Monday, March 3, 2014

How to Make a Bad Situation Worse in One Staggeringly Stupid Step

So, you want to know what happened when Bella attacked me, do you? I could sum it up in very few words: Leslie is an idiot.

But I suspect you'd like to know a little more about the details than that. After all, 'Leslie is an idiot' will hardly come as a revelation.

Let's start with some background:

Bella had been off the painkiller she takes for her shoulder inflammation for several days. We had been taking her off the medicine when she showed signs of gastric distress from it - balancing her achy shoulder with her upset tummy. At the time of the incident, she had been off the painkiller but not yet showing any signs of benefit to her tummy. So basically, she was feeling pretty flipping crappy.

A week before Christmas and all through the house...

The Friday before Christmas, I had gotten home from work late due to 'issues' and, while I thought my stress levels were pretty much under control, it's entirely possible Bella thought otherwise. Jan said she had been a little snarky with him earlier in the day and when I tried to take some photos with her, I noted she didn't seem especially cooperative this night. I gave up, poured a glass (or two...) of wine and went downstairs to watch some TV with Jan.

I don't remember what we were watching but it was something with bangs and booms and Bella was not impressed. I noticed she seemed to be a little 'off', maybe in need of some kindness and even thought she might be looking for comfort.

She was sitting in front of Jan willing him to share his popcorn. I got down on the floor next to her and reached my arm around her as I have done a thousand times before. I must/may have startled her or leaned a little more than usual because all of sudden she turned, snarling and snapping at me. She muzzle-punched my chin and snapped at my left hand (the one wrapped around her).

I actually told Jan to 'stay out of it' thinking that she would let up in a moment and, given their previous encounters, I thought his interference could possibly make it worse. Well, I didn't need Jan's involvement to make that happen - I made it worse all by myself. As I was trying to stand up and get Bella to calm down, I used my right hand to grab her collar.

And we'll just chalk that up to one big, huge, colossal, gigantically stupid mistake.

Had I not grabbed her collar, the situation would probably have left me with a bruise on my chin, some scratches on my arms and a relatively minor bite on my left hand. Instead, Bella turned and latched onto my right arm with no intention of letting go. Damn it.

Seeing this, Jan ignored my warning to stay away and grabbed Bella's collar from behind at which point she let go of me and I immediately walked away. I headed upstairs to the bathroom knowing there was clean up to be done.

And yes, I also walked away because she frightened me. I didn't want to her to bite me again. My right arm was smarting. Not to mention dripping sticky red stuff.

Upstairs, I took off my over shirt and began to assess and clean the wounds. Jan came up and we locked Bella out of the bathroom while he finished cleaning me up. I am a horrible patient and make an even worse nurse as the sight of blood makes me queasy. As a result, I kept getting light-headed and Jan had to change the dressings for the first few days.

I'm not bad, I'm just photographed that way.  ;)

Anyway, as usually happens when Bella has one of these episodes, she was immediately contrite. It's almost as if she doesn't even understand what just happened. And in this case, I noticed her apparent confusion for several days afterwards. As I mentioned previously, we avoided each other for a few days. Jan has always been so quick to forgive - almost immediately willing to reassure her that he is not in fact the big scary monster she sometimes envisions.

But Bella's not afraid of me. We all know that so I was confused. If she's not afraid of me, then just what the hell happened?

Over the next few days we thought about it and talked about it. We acknowledged the last two 'attacks' had been decidedly worse than the ones that originally sent us to seek professional assistance from Dr. Dodman. In these attacks it was like Bella wasn't even there any more.

When these attacks happened, Bella was solely focused on the 'threat' in front of her. Jan cannot get through to her when she is going at him and I couldn't reach her when she was going at me. However, as soon as Jan grabbed hold of her collar, Bella let go of me and ceased her attack. The same was true when she attacked Jan in September and I stepped in between them to break it up.

That's an important piece of information to remember - it will come into play later on in our story.

I've been bitten by dogs a few times in my life. I'm not proud of that fact and I don't present it as a badge of honor so much an acknowledgement that things happen. Dogs mostly do their best to communicate with us but sometimes we miss the signals they're sending. Or sometimes we get complacent and forget that they are entitled to their own moods and issues.

Preoccupied with my own concerns, I made the mistake of ignoring my instincts that told me she was "off" that night. I went on to make an even bigger mistake by grabbing her collar. The lesson I learned is to remember that even dogs have their own rich inner life to which we are not always privy. And we need to be ever mindful that mounting pressures can push any dog over their limits, never mind the crazy ones.

We're all back to good: Bella giving me snuggles and kisses, me trying to remember to give her the space she wants and needs. Bella's never been shy about asking for comfort. Next time I won't try to second guess her. I'll wait to let her tell me what she wants.

Next week I'll cover our meeting with Dr. Dodman and fill you in on our conversation and his advice. Thanks for hanging in there with us and our crazy dog. She really is worth the effort.


  1. How horrifying that must have been for all of you. I know when I've made mistakes how horrible I felt and I'm sure you did as well, I'm sure you just reacted instinctively with the collar. You've come so far with Bella and done so much for her, just remember we aren't always perfect and stop beating yourself up so much. :-)

  2. I hope this helps you to share this and helps someone else out there possibly going through similar issues with their dogs. Our Jack has had some issues in the past, none this severe, but scary enough that it has helped me to re-evaluate my interactions with him and with any dog. Kudos to you for not giving up on Bella.

