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A Dog's Person

by Cindy Eastman 8 months ago in dog
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The cure is what ails you

Photo by Joséphine Menge on Unsplash

I’m not a dog person, but I might be one dog’s person. After a recent, terrifying, experience of getting attacked and bitten—twice—by a strange dog, I was keeping my distance from all creatures canine. Except for my grand dog Charlie, I steered clear from dogs I didn’t know, so when our new neighbors moved in with their dog Gandalf, I avoided getting too close. There is a fence between our houses and I was never so happy to have a fence than I was that first day Gandalf bounded out of his house, over to where I was near the fence and promptly started barking at me. I turned on my heel and practically ran into my house, never, ever, having felt so scared of a dog before in my life. I wasn’t so sure I’d like having an aggressive dog for a neighbor and it already seemed like Gandalf wasn’t crazy about me, either. But Gandalf and I had a different relationship in store for us, one neither of us saw coming.

Growing up, my family had one dog—Toodles—from the time she was a puppy until she died of old age at some point after I had left home. I really don’t remember it much. In the early years of my first marriage, my husband and I got the obligatory trial-dog—the one you get before you have kids. She was a beautiful, but finicky, Husky named Tasha who we had for a couple of years before she ran away one night. I always suspected she fled in grief after the litter of puppies she bore contracted distemper. We had no idea she was pregnant when we left on vacation and clearly the neighbors we had looking after her missed it, too, as well as the fact that she delivered the puppies by herself in the backyard. When we returned and discovered the poor little creatures in a dirt hollow under the shrubs along our back fence it was too late--we had to put them all down. Soon after, Tasha went missing. We were distraught. No more dogs for us.

However, we attempted being dog people again when our daughter was 3 years old, and we allowed a rambunctious yellow Lab named Casey into our house. Although a delightfully goofy dog, he proved too energetic for a 3-year-old in a small house in a postage stamp yard so a friend with a farm and 30 acres took him home. We ignored the dog ownership lesson one more time a few years later when we adopted Nacho, an adorable little lab-retriever mix, who became the first casualty of my husband’s and my divorce. When I moved out into a no-pets apartment, he took out his resentment at me by giving Nacho away.

As a single parent I stuck with cats; I could leave cats at home for the long periods of time when I had to work a few jobs and ferry the kids to their activities. When I remarried, my husband and I fostered an assistance dog, Tootsie, which seemed like the best of both worlds: we got to bring her home on the weekends and during the week she learned her countless skills at the training facility. With Tootsie’s help, I started liking dogs a whole lot more and I felt like I was learning just how to connect with them. But I also really appreciated how well-trained Tootsie was and we were spoiled by her good behavior. As many times as my husband and I considered getting our own dog, we always ended up deciding against it. And when Tootsie “graduated” and was placed with a young man with epilepsy, we were too sad about having to say good-bye to think about another dog.

The only other dogs in my life after Tootsie were my kids’ dogs; my son’s Nevada and my daughter’s Charlie. Nevada was a pit bull/boxer mix who was friendly and gentle and I’d see her occasionally until she succumbed to Lyme Disease. Charlie is a high-maintenance rescue mix—with allergies and skin sensitivities she is a lot of work, but she is also goofy and sweet and seems to like having me around. After the dog bite attack, I was still okay with Charlie; it was almost as if she got more protective around me. As if she sensed I had been harmed by one of her own and she was going to make it up to me.

The attack happened when I was walking in a neighborhood with three other women; all of us running for the local board of education and we were handing out campaign information and brochures. At one house, a couple of dogs ran towards us, but the owner was in the yard with them and she sharply called them back. She ushered them into the house when she saw us head towards her home and she kind of motioned that she’d be right back. My friend and I walked across the front lawn and, as we got to the sidewalk that connected her driveway to the front porch, the front door swung open and the two dogs, one a smallish terrier and the other a growling bulldog, immediately ran towards us. My friend backtracked across the lawn, but I turned down the sidewalk, walking quickly, but not running, since I thought that would be the thing that would provoke the dog. The bulldog was on me in a few seconds, lunging at the back of my right leg, and then again on my left. The owner finally wrangled him away from me and back into the house and I made it to the street to join my friends and survey my wounds. My left leg was only bruised, but my on my right leg, just below the back of my knee, my jeans were torn and there was the beginning of a gash. The owner was beside herself and offered to buy me a new pair of jeans. I declined although I did end up at the urgent care clinic later that day for a $100 tetanus shot. I should have taken the jeans. At least, hopefully, she voted for me.

