Last week our PitBull mix Reese got into a fight with my Old English Sheepdog Ridley – our newest edition to our home. The dogs had come in from outside where I had just watched them playing. The dogs seemed pretty rambunctious and I don’t like that in the house so I was going to put them back out but decided to give them some leftover apple first. I stood up with a plate in my hand and the dogs ran over and never quite got settled (they need to sit to get any treat). In a split second 2 year old Reese was going at Ridley who was doing his best to protect himself. Reese who is smaller but much stronger than 11 year old Ridley pushed him to the ground and had a hold of his next above the ear and he wouldn’t let go. Ridley stopped fighting and was whining. It was very scary.
I was able to get Reese to release his hold – my son had the mind to grab the water spray bottle we keep handy – he sprayed and I tugged at Reese. He let go and I threw him outside. I went out and yelled at him and chased him with the spray bottle more bc I was so mad than it being any important correction. But I think I made my point – but it was very upsetting to me. Thankfully Ridley had only a minor cut behind his left ear.
Ever since the altercation over a week ago -things have been quiet between these two. A couple days after that event Rudy took his turn getting after Ridley too. No damage was done to either dog and I did correct Rudy and gave him time in solitary – away from the pack. They all seem to have moved on.
Since the first event, I have been quite off kilter and not as relaxed when my dogs are all hanging together as I usually am. I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop. This is not really like me. These altercations were clearly tiffs and the dogs have seemed to move past them. Why can’t I?
I realize it is my issue not the dogs. I have been doing a lot of thinking about it.
I have mentioned before that some of my reaction is likely comes from some Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. PTSD from my own life which probably is what drives me to want and need dogs in my life, and then the post traumatic stress that has caused such a strong reaction to the fight which derives from the time last year when my husband, Kevin, was bitten by another sheepdog we had adopted. We had him 4 days and the dog attacked my husband without warning – severely biting him multiple times. This landed my husband at the urgent care (in hindsight we should have gone to the ER) and he became very ill due to the infection he ended up with from the bites.
It was a scary event and one that could have been avoided had I never agreed to take that dog in the first place. I knew he had bitten the foster person. Though it was downplayed I should have had a much bigger red flag on that bit of information. I ignored it bc the desire to get another sheepdog into this house was greater than my red flag meter.
I think I was very affected by the attack on Kevin and I wasn’t sure I would ever adopt a dog again. Though this is what we do so I could only stay away from getting another dog for so long. I have carried a lot of guilt and fear away from that incident, which I am sure, played a part in my reaction to the fights between my current dogs.
Kevin reminded me the other day that when we chose to add another dog to our pack we stir up the dynamic for a time. He is right. I need to remember that dogs have their own hierarchy and though over three weeks had gone by since Ridley joined the family, things are still getting established in their dog world.
We can’t ignore the fact that Pit Bulls have been bred for fighting and their reactivity to challenge is well known. They can be fierce and scary when they decide to fight. Deciding to have a dog with Pit Bull in them is not for everyone. When we decided on getting Reese we felt confident that we could handle anything that came up. Had we met Reese after the dog-biting incident I can’t say for sure if we would have adopted him. I may have been too nervous. But maybe that would be the fear talking and I don’t like to bend to fear.
Dogs have been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. But recently, I have been thinking more about this and have realized that in my childhood dogs represented calm for me. Psychiatrists have said that dogs are very important to children who are leading complex and difficult lives. I realize now why I was so drawn to them from such a young age. To this day I have a dog near most of the time. I have a dog curled at my feet as I write this piece.
I grew up in a chaotic household. Not normal chaos – the dysfunctional kind. There was yelling and fighting. Our family dog, a black and white cocker spaniel mix named Inkspot-became my friend and she calmed me. If things got too loud in my home I would hide in the closet and Inky would sit with me until it felt ok to come out.
I am realizing now that so much of my life even in adulthood has been about chaos or post-traumatic stress and dogs were the medicine to comfort me.
My need to have multiple dogs in my life has been to fill something that I didn’t get in my childhood. A sense of stability and of calm and order – a need to give to living things what I did not have. We get dogs for all kinds of reasons but rarely think about them. Thanks to Reese, I am thinking about them.
I have always been drawn to saving things. This primal need must come from my childhood. The trainers know it is rarely about the dogs, it is always about the people. I felt unsafe for much of my life. When you feel you have saved something you feel like are saved as well. It is healing. The more I do it, the more I heal. In a way I know this is selfish, but it is good and feels good to me and good for me. And the dogs benefit too. So it’s a win/win.
