Daze of My Life: The Dog'on Truth

Daze of My Life
The Dog'on Truth

It's always been my worst nightmare, as a dog owner, to receive an unexpected knock on my front door from the parent of a child who my dog has just bitten. It happened once with my first dog, Gus (a German Shepherd/St. Bernard mix); it didn't happen with my second dog, Brandy (a golden), but it has happened again, with my third--and current--dog, Bailey, my second golden retriever.
For those of you who don't know dog breeds and their personalities/tendencies, let me assure you; golden retrievers are rarely the problem. Generally speaking, you can hit them with a stick and the quizzical look you'll receive could be interpreted as an apology for their getting in the way of the stick.
Goldens are the sweetest, smartest, most obedient, accommodating and children-friendly breeds you'd ever want to introduce to a roomful of strangers.
Nevertheless, they are animals, and sometimes they don't always mind their manners--or their owners--and act on their instincts.
It all happened innocently enough when some fellow Burtonsvillians (a mother and her two daughters, approximately 14 and 10), were driving through neighborhoods looking for the old Isaac Burton House (my house). Quite by chance we met on the street. A car had stopped, and rolled down its passenger side window. The woman behind the wheel asked where the Isaac Burton House was. When I pointed to my house, she exuberantly burst into a story of how she had seen my house 35 years ago when she was in elementary school and how she was driving around hoping to find it again so that she could give her daughters a mini history lesson about this old house. She could barely contain herself at having found it again and I felt compelled to offer her the opportunity to visit this old house, which she happily accepted.
As she and her two daughters drove down my 50 yard-plus driveway, Bailey and I followed behind and met them by the entrance to my house. There we all talked and shared anecdotes about the house, its history (the smokehouse, the barn, the stable, the curvy staircase inside), and as Bailey dogged around, we also talked about their new puppy. Within an instant, as the conversation continued, without any of us really paying attention, the youngest daughter jumped out of the back seat to chase Bailey as he trotted toward the stable. Excitedly, she ran after him as I continued to answer questions from her mother. Knowing Bailey as I do, I didn't really pay attention to what he was doing, other then noticing him doing his favorite thing: digging up a rock with his front paws, and pulling the dirt/grass underneath himself as he moves backward. And then it happened, a shriek, and there came this cute little 10-year-old blonde, running toward us, curls flopping, with Bailey following her, rock in mouth, saying, "Mommy, he bit me." As she got closer, I could see blood on her hand, and then, closer still, I could see blood on her face. Oh my God, Bailey bit her in the face. Yikes!
The mother quickly exited the car and came running around to where her daughter was standing and crying and attempted to comfort her; reassuring her and cleaning her cuts and explaining the dog's behavior and simultaneously telling me not to worry, accidents happen, it happened to her when she was young, I'm sure it's nothing....
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Here I am looking at her daughter bleeding from dog bites on the face and hands, from my dog, thinking lawsuit, thinking this little girl's appearance will be forever altered and I'm responsible, and the mother is not the least bit non-plused. (As she later explained, she was a former EMT and situations such as these were minor in comparison, so really, it was no problem.) And as it turned out, after a 9pm phone call that evening, it was no problem. The little girl didn't need stitches, fortunately, the mother said, and nobody was sueing anybody, either. Moreover, the mother was apologetic for having caused such a commotion.
Can you imagine, apologizing to me? Given the potential consequences, as a dog owner whose dog just bit a girl, it certainly turned out to be my lucky day.

Kenneth B. Lourie is a regionally syndicated columnist who resides in Burtonsville, MD.