By Linda Wallace

Author's thoughts on the Pacific Northwest and beyond.

Monday, February 12, 2007


This morning, upon seeing a German shepherd running loose about a block away from me, I reversed the direction of my walk to avoid a confrontation and chose a street I wouldn’t have ordinarily taken. That may seem overly cautious—after all, the shepherd might have been a friendly pooch—but I was recently bitten by a Chihuahua.

Don’t laugh; it hurt! Chihuahuas have amazingly strong jaws and sharp teeth for such little guys. To add insult to injury, the owner was standing right there in her yard, telling me Cocoa would never hurt anyone. On a different walk, an owner said, "He doesn’t bite," right when the dog (this was a big one) latched onto my arm, but that time the teeth didn’t go through my jacket sleeve. Cocoa’s teeth pierced my pants leg, breaking the skin and making a baseball-sized purple bruise.

My husband has always told me it’s the little yappy dogs you have to watch out for. Ankle nippers, he calls them. I should have listened. Instead, I was lulled by Cocoa’s diminutive size into thinking he was harmless. Usually when I’m intimidated by a barking dog, I follow the advice I read in a magazine once: stand still, don’t make eye contact or any sudden moves and say, "Good boy, good boy," in a high-pitched voice. That’s worked in the past. I didn’t use my technique on the big dog that grabbed my arm because I though his owner would control him. Silly me.

Apparently, dog bites occur all too frequently according to Dog Bite Law.

"There is a dog bite epidemic in the United States. There are almost 5 million victims annually -- about 2% of the entire population. 800,000 need medical attention. 1,000 per day need treatment in hospital emergency rooms. Between 15 and 20 die per year. Most of the victims who receive medical attention are children, half of whom are bitten in the face. Dog bite losses exceed $1 billion per year, with over $300 million paid by insurance." Sponsored by Kenneth M. Phillips. Accessed on 2/12/2007.

I didn’t actually need medical attention after my bite, but I did call the Group Health 24/7 consulting-nurse line when I got home and discovered my ankle was bleeding. I had visions of rabies even though my husband said there are very few cases these days. Still, no matter how minute the statistics, I didn’t want to be one of them. The nurse asked if my tetanus shot was up-to-date (it was), told me to wash the wound with soap and water (I knew that from my Boy Scout leadership days) and said to check to see if the dog had been vaccinated.

Now here’s the ugly part. I walked back to Cocoa’s house and knocked on the door. Nobody answered. Now I’m mad. The incident had only occurred a few minutes ago; I thought the owner had to still be at home. Bang, bang, bang. I pound on the door. Cocoa jumps up in the window to bark at me. After a long siege on the door I finally give up and leave my business card stuck in the door frame with instructions written on the back of the card to call me immediately.

A half hour or so later I get the call, not from the woman I’d seen in the yard but from her husband. Yes, they had left home immediately after the bite. They were at a meeting, but their child had called them, hysterical and distraught thinking Cocoa would be taken away, to give them my message and phone number. Now I feel really, really terrible. I had terrorized the poor child. Never, ever would I do that intentionally.

The father did not castigate me for abusing his child but apologized profusely for letting their unleashed pet run out into the street and reassured me that Cocoa’s rabies vaccination was current. He offered to give me a copy of the vaccination record and promised to observe Cocoa for any signs of rabies.

The puncture wound healed and the bruise faded in a few weeks, but I still feel bad about frightening the child. In fact, I avoid walking on the street where Cocoa and his family live. That’s partly because I don’t want the family to see me and partly because I don’t want Cocoa to bite me again.

Still, none of this would have happened if Cocoa had been on a leash, so I’m sending out a plea to all dog owners: Please keep your pet fenced, leashed or in the house—for its sake and mine.

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