Sunday, August 3, 2008

A horrifying experience

Almost two hours ago, Mike and I brought home our 20-year-old daughter Margaret from the hospital. We'd spent more than three hours in the emergency room with her after she was attacked by our livestock guardian dog. After being glued up, stitched up, taped up, and drugged up, I think she will be all right. I must have said, "Everything is going to be all right" at least 30, maybe 40, times since 6:30 when I stood there as helpless as a paraplegic as he snapped and growled at her. She refused to back down, which is probably why she wound up being bitten four times instead of one.

I didn't even realize he'd bitten her when it was happening. She was trying to take him into the pasture, and he didn't want to go. When they got to the barn door, he snapped at her. She yelled at him and tried to put him in a submissive position. I saw him jump up at her and growl. Moments later I would learn that he had bitten her face. She continued trying to correct him, and he wound up biting both of her forearms and one of her hands. From my perspective, I wasn't sure what was happening. She was standing over him, with him finally on his back. She was holding him tightly to the ground as she looked up at me and said, "Is my face bleeding?" All I could say was, "Yes." I remembered my first aid class 20 years ago when the instructor talked about the importance of not letting an injured person know how badly he or she was injured. Don't panic, I told myself. Stay calm. "You're fine," I said, and then realized that lying was probably not the best approach. I quickly added, "Everything is going to be fine." I repeated it several times, not knowing what else to say, afraid to say something that would clue her in to the fact that I was terrified.

Blood was running down her face, on her chest and her arms. Her eye was already swelling and turning purple. She read my face and started crying. Like an idiot, I said, "Don't cry," thinking that it would be a very un-alpha thing for her to do in front of the dog. She started yelling at me to take him. At that point, my adrenaline had kicked in because I wasn't really that afraid of him. I just wanted to help her. I took his lead and moved him a couple steps away from her, then stood there, unable to move. "Okay," I cried. "I don't know what to do! I don't want to put him in a stall because that's what he wanted. That's why he bit you. I can't let him win. But I can't put him back in the pasture, because he'll just jump over the door again and come back in here."

"I don't care what you do with him," she screamed. "Just get him away from me!"

"Okay," I said decisively and started walking up and down the barn trying to decide which stall to put him into. Orally, I debated the benefits or disadvantages of each one. Finally, I put him in his favorite stall, because I knew he would lay down and go to sleep. I couldn't worry about what to do with him. I knew I had to get Margaret to the hospital.

By then, Jonathan had come into the barn because he heard the screaming. I told him to go find his father who was across the creek picking blackberries. Margaret became more upset as she saw the swelling and the blood on her arms and her hand. She kept asking me about her face. All I could say was, "Yes, it's bleeding, but it's going to be okay. We're going to take you to the hospital."

At the hospital, they did multiple x-rays of her face, her arms, and her hand. After getting all the blood cleaned up, we learned that her entire face had been in the dog's mouth. His upper canines went into the skin of her lower right eyelid, scratching the right half of her face as he let her go. His lower canines scraped under her left jaw without breaking the skin, but creating a wide abrasion. We were thankful that his teeth had not been any closer to her eye, so there doesn't appear to be any damage to the eyeball at all.

We also realized that he really didn't want to hurt her. He was just letting her know that he did not want to leave the barn. Knowing how he can crush a full-grown raccoon between his jaws in one bite, we know he could have crushed her face. That knowledge is terrifying and yet it is somewhat redeeming in a bizarre, twisted way. It could have been so much worse.

Physically, she will heal. The doctor glued the bites on her face and "loosely" stitched up the bites on one arm. The doctor said they don't like to stitch up dog bites because it's better to let them "drain" -- or bleed. It lowers the risk of infection, so they only stitch up or glue whatever is really necessary. They didn't stitch or glue anything for almost three hours, and all of the injuries were still bleeding/draining at that point -- which they pointed out was a good thing. It was just a little surreal to see something bleeding for so long. The skin around her right eye is black and swollen, and both of her forearms have areas swollen as large as oranges.

