Sunday, November 2, 2008

Kids and Dogs...

I think it's every dog owning parent's worst nightmare...having a beloved pet bite one of your precious children. Unfortunately yesterday that worry became a reality in our house.

I've had dogs in my life for as long as I can remember. As a farm kid I was surrounded by animals...dogs, cats, chickens, horses, cattle, rabbits, once when I was little we even had a goat. So it's only been natural for me as an adult to have animals as part of our family. From cats to dogs to fish to our current rodent resident, Herman the hamster, we've always had at least one non-human family member to look after. After loosing our cat this spring, our current animal menagerie includes Herman and our two rescued shelter doggies, Jasper and Tilde.

Jasper joined our family a little over 6 years ago. Scott had stopped at the shelter one day just to see what dogs were there for adoption and soon Lexi and I were joining him for a visit with Jasper. When we walked into the kennel room I instantly knew Jasper would become part of our family. While all the other dogs were barking and jumping around in their cage, he was calmly sitting by the door of his kennel, tail wagging under his parked butt.

The shelter workers were a bit nervous to allow us, a family with a 1 year old, to adopt Jasper because not much was known about his past. He was dropped off (abandoned) during the middle of the night at the shelter...literally dropped over a run fence. Their vet estimated that he was about 4-years-old and due to some shying behavior it was assumed he came from an abusive past. He had some major abandonment issues when we first brought him home which resulted in his wearing down (and actually breaking one off) of his canine teeth as he tried to chew his way out of the chain link kennel where we would put him during the day while we were away at work. It took him about a year, and his joining us on a family trip out to visit my family in western Nebraska, for him to really accept us as his family. But after that time it was like a switch was flipped. He trusted us, knew that we were his family, and over the past 6 years had turned into a wonderful, loving, and lovable member of our family.

Jasper is generally a quiet dog, except for when the mailman or a deliver person comes to the door or if someone rings the doorbell. He's friendly to visitors and in general spends his day following us quietly around the house, or more and more as he gets older, curled up in his bed napping. He adores the girls, snuggling up to them as they lay on the floor to watch TV and often curls up outside their door keeping guard when they are asleep in their room. When Brea wakes from a nap he's the first one to her door, alerting me that I'm needed.

He's not a perfect dog by any means, but he's been a great pet and member of the family. He hates the 4th of July and thunderstorms and will often crawl under our bed in the spring to wait out a storm, making our whole bed quake with his shivers. And, I'm sure because he is a smaller dog with an abusive past, he can easily feel threatened if startled. In the past 6 years he's maybe snipped at someone a handful of times, never making contact that resulted in more than a small red pinch. Each of these times he was napping and suddenly startled. We've learned that his snips come from a place of fear, not aggression, and happen so infrequently that we've never seen it as an issue, just something to be aware and cautious about. We're super careful when we have visiting kids in the house to keep Jasper a safe distance so he doesn't feel threatened by their unknown behaviors, and thankfully his snips have only happened with/towards one of the 4 of us.

I wasn't home yesterday when the incident occurred. But it doesn't matter. The scene was not an unfamiliar one. The girls playing in the living room, Jasper curled up near them napping. Brea reached over to grab a toy, startling Jasper and he snipped. Unfortunately this time connecting with more than just a pinch. Having caught the area of her right upper lip, the result was (and I'm simply going on what I've been told here) lots of blood and crying.

No stitches were needed and as kids tends to be, Brea has been a super trooper not letting her boogered up lip slow her down by any means. She shoves food right past the swollen flesh, lets me inspect and wash it when needed, and within the hour of the incident was giving us smiles. She is one tough cookie. We've found that little slows her down when it comes to scrapes and bruises. Her lip is going to take a while to heal, and it doesn't look pretty by any means. But it's just a flesh wound and in a couple of months I doubt we'll be able to see anything besides the tiniest scar as a reminder of the incident.

After spending some time out in the kennel yesterday, we brought the dogs back in the house and I mediated a peace making between Brea and Jasper. I can tell he knows he did something very bad and that he's sorry. Brea fortunately knows that her owie is from Jasper but doesn't harbor any bad feelings or fear from the event and was willing to give him loving pats and kind words for a few brief minutes before running off for more Polly Pocket play. Above all I want her to learn to be cautious, but not be fearful, around animals in general. Something we're not very good at fostering in the girls because we're so trusting of animals ourselves.

While I wish that this whole event would have never occurred, we can't turn back the clock and I'm just thankful it didn't end up being more serious than it is. Thanks to my fabulous friend Laura for making a house call to confirm that Brea was indeed OK and didn't need to make an ER visit. We're so lucky to have such wonderful, caring people in our lives!

We're being cautious this morning obviously, NEVER wanting to replay yesterday's events. Jasper has been his normal loving self, but a bit cautious himself. Unfortunately we know as he ages his tendency to feel threatened may happen more often. We've started to see the signs of age in his behaviors. More napping, less moments of exuberant play, less patience with Tilde as she bounces around him with endless puppy energy. But even after this unfortunate event I'm not ready to believe his time with us is coming to an end. Not quite yet.

It's a hard balance. Obviously my kids and their safety come first. But I don't believe this one uncharacteristic incident is enough to write Jasper out of our family either. I guess we'll move forward with caution. It's all we can do at this point.


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