a bad dog or that he meant to hurt my son.  The wounds were fairly surface deep and not nearly as bad as it could have been.  That being said, I will likely never fully trust him again and if (IF) he ever does come back to live with us full-time, he will probably be much more of an outside dog.  For now, we are trying a "supervised visit" while my parents are staying with us for the weekend.  I like having him back but I can tell that things will never be the same with us.

Oh my goodness, I'm sorry for rambling for so long.  As you can likely tell, it is still a very raw issue for me.  My chest if pumping and my hands are shaking just typing this "book."  I don't intend to make people frightened of their dogs but I do want it stressed that any dog is still at heart an animal, acting on instict and likely to react aggresively if frightened, hurt, or cornered.  I of course had heard to never leave a child alone with a dog and I basically followed that rule but I also had let myself get to complacent with my own beloved pet.  I will always feel guilty about that.  I will raise my children to love and respect dogs.  I will also never again leave a small child along in a dog's presence, any dog, even for one second.  It's hard as parents sometimes to walk the tightrope between being vigilent and protective, and giving your children the freedom to explore and grow on their own.  Sorry, I know this is a little heavy for a sunny Saturday!    

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