A dog will be a dog – by Dr. Amanda Glew
Every once in a while, something completely out of the ordinary occurs while working in a vet clinic. A few months back, I was thrown into a situation which was confusing and uncomfortable – but needed to be addressed.
While seeing regular clients, I was pulled out of consultation and asked to quickly look at a dog who is a regular client of mine, Bauer. Bauer is a 4 year old husky, whom I have had the pleasure of dealing with since the opening of our clinic. A real husky, his owner is diligent in walking and exercising her dog that requires so much to keep him normal in the home. She bikes with him, she has a harness and a kick sled for him to pull in the winter, and she occasionally walks him off leash in the wooded areas still surrounding our clinic. When I see Bauer, he is a typical husky – cat like, calm, and dismissive of me as a human and even more so as a veterinarian. A great dog, easy to examine and patient.
When Bauer presented at the clinic with his legs covered in blood, I was concerned the worse had happened – hit by car, bleeding wounds. He was immediately ushered into a consultation room with an agitated and breathless owner.
On examination, I quickly ascertained that Bauer was not injured, and that the blood came from something else. Bauer’s mom explained that he had taken chase after a deer, who had crossed a road and was hit by a car, then continued onto the other side – at which time she lost sight of him. She returned to her car, and continued the chase in the neighbourhood to where she was sure he had fled, and some 10 minutes later found some police cars by a residential home. “There is a dog attacking a deer in there” she was told. She immediately ran in to find Bauer having cornered the deer, taking advantage of the situation with an already injured animal. Of course, it looked terrible. She called him off, and he immediately returned with the excited air as if to say “look what I have done mom!” She was horrified, and grabbed her dog, driving to us immediately.
Shortly after my initial examination, a knock on my consultation room disturbed the recounting of the story. My front staff informed me that there were 2 police officers investigating the aggressive dog who had committed a crime. At this point in time, Bauer was quietly licking his legs, cleaning himself off of the evidence, and was as calm as I have always known him. I realized my responses were going to help the way this was going play out. I asked the police officers in, and requested Bauer’s mom to leave the room.
With all of the negative press surrounding dogs this year, veterinarians have found themselves in a precarious position of sometimes having to use our professional expertise to “confirm” that an animal is not a danger to others. As you can imagine, this is fraught with all kinds of problems – if the dog is fine at my clinic, but then goes out to bite another, am I liable? We are still nowhere in what we are allowed to do as a profession. However, I also realized how I would handle this case concerning Bauer was going to have implications on his future, possibly his life.
I took the stance of reassuring the officers that Bauer is a client of ours, and his vaccines are all up to date. I then explained that some breeds of dogs indeed have a very high prey drive, and when this is stimulated, it can be virtually impossible to stop if the dog is not on leash. One of the officers had obviously had dogs, and quickly understood. The 2nd police officer was not, and needed more elaboration. While this was happening, Bauer was sitting quietly, moving from face to face as each of us spoke, with his front feet crossed over his legs. This was most helpful in the deliberation of his fate.
It was finally decided that his owner would get a fine for having Bauer off leash, but nothing more. Once they left, Bauer’s mom was tearfully thankful. We had a bit of discussion – I explained that I once had a great dog, who with his high prey drive, could catch a squirrel- which he did quite often when I lived on the Plateau in Montreal. There was once a time when someone, horrified at the sight of my dog having grabbed a squirrel, shaking it, and me being right beside him – asked me if I thought the squirrel was dead. I had learned long before not to interfere with Sodapop if he managed to grab a squirrel – his death was much quicker than if I stopped him and then had a paralyzed squirrel to deal with. Although I reassured the passerby that I knew the squirrel was dead, she made me promise to “bring the squirrel to a vet”. I nodded solemnly that indeed I would. I did not have the courage to tell her that I was a vet.
The morale of the story – dogs will be dogs. We can do what we can to make them our loving pets, but that “wildness” is only a breath away.