I got into rescuing dogs by accident. I hadn’t considered rescue back in 1992 but I just happened to hear about Greyhound rescue. I felt this instant need to help. Probably my first jump into rescuing a dog was not well thought out. I got into it on a whim and thankfully that breed worked out.
I have had dogs in my adult life for 25 years. I have had at least two dogs for much of that time and I have up to six living with me. That’s not for everyone but it is something that I feel is right for me. My husband shares this passion, and that is important. In a marriage, you can’t do this alone. In that time I have learned a lot. One thing I do know for sure is that you cannot ever think you know everything. Dogs are animals after all and they will act that way and sometimes it will take you by surprise.
I remember as a kid when our Lab Sam killed a squirrel in our backyard. My brother thought it was cool – I was sad for the squirrel and my mom was horrified. We don’t want to see the primal side of our animals. We try to teach them to live with us in a civilized manner and for the most part they do this agreeably and I am sure the fact we provide them food and shelter is a good motivation.
The best thing we can do for ourselves is when getting a dog rescue or from a good breeder is to look at the type of dog you are considering and learn about the temperament.
In our case with Reese we really liked him. He was just about 4 months old and pretty darn cute and we had some connection to him. We didn’t really chat about the fact he was part Pit Bull until after we put an application in on him. We knew the good sides and the bad and we knew the risks and we opted to go ahead and adopt him.
When we get a dog we also think about whether the dog will fit in with our other dogs and we have to also consider the kids. If a dog is aggressive to my kids or to us they have to go -as did the dog that attacked my husband. It would have been irresponsible for me to keep a dog that was aggressive.
I also had to re-home a dog once because my other dogs were attacking him. It was heartbreaking but sometimes dogs just cannot get along and to keep the dogs safe sometimes you have to rehome one. The dog that we rehomed ended up in a great home for him and lived out his life in peace and safety. It hurt me to give him up but this wasn’t about me it was about the dog.
When getting a dog we also should consider where they will live
A giant dog that needs room to roam and run should not be kept in apartment. I had a greyhound in an apartment but they are couch potatoes – really they are. But to have our collie mix Pierce in an apartment would drive him mad and a potential owner mad. In our case now we have four acres and a big dog yard where they can run and run.
Reese has been an incredible dog – albeit full of energy- he has been the ambassador of our dogs welcoming guests human and canine alike into our home. Until the issue with Ridley he had never been aggressive at all. In fact, it was he and Rudy who lay with me after my cancer treatments bringing me so much comfort. This fight last week was the first and it shook me. Dogs are the calming forces in my life so when they act aggressively– it stuns me.
After a lot of pondering, I do feel that my reactions to Reese fighting with Ridley were valid – but I also think they shook me more because of the biting incident with Kevin. I lost some of my confidence when that happened. I hadn’t realized it that until I really thought about it. I can get past this though. It is like falling off a horse. It is imperative you get back on and ride through the fear and doubt.
Rescuing dogs is what I do and I have experience at it. I realize that I can’t fix everything and we have our limits but we think Reese is a pretty good dog and we are willing to work with him on his issues if they arise.
I did learn to be more diligent with them when it comes to food. I am not sure the fight occurred because of food alone but something happened when they saw me with a plate. I also will be adamant that they stay calmer in the house. They seem to play well outside. Inside a dog can get bumped when they are jumping about and that can sometimes result in misunderstanding that can lead to a fight.
I have learned that I love the Pit Bulls and the Pit mixes but they come with some risks. The very cute and sweet dog can be a mean creature. But in general he is a very nice dog. I am more aware now of what he is capable of and I won’t take the for granted.
I am dedicated to Reese. I can’t let a dog go easily. I don’t give up on things that quickly. I spent much of my life trying find love and acceptance. I have that now with wonderful people in my life that have lifted me up and have never given up on me. I am not ready to give up on him.
I am lucky; I found the acceptance and love in my life that I had been craving as a child. It took a while to find and it took a while for me to feel worthy of it. My love and need for dogs has never wavered and my dedication to helping them is still as strong as ever. The little girl inside me will never forget the little black and white cocker spaniel mix that sat with her when she scared and sad and licked her tears away.
Thanks for reading…
Reese -age 2 – the Pit Bull mix that is the inspiration of this post.
My heartdog Rudy -age 3
Newcomer- 11 yr old Ridley
Lemon – age 6
The crew. Lemon in back . L to R – Rudy, Pierce-age 2, Ridley, and Reese