Column: Dogged for decades by bad memory

When it comes to dangerous dogs, responsibility lies almost exclusively with the owner

I’m more than a little uncomfortable around German shepherds. That’s been true ever since one tried to rip my throat out when I was about 18.

Thankfully, there was a pane of glass between me and the set of gnashing teeth aimed at the general vicinity of my face.

The sad fact is, if the dog had managed to injure or kill me, a decent share of the blame would have been mine.

But not all of it. And I’m certainly not putting any of it on the dog.

You get where I’m going with this.

The decades old memory was dredged up by recent coverage about Montreal’s ongoing attempt to create a breed-specific ban targeting pit bulls — or the range of breeds and mixes collectively defined as pit bulls  — a move that has managed to get a lot of backs up.

I was  house sitting for a friend who had a sweet-natured spaniel named Charlie.

Before she left, she offered to take him to stay with a friend out in the country if I preferred not to have the responsibility of taking care of him.

No, I told her, it would be great to have the company, and I’d feel much safer with a dog in the house.

They call those “famous last words.”

On our first day together, I let Charlie into the house following a run in the yard.

Within 30 seconds of coming inside, he looked me straight in the eye and lifted his leg on the kitchen cabinet.

He’d made it pretty clear, this arrangement wasn’t to his liking.

I called the dog sitter and made plans to drive Charlie to her farm the next day. As I pulled into the driveway at the appointed time I was greeted by an onslaught of manic barking.

On the front porch of the house was a large German shepherd in an aggressive stance, teeth bared, drooling. The lack of welcome, more than implied.

I sat there for a few minutes, waiting for someone to come out of the house and wrangle the dog.

After a while, becoming increasingly  impatient, I beeped the horn.

Still no sign of the dog’s owner.

To this day, I don’t know what I thought I would accomplish when I decided to make a run for the front door.

The woman had told me she’d be home, after all. And I had no interest in making another hour long round trip (or in cleaning up more dog pee), so I gritted my teeth and opened my car door. The moment it began to swing out, the shepherd was off the porch and racing toward me.

Regaining my senses, I jumped back into the car and landed smack on top of poor Charlie, who’d been trying to follow me out the driver’s side.

I slammed the door shut just as the shepherd lunged.

It jumped and barked madly at my window for a minute or two before running behind my car and disappearing from sight. A second later, I watched in disbelief as the front passenger side of my car began to sink.

Call it a late ’80s version of “pictures or it didn’t happen,” but I kept that tire with its tooth-shaped hole in the sidewall, and hauled it out any time someone tried to call B.S. on my story.

I threw my little hatchback in reverse and peeled out of there on three tires and rim, making it a good kilometre down the country road before I dared get out and assess the damage.

I found myself stuck in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire and only a theoretical idea of how to fix it.

Luckily, a family passed by, noticed my struggle and helped me to get mobile once again.

Charlie and I drove home. Him hanging his head happily out the window; me with my tail between my legs.

To this day the thing that has me shaking my head wasn’t the dog’s reaction to my arrival. Or even my own stupidity in attempting to get out of my car.

It was the owner’s refusal to acknowledge her dog’s behaviour.

If she’d said, “Yup. This is his yard and it’s his job to protect it,” then fair enough.

Instead, what I got was a dismissive, “My dog would never do that.”

Which translated roughly as: “I’m not paying for your tire.”

As I said, I take my fair share of the blame in this case.  I acted stupidly.

But at the same time, dog owners have a serious responsibility to be aware of what their pets are (or might be) capable of and to acknowledge that by taking appropriate precautions.

Don’t, for example, invite someone to your home in the middle of nowhere and then not be there at the appointed time if you own a potentially vicious dog.

Don’t take your unleashed (or in some cases unmuzzled) dog out in public if there is even an outside chance it could attack a person or another animal. That goes for all breeds, large or small.

No question, certain dogs pose a greater potential threat to life and limb than others by sheer virtue of their size or the mechanics of their jaw.

But the onus must always be on their masters to ensure that they are never in a position to do harm.

If you can’t handle that, you have no business owning a dog.