Why you should care
Because man’s best friend also makes a hell of an enemy.
As days go, this one was fairly unremarkable. I drove to work, I worked, I came home from work. My wife at the time was out with my very young daughters, and I, having gotten home before they did, had made plans to fix dinner. I pushed through the outer gate of a redwood fence a buddy and I had built around the front yard. Trying to keep a briefcase I was carrying from dropping — somehow back then I thought it was hilarious for someone in their 30s to actually carry a briefcase — I bent to pick up a yellow-and-green plastic lawn sprinkler and made my way to the inner gate.
A not-so-side note: In an earlier and arguably misguided move, I had decided to breed dogs. After two litters I had decided to no longer breed dogs. While a love of dogs is probably necessary to do the job, a real ability to see dogs as fungible financial tools is also necessary. I know breeders who “rescue out” the runts of the litter. Those dogs who would never make it in “real life” are then dropped off at animal shelters and to fates uncertain by breeders who make the claim that they are helping.
This was something I couldn’t do. Soft touch, soft heart. I kept the runt of the litter. Wouldn’t sell him, since selling American Staffordshire terriers, or pit bulls, was touchy anyway. It was like selling a gun — depended on what the buyer wanted it for, and questionable buyers with murky motives were denied.
He was sickly and I nursed him back from the brink of death. … He got bigger and aged into what seemed a fine dog. A fine but strange dog. Strangely manic.
But I got out of the business. Spayed my one female and kept her ailing son. Named him Malo (the “bad one” in Spanish). He was sickly and I nursed him back from the brink of death, not so much out of love but because I thought I could. And I did. He got bigger and aged into what seemed a fine dog. A fine but strange dog. Strangely manic. Cost me almost $2,000 in surgical fees to repair his stomach after he tore apart a car tire swing in the yard. The steel radials were piercing his stomach lining and, thus, he almost died.
As I fumble with the keys for the inner gate, and the briefcase and the sprinkler, Malo watches me from the other side. I get the gate open and he doesn’t move. I wave him out of the way. Still doesn’t move. I raise my voice and wave with my now free left hand and he attacks. Forget everything you’ve heard about pit bulls and their “viselike” jaws. This is anti–pit bull tripe. But it doesn’t change the fact that having a 75-pound dog grinding on your hand hurts. A lot.
Dropping the briefcase, the sprinkler and my keys, my right hand punches him to make him let go of my left and he bears down in a way that I’ve seen him do dozens of times on a rawhide bone. His head is hard and as I punch and scream to let go, his resolve to not let go redoubles. My now flailing right hand finds a Leatherman work tool clipped on my belt, the knife portion of the tool snapping open with a thumb flick.
I don’t know what I expected, but maybe that in the same way that a human visually identifies with a knife as something dangerous, that would be enough. But it wasn’t. And with his front paws off the ground, he jerked his head and his jaws back and forth with short, authoritative snaps, and then up and down, pulling me lower.
I knew I was going to have to use the knife, but using the knife is not as easy as every movie you’ve ever seen makes it seem. Not on my son. But I had other, human kids coming home, and now, thinking of the other kids, I had a chill of recognition and fear. I don’t know why he flipped on me, but kids get killed by dogs all the time. The first time I hit him with the knife, he growled and jerked my hand even harder. I could hear it tear. It was like prepping meat that you’re too lazy to cut, and so whatever was tearing in my hand sounded like that.
After that the five other hits came in rapid succession. Stabbed six times now in the throat he finally took off, running back to his doghouse. My hand, the insides of it hanging out, was covered in blood, mine, and the ground was slick with blood, his. The briefcase, the sprinkler, the keys, all red. It was like a crime scene. It was a crime scene.
“Look … don’t come home right now.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Malo tried to kill me,” I stuttered. I was in shock. “Just keep the kids away. I need to clean … everything, um, up.” And then, in a kind of autopilot mode, I cleaned. Used the hose to spray down the blood, cleaned my stuff, got out of my work clothes and put them in the laundry. All the while Malo watching me from the doghouse. He seemed just as stunned as I was. But he wagged his tail.
Later, at the hospital, they sewed what had been in my hand, back in my hand. I seem to remember the emergency room doctor saying it was like trying to sew together a rotten melon. After heavy doses of antibiotics, I was sent on my way and I headed back home. I wouldn’t have died without immediate medical treatment. It was quite clear to me though, when I left the hospital, that Malo most certainly would. And, on what was one of the worst days of my life, he did. My son.