A mom's brush with terror on Father's Day
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon (and, as it turned out, evening) at my parent's home near the Oregon coast. The little "town" they live in, Elsie, is just close enough so that they share a zip code with the oceanside towns, and just far enough so that the land they live on is extremely cheap. They're one of the only "real" houses on their ill-kept lane peppered with mobile homes and old cars.
One neighbor in particular is acknowledged by the locals to be a meth addict and occasional dealer. And he has a dog.
My parents have known the dog, a German Shepherd mix, since he was a puppy. His name, ironically, is "MacGruff" and every appearance indicates his owner bought him as protection. He's usually tied up with a huge, almost cartoonish chain that still frequently comes loose, and MacGruff will run through the once-idyllic area, dragging his heavy chain behind him. My mom said she'd never worried about MacGruff, but often thought his chain might one day give someone a broken hip, or collarbone, or leg.
My entire extended family was there, save my sister-in-law Destiny and her daughter. Destiny was acting as doula for a neighbor, who was a week past her due date. We'd finished lunch -- trout, chicken, rootbeer floats -- and several of the dads being honored, on this day of theirs, had just begun walking toward the river to catch crawfish. When MacGruff went crazy.
Truman was standing a few feet away from me, playing happily in my mom's little hummingbird water fountain. I was talking to my sisters Abby; Jenny, visiting from Panama with her husband; and my babysitter. My parent's friend, Ron, was hanging out on the porch with us. When MacGruff ran up.
And it seemed wrong. Ron was giving off bad vibes. "Be careful with that dog," he said to Abby, who'd reached out her hand to him. Immediately MacGruff peed on the gate to mark his territory. Someone said, "No!" and "go home!" and MacGruff started growling. Everything I've heard about dangerous dogs was flashing before me. "Don't show fear" seemed impossible. Abby (my youngest sister and always the baby of the family) was clearly afraid and backing into the far corner of the deck. Ron was a bit panicky. I picked up Truman, yelling, "go home!"
MacGruff lunged for him, snapping his teeth and growling. And I started screaming at the top of my lungs. I don't remember what I said but even now as I type this my throat hurts with the terror and my eyes well up. I think I said, "the dog is trying to kill Truman!" because that's clearly what was on his mind. Truman was the baby, he was vulnerable and a well-placed snap could be fatal.
My sister Jenny is a missionary. She spends weeks every year hiking in the jungles of Panama, visiting villages and killing chickens and hiking through flooded rivers up to her neck. She jumped toward the dog, protecting the still-screaming me and Truman with her body. I have to admit that I could only think, "better her than my baby," and wished for anyone to take the brunt of MacGruff's viciousness, but Truman.
I don't know what happened next, but my husband and brother and dad ran back, hearing all our screams, and somehow the dog decided to leave. I got inside with Truman, who'd miraculously been untouched. Jenny was shaking and crying on the couch, "it hurts so bad!" I didn't even realize she'd been bitten. She had, several times. I was shaking all over and hugging Truman and sobbing quietly. I couldn't stop thinking of what could have happened. Everett could have been there on the porch, Truman could have been alone.
My husband, brother, and brother-in-law chased after the dog as my mom and dad tended to Jenny. The dog's owner came to the door after repeated pounding and yelling, clearly in a meth haze, and barely even responded to my brother's harangue. The dog was crazy, and bit two more people as they fought to get him inside.
I called 911, shaking, crying. At first I think they didn't take me seriously, but later, when the sheriff's deputy (who had a 1.5-year-old and 5-year-old, and was delaying his own Father's Day celebration to help us) took photos of my sister's wounds in the hospital 25 miles away, and then saw the dog -- he said he'd never seen a dog this crazy -- it was roundly agreed that the situation was dire. The dog was locked in the back of the cruiser, likely never to see the light of day again. The deputy showed us the digital photo he'd taken of the dog's bared teeth. That image still flashes through my brain from time to time, flash overexposing the teeth only inches from the camera, viscous drool hanging on the edge of his lips. Like something from a 60s horror flick.
Jenny's bone was bruised and both Ron and my brother had several puncture wounds. Truman seemed unfazed, playing still with my parents' two ridiculously friendly dogs, Emma and Jojo. Yet a few hours after the attack, Jojo growled at an approaching vehicle and Truman ran to me, whimpering. I hugged him tight.
"He'll be o.k.," said one of my sisters. "He'll forget."
"No he won't," I said, bleakly. "He'll always remember this. He'll always have that fear." I remember things from my babyhood. Something this terrifying stays with a person, always. And Truman's a wise soul. He's deep and this will cut to his heart.
I'll always remember, it, too, and though I'm typically such an even-keeled mom that I question my depth of caring, brushing off germs and the frequent scrapes and head-bonks with aplomb, I've been struck to the bone, this time. I won't shake that terror soon.
And I've learned to hate meth, and its ability to create such a monster, even more.
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