Traverse City Record-Eagle

October 13, 2013

Marta Hepler Drahos: When compassion overtakes common sense

MARTA HEPLER DRAHOS
Local columnist

---- — Sometimes the best lessons are the lessons hardest learned.

That’s what we took away from my husband’s recent harrowing experience with a strange dog.

As long-time pet guardians, we’re pretty savvy about canine behavior. About what to do and not to do in the presence of an unfamiliar animal. In this case, however, we let our compassion take over our common sense.

It was the last weekend in a long string of vacation rentals at our attached cottage. The final guest had come with her dog earlier in the season and enjoyed herself so much that she re-booked for another long weekend. Her king-size dog, the well-behaved social star of his neighborhood dog park, came, too.

After a day together, the woman went to Traverse City for a few hours alone and left the dog, leashed for good measure, in the large kennel designated for guests. He’d been in the kennel for short periods before and seemed at home in his surroundings.

But on this particular day, he was feeling separation anxiety. He howled on and off, causing us to go out at intervals to calm him. Eventually my husband decided to work in the open garage within sight of the dog. He turned on the radio and occasionally spoke conversationally, hoping to soothe the dog’s frayed nerves.

That’s when he noticed that the dog had managed to open the kennel latch and wind his leash around a bush outside the gate. Worrying that he might choke, he approached the dog and took hold of his collar so that he could unclip the leash and unwind it from around the bush.

Tthat’s when all heck broke loose.

I heard the racket from the kitchen and knew it wasn’t good. After racing around the house to the garage side, I saw my husband covered in blood, elbows to fingertips. Blood trailed down his clothes, dripped on the ground, was smeared on the dog’s cream-colored chest. Nevertheless he held onto the dog until I could unwind the leash and reattach it to dog’s collar. Then I ran to the other side of the kennel and lured the dog in with a piece of bacon. My husband closed the gate and padlocked it against Houdini Hound.

After rinsing off the bite and scratch wounds, which were serious but not as bad as the copious blood-thinner-induced bleeding led us to believe, my husband set off for urgent care while I stayed behind to await the renter’s return. She was stunned and horrified, all the more so because of the dog’s usual mild-mannered behavior. We told her not to worry; that it was an unfortunate accident caused by the dog’s anxiety and our mistake in approaching it.

But as my husband still deals with the after-effects of the incident — stitches, pain, swelling, bruises, even an infected bite or two — we’re reevaluating all we thought we knew about dogs, including our own.

And we’re coming to the conclusion that sometimes, just sometimes, common sense should outweigh compassion.