Mentally, I think healing will be harder. She never stopped crying for more than a couple minutes from the time she realized she had been bitten until ... well, I'm not sure. I left her room just before I started writing this post, and she was still trying not to cry. She said the pain wasn't "that bad," but she was exhausted and yet afraid to go to sleep. "Nightmares can be so scary," she said. I told her to think about happy things and then wanted to grab the words in mid-air before they reached her ears. I laid down on her bed next to her with my hand on her shoulder, hoping that would make her feel better than my ridiculous attempts at conversation. I couldn't think of anything to say that wouldn't sound trite or silly or ridiculous. I remembered when she was 6 years old and I would read aloud the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. From her safe bedroom in the Chicago suburbs, we thought it sounded so exciting to live a simpler life on a farm.

It was obvious what the nurses felt, even though they didn't admit their feelings openly. One spoke jovially to Margaret about having her own dominant alpha dog at home, but another asked seriously, "What are you going to do with the dog?" when Margaret was taken out for x-rays. "We're discussing it right now," Mike said. When she was giving us the discharge information, she said that the report would be turned over to animal control and they'd be calling us on Monday. I asked her what that meant, and she said they'd want to know about the dog's vaccine history and what we were planning to do with him.

And that brings me to the hardest decision that I've ever had to make. I know Sovalye has saved the lives of many animals on this farm when he protected them from predators. He has probably saved the lives of many more than we will ever know, because he was usually working when we were sleeping. Up until a couple months ago, he had been an outstanding guardian. It seems to be the zenith of cruelty and ungratefulness to put him down, but it seems irresponsible to let him continue to live.


Ivy said...

I am so sorry to hear about Margret's injuries. That must be difficult for you to witness and her to experience.

I hope all would turn out well for you and your daughter.

Jenny Holden said...

What a horrendous thing to have to go through. The shock of being attacked by an animal that you love hits like a sledgehammer, as I remember first hand.

From your previous posts it's clear that something significant has changed for the dog since his heart worm episode. He'll take a lot of retraining if you do keep him alive, question is whether you'd be able to stand up to a dog like that. I wonder whether he is still ill?

I'm so sorry that you're in this position and wish you all the best.

Alaska Shetland Shepherd said...

No Deborah, you don't have to put him down - he was doing his job, he knew to stay in the barn for whatever reason. And Jenny is also right, if there is something wrong with him inside that you perhaps have not seen or noticed, then someone dragging him away from his comfort place could have been just too much overload for him. If you decide to put him down, it is because he now has a bite history and can not go to another farm or ranch without extreme liability as a known biter. If you decide to euthanize him, it will be understandable because of what he did, even if not intentionally, to your daughter. You may not want to look at him again, and that of course is very human, very understandable. LGD's are a blessing, but they are powerful dogs to be respected, just as much as the herding breeds I deal with every week. We sometimes forget that they have the power to kill a coyote, so can also hurt a human if put into the wrong situation. I am so glad that Margaret is alive and will heal from her injuries. I have been bitten seriously by only one dog in my life and it was an LGD at a lama farm that came at me from the rear and took my leg at the thigh in his jaws and crunched down hard. Yes, it was pretty scary and quite a mess. I hope you both heal from this trauma and find peace. I'm so sorry!!

Susan said...

I'm so sorry about what happened to Margaret. We went through the same with a St. Bernard and my dad trying to get him to leave our garage. This was a dog that we 'inherited' and we knew little about his personality. It seemed to be a territorial thing for that dog, but we just don't know.
It had to be a terrible experience, but Margaret is in good hands now and I hope that doesn't stray far from her thoughts after that experience.
Best of wishes making the decision with your family about what to do with your dog. It's so hard making those decisions, but you'll make a well thought out and good decision. Just sorry you have to deal with that and all else that's going on at the farm right now.

Lois said...

Oh Deborah, what a devastating experience for Margaret and for you, and for Mike. My heart goes out to you all.

Nancy K. said...

Oh Deborah! Talk about "When it Rains It Poors!" I can't begin to imagine the heartbreak, fear, anger, betrayal and disbelief you must all be feeling. Poor Margaret! I suspect the emotional scars will be the worst. My heart goes out to all of you.

I know this sounds trite but please let me know if there is anything that I could do to help in any way...

Kathy said...

Deb-I am so sorry to hear about Margaret's experience. Back in the 50s, when I was a kid, I had my face chewed into hamburger by a dog. It was so bad that when my mom got me to the ER, they didn't know what to do as there was no tissue they could take a stitch in. I had my face held together, literally, by butterfly bandages. It took a long time to heal.
I still like dogs, but have not had one for years. If you or Margaret ever need to talk to someone else who's been through something like that...I'm here.


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