  3. Living my entire life surrounded by mental illness, I understand what it means to have your brain betray you. I can't help but feel that Bella's brain betrays her sometimes. Especially when you said it's like "Bella wasn't there any more."

    She is so lucky that you try to understand her. And that you've been so tenacious in helping her find comfort and peace.

    Thank you for sharing her, and your, story.

  4. I've caught up on your previous posts and I'm so sorry you and Jan are going through this with Bella. But note I said "with Bella", you're all in this together :) She is a very lucky girl to have two such amazing owners! I sense a happy ending so I'm looking forward to reading future posts about your journey. I salute you for being so brave as to blog about it.

  5. Thank you for sharing the story - I am still relieved everyone's ok and it looks like you've done some good analysis on the incident and circumstances. And I'm curious to read the next installment.
    We've all misread dog signals - anyone who says they've always been an eagle-eye expert from the beginning is lying. And we're human... We're fallible.

  6. Jan K, Wag N Woof PetsMarch 4, 2014 at 7:27 AM

    I think you just reacted....when something like that happens, it's so difficult to do anything really don't have to time to think it through. I'd like a nickel for every time I did something stupid and realized immediately afterwards that it was. You learned from it, and I'm glad you're able to share your story. One of those most difficult things to do with our blogs is to admit when we did something wrong.

  7. I'm sure that was scary! You just want to love her and never expected her to "snap" on you. So glad you are working on it. She is a beautiful girl!

  8. I am so sorry this happened to you. Each time I have been bit, I am able to look back and have that "aha" moment, and realize what caused it as well.

  9. English Rider myeffingponyMarch 4, 2014 at 5:25 PM

    Poor Bella and poor you. It may be worth noting, for other dog lovers who may one day be bitten: if you go to the doctor and identify the dog that bit you (your own included), the doctor must generate a report to animal control and then there are issues of quarantine, confiscation, or worse, for the dog. If a dog you love sends you away seeking medical care, it may be worth lying about the incident. (As long as you protect others around you going forward).

  10. It is a good point to understand the implications of your state laws however it is not absolute that all doctors in all states are required to report dog bites. I saw my doctor (routine visit) the same week and told her about the incident. She looked at the wounds and asked about rabies and other vaccines and that was the end of it.

    I've also told our trainers and Dr. Dodman and our vets and no one has ever warned us that we need to keep quiet about this. They have, in fact, reassured that no one is coming to take Bella away from us.

    However, you are correct. Laws vary from state to state and it is important to understand the laws of the state you live in.

  11. "In these attacks it was like Bella wasn't even there any more."

    I know you've worked with Dr. Dodman, and I know you've described the medical issues (which can really go a long way to making a dog react in a snarky snappy manner), but this particular sentence makes me ask the "could it be seizures?" question. Though I'm not a doctor, and Dr. Dodman is certainly respected in his field (and having read his works might be what triggers the question anyway), and would have thought of it/ruled it out already if it was a possible thing.

  12. Hey Jen. How's Miss Elka? I miss you guys but, as you can see, we've kind of had our hands full around here.

    Some comments here have been pretty astute and we're going to get to all of it. But let me just say, from what we're seeing, you are in the ballpark. Some of what we said in our last meeting with him led him down a different path than we had previously considered. We've been blown away by how a change in direction can make such an enormous difference.

  13. Think Bella is one lucky lucky girl to have such too caring people to look after her. Well done mum, hope your arm healed.. We all take things for granted at times, even if we think we can speak dog, There are times we get it wrong. Lucky girl Bella xxxxxxxx

  14. Wow. I'm so grateful you're sharing this experience in detail because I think we can all learn from it. I can't imagine how upsetting this is for all three of you, but I'm so impressed and completely blown away by the level of composure you're using to tackle the issue(s) head on. I'm so curious to read the next installment.

  15. Hi Leslie,
    I just found your blog after a mutual blogger friend, Jessica of YDWWYW, shared this post. I so admire your love, dedication and how much you both are trying to be all that Bella needs. We have indeed all made mistakes with our pets (and other people's pets) in the past. I've been bitten a few times, twice by the same alpha female ChowChow who was the dog of a "family friend" we were staying with.
    Your Bella looks so much like our dear Jessie boy, whom we lost in Nov 2012, that I sort of can't stop staring at Bella's photos. He actually had some issues like Bella when he was first adopted. I am sharing a photo of him and my little Pixel. They loved each other so and loved playing outside together.
    I hope things truly level out for good with Bella. She's a beauty and she has two of the best pet parents she could have! Looking forward to getting to know you more through your blog.
    I also pray that your wounds heal.
    Jenny Lewis & Pixel

  16. Hi Jenny, Wow - holy woof does Bella look like your Jessie. I'm very sorry for your loss. PIxel is too cute for words, too.

    Things do seem to be turning around for our girl. She's always been a good girl with just moments of crazy thrown in but I think we're getting to the heart of things now. I'm glad we stuck with her - she's worth every moment.