After that, every dog that barked at me from a parked car in a parking lot or every unfamiliar dog I encountered during an afternoon walk gave me a frisson of fear. It was nothing like I had ever experienced. I wasn’t afraid of dogs, I knew how to be around dogs. They had never scared me before.

And then our new neighbors moved in. Gandalf’s humans were a young couple just buying their first house. We would chat, across the fence, in those first few weeks, and they were apologetic that Gandalf was so loud. But Gandalf wasn’t really a barker, more like a guardian. He barked when a UPS truck drove past the house or when some of the neighborhood kids were walking by. When my husband and I left the house and got into our car, Gandalf would bark—sometimes—and sometimes he’d just sit wherever he was in the yard, and watch us.

One day, after I had made a batch of everything-free treats for Charlie, I saw Gandalf’s humans in the yard. I asked if I could give Gandalf one of the treats, explaining there wasn’t really anything in them except bananas, oatmeal and peanut butter. “Oh, sure,” Gandalf’s dad said, “give him anything you like. He eats everything!” I walked over to the fence, held out the treat and tried to pet Gandalf’s head as he sniffed his way over to my hand. Suddenly his head jerked back and he barked at me. I dropped the treat and stepped back about 10 steps. “Oh, he’s okay…,” Gandalf’s dad said, “He doesn’t see that well, so he’s skittish. Also, he was bitten by a another dog where we used to live and that’s made him even more nervous! But he’s just loud, not mean.”

I wasn’t going to just take his word for that, but I did think about Gandalf being bitten by a dog. I guess I knew how that felt. I walked back to the fence, with another treat held out in my hand. Gandalf approached me again and I spoke gently to him, “oh, buddy…you, too, huh? Have another treat.” This time I moved more slowly towards him and he allowed me to pat his head. For about a second. He took the treat from my hand and gobbled it all up. “That’s all I have, sorry!” And Gandalf trotted back to a spot under a tree in the corner of the yard where I’d seen him hang out before. I asked Gandalf’s dad, “Can I give him more treats?” And Gandalf’s dad said, “Sure…just not too much! He needs to lose weight!”

At the grocery one day, I picked up a box of dog biscuits to have on hand for Gandalf when I went outside. If my husband and I were going out in the car, I’d grab a couple of treats in case Gandalf was out in the yard. If we were working in the garden and Gandalf was in his yard, I’d run back inside and get a treat and walk to the fence to see if he’d come to me. He would. He would still bark, but once he saw me, he’d stop and sit and wait for me. Sometimes he’d let me pet him and sometimes he wouldn’t. A couple of times, even when I didn’t have a treat, I’d go up to the fence and he’d meet me there and I’d say, “Hey, buddy...how are you?” and he’d let me pet him—but just a little. Sometimes he’d whip his head back and bark and I’d back away again.

One morning I went outside with some biscuits for him and I tried something new. I patted the top of the fence and said, “Up.” And Gandalf jumped up and put his paws on the fence and let me pat the top of his head. He was doing that a lot more often I noticed—letting me pat his head or scratch his neck. There were times when I’d leave the house with a dog biscuit in my pocket in case Gandalf was out. I’d wait a minute or two before I got in the car in case he was there. I realized, after a month or so, that I was looking for him. I shook my head and wondered about my sanity.

When the weather turned colder and the days were darker, we were outside less often. But I still kept an eye on that fence to see if my new pal was there. A couple of times, walking through my kitchen, I’d look out the window that faced our driveway and could see Gandalf sitting there. I had to fight the urge to pull on my coat, grab some biscuits and meet him out there. Sometimes he’d bark a couple of times and then stop. In my imagination, I heard him reminding me he needed a treat. And the next time I went outside, I always had one. Of course, I heeded his dad’s advice and let up on the number of treats I gave him. I didn’t want him to eat too many.

Sometimes, I don’t bring a treat out at all. I’ll leave my house and look to see if Gandalf is sitting next to the fence. He often is, as if he was looking for me. He is looking for me. Of course I know that because I usually have a treat in my hand, Gandalf is going to be sure to be where I am. Sometimes he’s even drooling. But he’s also starting to trust me. And I him. We are learning to trust each other.

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About the author

Cindy Eastman

Cindy Eastman is a teacher, speaker & award-winning author of Flip-Flops After 50. Some stuff is funny, some is thoughtful.

Follow me on Facebook and read more here & let me know what you think.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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  • Mark Graham4 months ago

    I loved your story for I am a dog person who will give a treat to any dog just for being there.

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