Dogs Love To Bite Me

FEATURE by Gilbert Horobin

On moving from Ankara, good American friends left two puppies with myself, my wife and our nine-year-old daughter. After only a short stay both puppies contracted dysentery, and daily liberally fouled our small flat. I recall one occasion when the wife of the British Council representative, visting with information relative to my wife's teaching program, had to pick her way circumspectly on tiptoe across our living room. Tearfully for our daughter I had in the end to have the invalids put down, and at the same time swore never again to give houseroom to a dog.

A month or two later, having taken our car up to the British Embassy's garage where the English mechanic had kindly agreed to deal with a braking fault, on his removal of the left rear wheel a puppy jumped down, wagged its tail gratefully, then settled itself under the chassis. It had been wedged on the axle between the wheel and the suspension springs during a long drive up a very steep hill to the embassy, but seemingly had suffered only a minor mud-caked swelling above its left eye.

When the mechanic had done, I asked him what we should do about the puppy, it sitting docilely under the car, and he said, "If I were you, chum," emphasizing the personal, "I'd just take it out into the country and dump it."

"Yes," I said uneasily, "that's what I'd better do."

I put the puppy on the back seat, and on the journey down hill it sat as quietly and unmoving as an elderly maiden aunt dutifully being taken out for a spin. I stopped off at home to explain what I intended to do, and with passion my daaughter screamed, "No," my wife saying pointedly, "You're inhuman, as I've often said."

The puppy was fed, petted, and put in a basket in the kitchen. Next day my wife brought an English girl from the college, she having qualified as a vet prior to marrying a teaching colleague of my wife's, who cleaned the puppy's wound and dressed it, the damage looked to be little more than a shallow cut. After a couple of weeks of care and much attention though the puppy in play becoming over-excited hysterically would snap viciously at the hand of anyone who offered to pet it or even feed it a tidbit, and it would get to be so fierce I'd to put it back in the coal shed, and then whenever it was let out it became the virago butt of the children of our neighbors, and was subjected as well to the teasing by workmen on a close-by construction site.

When on feeding it one day the puppy with a snarl snapped at and caught the tips of my charitable fingers, and would not be calmed, I decided that the knock it had sustained on the car had caused more damage than had been apparent and drove down to the Quarantine building in the city to ask for advice, and an official came back with me, and although I suggested he might need gloves he shrugged disdainfully, as one who knew all there was to know about the handling of fierce or even mad dogs, and of course when I unlocked the coal shed and stepped cautiously aside the whirlwind puppy bit the hand the official had thrust forward to take it, whereupon that man in fury got it by the throat and kept a tight stranglehold on it all the way back downhill to the Quarantine.

Three days later an official arrived in our vicinity in a jeep, and handed me an offical order for myself and all members of my family to report at a hospital in the city, there immediately to begin a course of injections against rabies, our puppy, the notice stated having died of that sickness. He handed out identical orders to those neighboring families whose children had had contact with the pup in play, and to the workmen on the site who, as well as their teasing the puppy, had fed it scraps, including chicken bones, from their lunch packages.

The issuing of the order should have included one for the family of the British Council, he and his wife living in a neighboring street, their children constant playmates of our daughter, but it didn't. As I felt sure the puppy had not died a victim of rabies, but had by asphyxiation, I recruited the Consul to go with me to the hospital, where we were able to speak to the senior surgeon, who in fact had signed the order. He admitted that from the results of an immediate test on the puppy it was ninety per cent certain that the puppy had not succumbed to rabies, but since an anlysis of the principal test could not become known for thirty days, until then it would be wise to submit to the therapy. The consul solicitously urged my taking of the surgeon's advice, but did not submit his children to it.

The serum, a foul-looking liquid resembling milk out of a much-handled unwashed bottle that previously contained mud, injected an appalling quantity into the stomach caused an almost instant internal swelling the size of a chicken's egg, with resulting discomfort and nausea. We three had been ordered ten each daily injections--neighboring children and those workmen who may have sustained scratches or even bites from their play had been allocated up to as many as thirty. After three days of treatment I sought out that surgeon and told him we would rather risk a contraction of rabies than undergo any further injection. "Fine," he said, and ordered a document for my signature stating that I had of my own free will put a premature stop to the authorized treatment and by doing so absolved him and the hospital of all responsibilioty for any unfortunate consequence.

This all happened some years ago. We did not of course contract rabies or die of a related disease. An elderly nurse who had been in the employ at the British Embassy in Ankara for more than twenty-five years told me that there was as much danger of contracting rabies from the injections as there was from the bite of an animal, that moreover, and throughout the length of her service in the country she had yet to learn of a case of rabies. Some mothers in our locality seemed to welcome the injections for their girls rather than complain of our disruptive alien presence, making claim that the metabolic effect of the serum transformed an undernourished-looking child into a plump and well-fed one.

As a family though we made our decision never again to take in puppy or dog as pet, and as well to discourage even those friends we love to bring their dog when visiting, however lovable or amenable to a leash the animal was.

In a more recent year, in Greece where I happen to be living, a doctor at our local clinic in treating me for a nose infection advised me to syringe it regularly with sea water, and supplied the syringe--"change the water every two days." I took a jam jar down to a beach on which I had not set foot for at least four years. There was a person seated reading at one end of it, and at the other a dog scavenging among the rocks and beached flotsam. Midway between these two I bent down to the gently lapping water to fill my jar, and the dog unseen came up behind, bit through my lightweight trousers and got his teeth into the flesh of my left thigh and would have come again had I not angrily beat it off.

Back at the clinic I'd to submit to an anti-tetanus injection and begin a course of large-size antibiotic tablets, if less offensively have my wound dressed by a young woman doctor with a slight attractive cast in her right eye. I was asked to fetch in the dog for testing, and to inform the police, but although I looked several times in the vicinity of that beach, of course I was unable to identify it. Fortunately I did not succumb to rabies or other related infections, but my attitude towards dogs, that throughout the intervening years to an extent had become relaxed, most certainly hardened again.

And then, blow me down, a year later and almost to the day of that previous incident, after my wife and I had travelled to another part of Greece to call on my grandson and his recently-wedded wife, they on a short holiday at a house his other grandfather had built some thirty yeasrs ago, on our arrival at the gate of the property--situated on a ledge of land in a sylvan cove at the foot of high cliffs--lo and behold we were confronted by a man with a dog, the latter not on a leash. We had not been to that property for a number of years and since I was unaware if the man was a known friend of my grandson's family, or an intruder, when his dog came bounding to me, politely I patted its head--one may not like dogs but I am not so uncivilized as to act as scourge to a family friend's pet. My greeting was not good enough for that dog, and while I appealed to the owner to recall it, it ferociously made itself busy encircling my legs with its, and mock biting my hands. "He's only a young dog," the man said, doing nothing to recall it, or not, that is, until its teeth drew blood from the back of my left hand and then in anger I yelled at him to take control of it, but by now my assailant had caught sight of my wife, who in all inoocence was coming up behind me, and it launched itself at her, encompassing her legs in a rugby-like tackle that most certainly would have brought her down had not the man at last, identifying the liquid on the back of my hand as blood, recalled and taken control of his unattractrive pet. At which point, my grandson's wife appeared to greet us and in her anger at the man decalred him to be persona non grata on that particular private property, and as well complain that his dog was the disturber of her night's sweet sleep and that of others in their party by his constant barking from wherever it was its owner selfishly and inconsiderately kept it locked up at night.

Later in the evening, with my hand cleaned, treated, and dressed--my grandson sent a mobile message to his mother--she my daughter of the Ankara rabies saga of that long past year, his information succinct; "G. bitten again by dog."

Her reply was as brief: "Alas, madness'll do for him one day!"

A trawl of memory throws up no wilful act of mine against a dumb canine that could justify any revengeful biting by a descendent. To a dog, of course, I may smell like buried bones. On the other hand my grandson's grandmother, who died some years ago, although she initiated our divorce even in her fabricated pleading she never accused me of viciously biting her, and in all truth I never at anytime throughout that warfare of our acquaintance, as bitter as that at times had beem, was I ever of disrspectful of her rights and personality as to call her a bitch!