Let me start by saying this: I don't have a problem with pit bulls, and I think condemning them outright isn't fair to anyone. As an animal lover, I know that pit mixes make up the majority of dogs in kill shelters, which breaks my heart. I personally know several pit bulls who are precious, so I can't get behind people hating on the entire breed. Dogs are a reflection of their owners, and if a dog is badly behaved, that's on the person, not the animal. Some dogs are naturally more aggressive, some dogs take to water, some dogs are great for hunting - all dogs have their strengths and weaknesses, and all have to be properly trained accordingly. The dogs in this story could've been any dogs, any breed.
I've found myself telling this story a lot lately for one reason or another, so I thought I'd tell it here, too.
In Asheville, there is a gorgeous riverside park with a trail that extends for miles along the French Broad River and terminates in a dog park. Tom Hanks and I would take long walks there every morning, doing the few miles from Carrier Park (where the trail starts) and ending at the dog park in French Broad Park. Both these parks have leash laws in place, except for in the dog park, obviously, because dog parks are the best and most fun.
In October, before it got too chilly, we were walking through Carrier Park. It was about halfway through our walk, and I was totally absorbed in a sermon I was listening to in my headphones. We passed a pretty surly motorcyclist who'd pulled up onto the grass. Just as I was thinking that I should probably speed up to avoid this guy, Tom Hanks and I were suddenly both knocked to the ground.
When I sat up, I realized that two pit bulls were the culprits. They had been lying on the ground - had leashes on, but they weren't being held onto. Their owners (a college-aged couple) weren't watching them as we passed by, so they'd come at us full force. I'd gotten the wind knocked out of me and my sunglasses had been knocked off my head (never to be recovered, RIP favorite sunglasses!) - but most disturbingly, my dog had been pinned underneath two roughly 80 pound dogs.
The pits' owners and I snapped into action and ran over. The girl in the couple snagged one of the dogs, and Tom Hanks was able to outrun the other one in enough time for the guy in the couple to tackle him.
I was, of course, completely hysterical at this point - couldn't catch my breath and was just crying out of pure terror. I said to the couple, "I'm not usually a confrontational person, but this is why there are leash laws. You have to keep your dogs on a leash. They can't be allowed to do that."
And the couple responded with a half-hearted, "Sorry?" and went back to their conversation.
Tom Hanks was down the trail at this point, being cared for by none other than the big scary biker guy that before, I'd tried to avoid. He held TH's leash while I caught my breath and talked to both of us in sweet, dulcet tones about how everything was going to be fine. He even offered to look for my sunglasses. Precious. Once we were both a little steadier, we walked back to the car. It was only at that point that my adrenaline wore off enough for me to realize that my ankle had been badly sprained in the tussle. I ended up in a boot, nursing a high ankle sprain for about four months, and although it's MUCH better these days, the ankle still bugs me.
TH is a really friendly, more submissive fellow when it comes to interacting with other dogs, and this scared him pretty good. Though he emerged from the scrap with only some deep scratches on his belly, he was pretty freaked.
Even though we were not at fault in this particular scenario, it inspired me to read a lot about how I can best make sure I'm facilitating a positive interaction between Tom Hanks and any other dog he may come into contact with. Tom Hanks is the first dog I've ever had, and because of that, I have had to learn a lot about proper association techniques. Here are some helpful things I've learned from the World Wide Web that can help all our pups get along:
Follow leash laws. They're there for a reason - not for some people to follow and others to ignore. When one dog is on a leash and meets another dog who isn't, the leashed dog automatically feels like he's at a disadvantage and becomes fearful and/or aggressive. That's why in most dog parks, there's a little gated area between the entrance and the park itself for you to remove your dog's leash - it's so that when your dog is meeting other dogs, he's off-leash, just like they are, and everyone feels like they're on an equal playing field.
Always ask. This is a biggie. Proper protocol when one dog meets another (assuming they're both on leash) is to ask its owner, "Is it okay if my dog says hello?" People know what their dogs can handle, and many people will simply say, "No, we're working on friendliness right now, but she's not quite there yet," or something similar. Asking first ensures that everyone - people and dogs alike - are aware, ready, and watching the interaction. No one is caught off guard, and everybody stays safe, especially the pups!
Pay attention. In a situation when dogs are off-leash, like in a dog park, it falls to us as the humans to make sure everything's going swimmingly. A few times at our dog park, there will be folks who let their dogs off leash and then crack open a book, totally oblivious that their dog is wreaking all kinds of havoc and scaring everybody. I like to think of dogs as the equivalent of a bunch of 4th graders - they're usually harmless, but they're just smart enough to get into loads of trouble left unattended.
Watch the tail and the ears. In all the dog books I've read (NERD ALERT), the authors talk about how tails and ears are emotional giveaways. For example, if your dog is in a new situation with lots of other dogs, and you notice that his ears are lying flat against his head and his tail is tucked, he is officially freaked out and needs a little soothing. Conversely, if his ears are pricked and his tail is lifted high, he's ready to play! Since dogs can't verbally communicate with us, this is the easiest way for us to read their emotions and help make every interaction a positive one. By watching the tail and ears, we're not abandoning our dogs in situations where they're uncomfortable, and that could potentially turn aggressive if left unchecked.
It really is so easy to make sure that all dogs are happy and healthy - it just takes some extra attention and knowing what to look for. May we all be responsible dog owners and have dogs who are as happy as these derps right here: