When dogs attack

ANNA TURNER
Last updated 08:09 26/10/2012

An image keeps playing over and over in my head this week.

It's my beloved dog in the jaws of a much bigger mongrel, being tossed and bitten like a chew toy.

He was attacked over Labour Weekend while we were out walking.

But, before I begin to tell you the story of his attack, let me tell you a bit about my best pal.

He's called Jem and yes, I have had much ridicule over the years about his name sounding girly.

He's been called Gem, Jemma, Jemima and Jam but, before you join in the laughter, I'll have you know Ned Kelly's uber-masculine brother was called Jem and so was the male character in To Kill a Mockingbird I named him after.

So there.

Jem's a four-year-old poochon (a cross between a bichon frise and a toy poodle) and the runt of the litter judging by his 5.3kg frame. What he lacks in stature he more than makes up for in personality.

However, he's more likely to elicit an "Awwww" from a passerby than any kind of fear. In fact, he looks sort of like a soft toy and was once mistaken for a lamb by a little girl.

Anyway, over the long weekend Jem and I were walking on a beach in the Marlborough Sounds. (Before anyone has a go at me, it allowed dogs as long as they were on leashes).

Jem was indulging in his favourite walk time activities - trotting, sniffing and peeing.

While we were minding our own business, a big brown and white dog bounded over and started circling him.

Suddenly, with a growl, the dog snapped. It lunged at Jem, picking him up in his mouth and tossing him around ferociously.

I screamed and tried to pull the dog off Jem, but it was biting and snapping. I thought it was going to break Jem's neck or seriously wound him.

After a struggle, I somehow managed to scoop Jem up and hold him away from the dog. The dog continued to run up to me, trying to get at Jem, as I backed away from it.

The owner of the dog made no attempt to restrain her dog while all this was going on and just watched with a strange detachment.

I walked a safe distance away to check Jem's injuries as he quivered in my arms. Thankfully, apart from some marks from the other dog's mouth, he was physically unharmed.

When I turned around to speak to the dog's owner, she and the offending brute were driving away. She hadn't apologised for her dog's behaviour or even asked if my dog was alright.

Jem soon bounced back to his usual self but I'm worried about how it will affect his interactions with dogs in the future.

When he was a young puppy he was highly sociable - always running up to other dogs and making friends. As he's got older and had a few unpleasant encounters, he's become a lot more shy.

Time will tell whether this latest incident makes him even more nervous. I hope not. It seems so unfair that one rogue dog might put him off socialising with nice dogs.

For the moment, I think it has been me who has been more shaken by the attack.

I've written too many stories about dogs - whose owners swear they are usually "perfectly behaved" - suddenly snapping and mauling someone. The incident with Jem hit home for me how helpless you are when it happens.

Now, I'm not going to be an overprotective mum and stop taking my dog out to places because of the fear he will be attacked again. It'd break his wee heart if he didn't get his daily dose of trotting and sniffing.

But don't even the smallest and fluffiest denizens of our society have the right to walk on the beach without getting hurt?

You tell me.

Do you ever worry about your dog's safety? Have you had a similar incident? What can be done? Comment below, email me at anna.turner@press.co.nz or follow me on Twitter.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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