Beware stray dogs, even the cute ones

A couple of weeks ago I came home one evening to find a cute little Walker Coonhound in my driveway.

It didn’t take long to see that he was very poorly behaved because when I got out of the car, he immediately jumped inside and climbed all through my car with his muddy paws. He did not respond to simple commands like no, or stop. But he was smiling, and it was infectious.

I’m a dog person. I grew up with dogs, and I’ve never had a fear of them, even though I have been bitten before (a bite that drew blood). I’ve always considered myself cautious enough around dogs I don’t know, but I have relied on my instincts, and so far, so good. This dog seemed unruly and annoying, but he didn’t appear to be dangerous. I’ve been around lots of dogs just like this one — walkers, beagles — not one of them has been bad tempered. They are some of my very favorite dogs.

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He looks a little pitiful here, but in fact he was one of those dogs who looked like he was smiling all the time.

I won’t be relying so much on my instincts anymore.

For the last few years I’ve lived in different parks, and they seem to be a magnet for strays and animals that people drop off. Over the last little while, we’ve fostered probably four or five different dogs and at least half a dozen cats until we could find the animal’s owner, or until we could find someone to take him or her in (I hate the thought of calling animal control).

We kept one animal that was dropped off beside the road at our house and he immediately became a full-fledged member of the family. Meet Mr. President, who is called that because he has basically run the house since his arrival.

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We’ve had good experiences with stray animals. I mean, I would never bring an unknown dog into the house with my kids or anything — I’m not that trusting, and would never risk my kids’ safety by doing that — but we will play with them outdoors if they are nice, give them a warm, dry place to sleep and keep their bellies full as long as they are with us. The kids get excited when animals show up on our doorstep.

So, anyway, I saw right off the bat that the dog was poorly behaved when he dirtied my car and wouldn’t obey simple commands. He nipped at our pant legs as we walked. Then he ran past my legs and into my house and acting like a wild animal, he ran around with his ears flopping, dirtying up everything from the kitchen to the bedrooms (which have champagne colored carpet, by the way)  before I could corral him and get him back outside.

I wasn’t happy, but I gave him dinner, and put him in our heated doghouse.

Early the next morning, I put a photo of him on Facebook, with a glib post about what a friendly dog he seemed to be and how he was so darn cute that I might just keep him myself. But I would never have kept that dog in a million years. I was really just hoping to find the owner, and I didn’t tell the whole story for fear that he or she might not be so willing to come forward if I did.

The dog did seem friendly in the very beginning. But animals aren’t always predictable. Here’s the part I left out:

Besides all his muddy destruction, A few minutes after we got home Dylan went to get something out of the car, and as he was walking back to the house, the dog jumped up on him, bit down on his forearm and hung there. He wouldn’t let go.

Dylan wasn’t acting aggressively toward the dog. He didn’t provoke the dog. He wasn’t playing with the dog. In fact, he wasn’t looking at the dog, or even facing the dog. He was walking away from him, minding his own business.

If it was going to happen, luckily, it happened to Dylan who is man-sized and was strong enough to wrestle his arm away. In the end, Dylan came away with a muddled coat, and big red whelps all over his forearm. Thank goodness it didn’t break the skin.

When I asked him why he thought the dog bit him, he said he didn’t know, but he didn’t think it was trying to be mean. Of course, the bottom line is, it doesn’t matter whether the dog was trying to be mean or not. A bite is a bite, just the same. Had it been Alyssa, or especially Wyatt who had been bitten like that, we would’ve probably ended up at the hospital.

Needless to say, we sent this dog on his way as fast as we could. We still gave him a warm doghouse, and kept him fed during the 36 hours he was with us. Otherwise, I kept the kids inside, and we avoided him as much as possible and when we didn’t find the owner that day, we sent him away with a friend (with no children) who was able to take him over for us.

I’m still a dog person, (sorry, Mr. President) and still an animal lover. But the next time a stray dog shows up at my house, I will be more cautious and I probably won’t be so willing to take them in for indeterminate amounts of time — at least not while I still have smallish kids. I’m sharing this because it might help some other trusting animal lover down the road.

Even those dogs who have tails that wag them, who look like they’re smiling all the time, the ones who belong to the most loving breeds, even the ones who look like they wouldn’t hurt a fly — they are still unknown and unpredictable. And sometimes they are dangerous.

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