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I’ve always told people that dog fights rarely involve serious injury – most of them are just noise and posturing and some wrestling. 

I had to remind myself of that the other day when a dog, who looked like a cross between the Mastiff from The Sandlot and Cthulu, picked up my Beloved Dog and dangled him in the air by his neck.

There’s a shut-down school near where I live, and all the dog owners in the area use the old field by the playground as an informal off-leash park.

I like to take Beloved Dog and little Owl out there after work, it if isn’t dark by the time we get home.

There’s often another dog or two around, but it’s a big field so there usually isn’t a lot of interaction. Some bum-sniffing, posturing, and that’s it.

This massive dog was retrieving a ball the size of a beach ball for its owner, and the dogs mostly ignored each other until a toss of the huge ball took the dog near Beloved Dog.

Now, Beloved Dog has a bit of a small man complex around big male dogs, but he’s usually quite good with girls, and this dog, while humongous, was female. So all he did was walk up to her daintily, tail in the air, and politely stick his nose in her taint.

The dog, who was probably named Cerberus or something, whirled around, grabbed him by the neck, and hoisted him up in the air while he screamed bloody murder. For once, he was involved in a fight that wasn’t his fault.

I was a good thirty feet away and I didn’t react immediately. I was partially surprised because big dogs are usually less aggressive, not more, because when you weigh over 100 pounds, how threatened can you be by… well, anything?

Besides, like I said, most dog fights are a whole lot of nothing and getting excited just makes things worse. But Cerberus didn’t let go, and the owner began to panic and try to pry her jaws open and she wouldn’t let go.

I started to think about the exceptions to my dog-fights-don’t-cause-damage claim, like someone I know whose small puppy was killed at a dog park. From all accounts it sounded more like a mistaken-prey situation than a real dog fight; the killer dog treated the poor puppy like a squirrel or rabbit.

I also know an ex-service dog who tried to RETRIEVE someone’s sheltie, with disastrous results.

My sheltie was still dangling. Still screaming.

I started to run.

I arrived just as the owner managed to loosen her jaws enough for Beloved Dog to drop back to earth. I grabbed Beloved Dog and hauled him away, and then ordered him to roll over (because you never know – maybe he HAD said something insulting in dog language and started it, so you always punish both participants in a fight) while the owner hauled Cerberus away.

He quickly returned to help me paw frantically through the fur on my dog’s neck.

But I couldn’t find any blood.

His thick, white, somewhat matted ruff was completely unstained. She must have had Beloved Dog entirely by the fur.

“No, there’s blood, look!” the aghast owner of the dog said, and pointed at Beloved Dog’s muzzle. I grabbed his mouth and opened it, and… smiled.

Over the last 6 months, Beloved Dog has had a growth sprouting around the base of his left lower canine tooth. It started as a little bump, and grew to something the size of a large raisin in a matter of months. I had been planning on sedating him and nipping it off as soon as we had two dollars to rub together.

But now it was dangling by a mere thread of tissue. A bit of blood oozed from around Beloved Dog’s gum. The dog fight had sectioned his tumour for me!

We couldn’t find a thing wrong with my dog other than that, so I assurred the apologetic owner that there was no harm done.

Since, if anything, this fight had probably saved me money, I just said goodbye and headed home, boiled some nail scissors, clipped off the last little filament holding the growth to my dog’s mouth, and stuck it in the fridge. I would send it away to make sure it was benign, and that would be that.

But the next day he wasn’t taking any weight on his left hind leg. 

“Was he limping yesterday?” I asked PH, who shook his head.

“No, but he did stumble coming up the stairs last night.”

So, either Beloved Dog had a sprain that had stiffened up overnight… or the stumble going up the stairs had ruptured his cruciate ligament. If the ACL was damaged, it’s a $2000 surgery to fix it. Sure, working for a vet I get things mostly at or near cost, and vet time for free, but you can’t argue with the base costs of a surgery – controlled drugs, anaesthetic time, special instruments… I’d still be looking at many hundreds of dollars.

I took Beloved Dog to work in a panic, and as I put the leash on his collar he winced and I felt a lumpy ridge on his neck. A welt, maybe, from the fight? I mean, surely being picked up by your hair would do some damage.

I told Cranky Vet about the dog fight first thing, but his attitude was very “I’m busy right now, why are you talking to me?” (I get this when I try to make friendly conversation, too: “So, you saw your mother off at the airport ok?” “yes.” “…good…” *awkward silence*)

The morning went by, and while he passed my limping dog in the staff room multiple times (who hopped apologetically out of his way each time), he made no attempt to examine him. Then he left for two hours, and my coworker, who is the boss’s daughter, was enraged on my behalf.

I asked her to help me shave Beloved Dog’s neck, anyway, so I could look at the welt. So she did, and then she gasped.

The welt was not a welt. It was a giant, deep gash which was so neatly split that the lips of the wound had popped back together again, and instead of bleeding copiously it just formed a long, ridge-like scab. But as soon as you touched it, it gaped open, mocking my whole “dogs almost never actually hurt each other” claim.

Then I looked again. It wasn’t ragged like a tooth mark. I don’t think this other dog DID bite my dog. I think that Cerberus DID grab Beloved Dog by the fur, and the skin had simply split under his weight as he dangled by his own hair.

“If he doesn’t see your dog, CALL MY DAD. He can stop by here on the way home from the other clinic. This dog needs to be seen!” said boss’s daughter, and then she booked my dog into the schedule with a good half hour of time.

When that time arrived, Cranky Vet asked me to show in the next appointment.

I’m your next appointment,” I said.

“There’s no more appointments?” he said.

“Yeah. My dog,” I replied.

“Well, I have to leave. I’ll be back at 4.” 

Off he went.

I can’t tell you how bizarre all of this is.

Every vet I have ever worked with has been happy to attend to the pets of the other staff members. They never beef about the cost of their time or act like they’re doing you a massive favour. They’re delighted to ply their trade for the benefit of the people they work with. (In fact, most vets hate the whole “money” aspect of their job anyway, and I have known some refuse to discuss cost with clients, asking me to go in with estimates instead)

Not this guy, apparently. I don’t know if it was a personal dislike of me, or simply the knowledge that I wasn’t a paying customer (although he happily provides his services free to his friends, to the annoyance of the boss) but he clearly didn’t give a crap about my dog.

It wasn’t until we closed (this was my late day) that I finally bullied him into looking at my dog. Then he grumbled because this wound needed stitches and he didn’t have time for this. I pointed out that my dog had been there all day, and he stopped grumbling. But he didn’t want to take the time to stitch, so he just stapled the wound shut.

Beloved Dog is doing fine, and his ACL isn’t torn – the limp is gone. The lump has been submitted for testing, and will hopefully be completely benign.

I’m glad there’s only three more weeks with this guy. I’ve been trying so hard to like him – he’s a decent vet, nice to our clients, and clearly suffers from his constant intolerable levels of impatience. But this sealed it.

Mess with me all you like, but don’t mess with my dog.