Ella’s mother had gone out to do the school run, leaving Daisy in her front garden. After collecting the children, she was driving home, and as she approached her house, she noticed a large black dog on the road opposite her driveway. The dog was tossing a grey object into the air, letting it fall to the ground, then grabbing it in its mouth to throw it up again. At first she thought it was somebody’s cat, and she drove right up to the dog, hooting her horn to try to scare it off. It was only then that she realised that the grey object was her own dog, Daisy. At this stage, the dog had its jaws around Daisy’s neck, swinging her from side to side.
She leapt out of the car, screaming, and finally the big dog dropped Daisy and loped off. Daisy picked herself up, and bolted back into her own garden. She is normally a white dog, but now she was brown and grey, dripping wet from being rolled around in muddy puddles during the attack. She lay shivering on the ground, and Ella helped her mother pick her up and bundle her into the car. They drove straight down to our vet clinic.
As they told me the details of the incident, I feared the worst. When a big dog attacks a smaller animal, the injuries are often very serious. The sharp canine teeth of a dog’s jaws penetrate the skin like sharp knives, causing deep lacerations as they jerk around. Then the pressure of the jaws closing on the smaller animal’s flesh causes severe crushing, damaging internal organs. Even if small animals survive the initial attack, they are often left with internal injuries that lead on to serious illness and even death after a few days.
As I examined Daisy, she was quiet, and in shock, but I was surprised to find that she had survived in remarkably unscathed physical condition. She had only one laceration on the underside of her neck. She had extensive grazes and bruising all around the front half of her body, but there was no sign of the usual serious complications that would be expected.
It was obvious what had saved Daisy’s life. She had an exceptionally long coat. The Hasletts had been planning to have her groomed for a few weeks, but the dog groomer had been fully booked. When the big dog had attacked Daisy, his teeth had closed on mouthfuls of long hair rather than her skin and flesh. When he had tossed her into the air, he had caught her by her fur each time, rather than by her skin. Her long coat had acted like a six-inch deep cushion all around her body. I had to clip off much of the long, bedraggled fur to check her body for other injuries, and it was obvious from the bruising that she had been bitten all over.
Daisy was very fortunate that her grooming had been delayed – being bitten through a cushion is much less serious than a direct tooth-to-skin bite.
Once her fur had been clipped off, the full extent of the bruises and grazes could be seen. I cleaned her wounds with antiseptic, and used surgical staples to close the small laceration on her lower neck. She was given plenty of pain relief, and antibiotic cover. Ella and her mum took her home for sympathy and nursing.
I saw her again two days later, for a check up, and she was already much better. She was walking around, head held high, wagging her tail. The lacerated skin was healing well and the bruises were beginning to fade. Meanwhile, the Hasletts had found out more about the details of the incident.
Daisy had strolled from her own garden to the edge of the public roadway, and the big dog, which belonged to a neighbour, and come upon her. The big dog had attacked her viciously, and luckily Ella and her mum had come home just in time to save her life. While they had been down at the vet with Daisy, the police had arrived, and soon the dog warden was involved as well.
Under the Control of Dogs Act, all dogs must be kept under effective control. Owners may be held liable for any injury or damage caused if their dog attacks a person or livestock. To the Hasletts, it seemed obvious that Daisy was the innocent party, but under the law, both dogs were equally “guilty”. Both dogs were in a public area, without being under the control of their owners.
The owner of the other dog has been given a warning, and if the big dog is seen again in a public area without a lead, then they will be prosecuted and the dog may be removed. Meanwhile, Daisy will no longer be allowed out into the front garden unless the gate onto the road is closed.
I saw Daisy again yesterday, to remove the staples from her wound. She looks like a completely different animal now, following a visit to the dog groomer. She is definitely never going out alone again. Now that her protective cushion of fur is gone, she’d be in serious trouble if she got into another scrap.
- Dogs need to be kept under the effective control of their owners at all times
- If two dogs that are out loose together get into a fight, then both owners are equally liable for any injuries
- If one of the dogs is on a lead, then the responsibility lies with the dog that not controlled.