Mommy v. Cujo
I can add a new skill to my Mommy repertoire: Terrier Tossing. Turns out I can throw one seven feet in the blink of an eye. How do I know this? Because three days ago I grabbed a stray Terrier as he pounced on my son in the park and then I hucked that beast aside like yesterday’s newspaper. And had he come back for more, my right foot was poised to try out a skill known in Mommy circles as Kicking the Whatzit Out of the Terrier Who Tackled My Son. Luckily for all parties, no such foot skill proved necessary. A good Samaritan took charge of the dog who jumped us and got him to heel.
It didn’t start out as a day for dogs. Rather, my three four-year-olds and I were headed for a park we’d passed so many times on our bus ride to Great Yarmouth. Every time, just halfway into the bus route, the park in Gorleston-on-Sea beckoned to us as we passed. Friday we decided to heed its call. Packing up a picnic lunch and climbing aboard our beloved X1 double-decker bus, we arrived at the park about 10:45. At 10:47, we were square in the sights of a stunningly over-muscled black dog bolting across the grassy expanse that separated us from the best-looking play structure in all of Suffolk.
I was later to learn that the dog aimed at us like a bullet was a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, an English breed of dog related to the American pit bull terrier. Staffs are medium-sized, short-coated, and built like Arnold Schwarzneggar in his Mr. Olympia days. What’s also important to note, which I didn’t know when this animal was bearing down on me and my three sons, is that this breed is known for its natural fondness for people, with children in particular. In fact, its Wikipedia entry says, “No breed is more loving with its family.” The entry also said, “The breed is naturally muscular and may appear intimidating.” You don’t say?
My three sons were amply intimidated. In fact, their shrieks at the sight of the dog bearing down on him brought people running out of nearby apartment buildings and from bus stops down the block. That’s a good thing, because in their terror, these small but also stunningly muscular humans had locked onto both of my legs and my right arm. Let me pause here to say that I am right-handed. If I were ever going to try to defend my sons’ lives with one arm, it would be with my right. Yet my right was in lock-down, and there was no extracting it. Believe me, I tried.
It was my obvious immobility that sent one woman flying out of her flat and into the park. She told me later that she could tell from her window that I could do nothing to shake the panicked munchkins from my body and that we were one big human target to this animal. I threw down the coats I’d been holding in my left hand and prepared to defend my brood. The best I could hope for with that hand would be a decent stiff-arm to its face, but at least that would be better than allowing this huge set of dog teeth unfettered access to my gut.
And yet, even as I braced myself and hollered to my kids, “Let go! Let go of me! Let go!”, I was dialing down my alarm. The dog had that goofy “I’m so excited to see you and play with you” lope to his run. Not that my kids would understand this. They were still shrieking and crying hysterically, convinced that Death himself was bearing down on them. Even as I noted the lope, though, I was aware that 1) a dog this big would knock my children clear over if he tried to jump up and play, and 2) I have almost zero dog experience and so didn’t really know a goofy lope from a vicious dash at tender triplet meat. Given these facts, I continued to try to shake my kids free so that I could defend them.
Suddenly, my right arm popped loose! Hurrah! Now I could do something! But then just as quickly my flash of jubilation turned to fear once again as the child I’d shirked off bolted, fleeing in terror. Not what I’d wanted. Now I was rooted by a child on each foot as the dog altered his route to intercept my fleeing boy. “No!” I screamed. With a Herculean burst of strength, I ripped my legs free of my two boys and lunged at the third just as the Staff jumped up and knocked my boy backwards. The very same instant that dog made contact with my screaming son, I was wrapping my arms around the beast’s stomach. In a twist that would do any ab trainer proud, I twisted my core muscles leftward and flung that animal away. I think he was as surprised as I was, for he rolled and stood then hesitated.
In that hesitation, the good Samaritans swooped. Several men jumped in front of my children and a mother pushing a double-stroller filled with two pig-tailed girls whistled and hollered, “Heel! HEEL!” The dog obeyed, his tail wagging jauntily, and another woman stepped in to grab his collar. Cujo was captured.
My boys saw no reason to stop their screaming and crying and shaking. I turned and hugged them, now finding out what it’s like to be choked to near suffocation. They were so frightened, and hugging me was all they could do to dispel it. I tried to explain to them that this dog was trying to play so they didn’t need to be afraid anymore, but as you can imagine, that was pretty useless. On the suggestion of the lady from the apartment building, I hustled my boys to a fenced-in portion of the park where no dog could get to them. She offered to go with me, but the dog was now being ushered up the block by the lady who’d collared him as well as the men who’d rushed to our aid, so I didn’t feel an escort was necessary. The boys had to be normalized somehow, and a stranger holding their hands wouldn’t be conducive to that. You know what finally calmed them down? Climbing into this raised cage-like spinner across the park. They figured that up there, behind those ropes, they were safe from dogs. It took quite a while before they agreed to come out.
Periodically during our stay in that park, the woman who’d collared the dog passed through. She was trying to find the owner to spare him/her the one hundred fifty pounds it would cost to get the dog out of the pound. The woman from the apartment had called some kind of animal control, but as far as I know no such organization showed up. While I knew by now that the dog was quite nice and I did want him reunited with his owner, I wasn’t so sure that a fine would be so bad. It would hurt, but maybe that would make the owner more careful about keeping the dog in. It could’ve been run over, it could’ve hurt my sons in its exuberance, it could’ve been lost forever. Sometimes important lessons hurt…and cost you one hundred fifty pounds.
But push didn’t come to shove. Eventually a bunch of guys came running through the park asking if we’d seen a Staff just as another bunch of guys on bikes rode through the park asking if we’d lost a Staff. The guys all hooked up and ran off together to fetch the dog. It was a happy moment for Cujo. And for the owner’s wallet.
Now as I think back on the dog incident, I wonder how I could’ve handled it differently. I honestly don’t think I could’ve. My husband has talked to the boys about not grabbing onto me when a dog comes a’running, but that’s not reality. These were terrified little boys and they weren’t thinking, “Let’s not grab Mommy so that she can go all Hong Kong Fuey on the beast.” I think I’m just glad to know how well everyone else responded to my crisis. Had this been a vicious dog, I have no doubt that those men would’ve still flung themselves into the fray. And the mom with the double stroller? Well, she’d known the dog was around the park bugging everyone, so she wasn’t afraid of it by the time we came on the scene. Had it been vicious, well, maybe she would’ve been in there with me tearing the beast limb from limb.
I guess the lesson I’ll take away from this incident is this: Work out your left arm as well as your right. You never know when it will be the only thing keeping Cujo from biting off your belly button.