Everything is inevitable. On a long enough timeline all worst case scenarios will come to pass. This isn’t what I was thinking about or the thought that was going through my head when I got bit by a dog for the first time in ten years of having been a pet sitter/dog walker, but it is the thought that goes through when I think back to that moment.
If I hadn’t been comfortable with the dog that bit me, ice he hadn’t been a dog that I walked regularly for a couple years before that, and if he hadn’t been a big goofy, jovial, loving dog before that moment I wouldn’t have pushed the issue. The second he displayed the guarding, growling, lounging, and aggressive behavior I would have left. Called the owner, taken their anger, and made it clear that I wasn’t the right person for their pet. Things had gone wrong and I wasn’t going to put myself in danger to walk their dog. Unfortunately for me I knew this dog. I knew once I got him leashed up and outside we’d have a great walk.
The problem is we never made it outside. I never even got his leash on him. When he saw me come in he retreated upstairs, laid on the floor, and wouldn’t let me approach without growling and snapping at me. This wasn’t him. This wasn’t the dog I had come to know and love in me previous years with him. I was surprised and shocked by this behavior. Still, I was going to try. If I couldn’t get his leash on him, maybe I could get mine. after a few attempts of luring him to me with treats and other forms of bribery I gave up on using his leash to walk him and went to my car to get my slip lead.
With the leash let out to make a large loop I tossed it over his head and attempted to get him to come with me. Getting a 200 lbs dog to do anything they don’t want to is an impossible task, and when they are displaying aggressive behavior it is even more unlikely. He wasn’t budging and trying to get him up only made him angrier. This is when I gave up on walking him. With him snapping and snarling at me and my slip lead dangling from his neck. It was also at this moment that I should have left. But it’s dangerous to leave a leash around a dog unsupervised. It could get caught on something and become a choking hazard.
Treats in hand I went back upstairs. Keep the mouth occupied, snatch the leash, and leave. I gave him a nice shew bone treat and reached for my leash. As it was half way off he struck. Teeth dug into my wrist and forearm. I felt one tooth hit bone. Luckily for me he let go and I retreated downstairs. Unsafe as it might be my leash was staying where it was at. I examined my forearm and their were three good sized puncture wounds on the top and a couple more underneath. I got a paper towel to sop up the blood and went to my car.
My first call was to the owner to tell them what happened and that I had been unable to walk their dog. To this day I believe there was an underlying medical condition. For a couple weeks leading up to that he had become hesitant with having his leash and collar put around his neck and this moment was the final straw. He wasn’t going to have anything around his neck. I suspect it just wasn’t comfortable anymore. As I said before when a 200 lbs dog doesn’t want to do something they don’t. It is a moment that haunts my memories and I understand how close I came to being a news story. Sure, he only got my forearm and there is little to no evidence now that it ever happened, but he had me, and if he had wanted to he could have done much worse.
Personality changes in pets aren’t always so dramatic. This past weekend I was taking care of a cat that has undergone a recent shift in personality. Just like people change over time so do our pets. This cat went from being the standard issue lap kitty always in need of attention to an independent cat that would grace me with his presence if he deemed it appropriate. Most of the time he stayed where he was and I had to search him out. At first I thought he was hiding, had become nervous, but then I realized he just wasn’t coming out to say hi anymore. He was comfortable with my presence he just wasn’t going to make a big deal about it anymore.
A year prior to this he had been rubbing against my leg, laying on the couch to get pets from me, and even biting me on the calf to tell me to hurry up and fix his food faster. Now he would come and eat the food when he was ready and my visits to him were no longer a big deal.
When a pet’s personality changes the first question to ask is it really negative? In the case of a dog turning aggressive the answer is yes. For a cat becoming more independent the answer is no. If the personality shift is more negative then we need to start assessing reasons. First is medical. Observe to see if anything else is going on. Are they showing discomfort in anyway? Eating and going to the bathroom as they should? If there isn’t anything obvious a visit to the vet will help rule out any underlying reasons. Once medical issues are ruled out ask if anything has changed in the pet’s life. Moved to a new home, lost another pet, had a family member move out, anything else that changed the environment. For the more independent cat his owner had been home more often and he hadn’t seen me for almost six months. It’s why I first read his change as nervousness.
Time changes everyone. Our pets are no different. We all go through many changes in life, and as we do we need the help and support of our loved ones. As a pet sitter/dog walker I have been a part of many pet’s lives and I’ve valued all our interactions. I’ve been with a number of them long enough to see those personality shifts. Everything from the good, the bad, and the inconsequential.