How Not to be a Pet Parent

October 24, 2012

I got an email from a client on Monday morning in which he informed me that the midday walks we scheduled for his dog would not be needed. He and his wife had taken Thea out for a Sunday afternoon stroll at a historic park in the area and a dog had attacked her. The dog had ripped off her harness and she had fled the scene in the effort to dodge the attack. They searched for her for hours but she had not been found.


How awful! Not only did their dog get attacked before their very eyes but she also ran away, even with them in tow, because she was so afraid. They were left wondering how badly injured she might be and where she could have gone.


They have been clients for about a year and I hated the thought of them searching for her alone. They needed a team, I thought, so I offered to meet them out in the spot where she was last seen after my midday walks that afternoon. I forwarded Thea's poster to our staff and three of our team members also volunteered to help look for her. Our search party would consist of 6 people. It's a lot better than 2, I thought.


We canvassed a large expanse of the park for almost three hours that afternoon. Thea's parents had been out there for hours on Sunday and all day Monday. They looked as I expected: exhausted and terrified. There was no sign of Thea. There was no news from anybody we asked. Nobody had seen her since Sunday afternoon when she was spotted running across a very busy intersection. We were all losing hope.


Distressed and highly concerned for the dog's safety, I couldn't help but be furious at the people whose dog had caused this awful situation. According to her owners, Thea's attacker was some sort of collie or similar breed. It happened too fast for them to know for sure. What they did know is that the dog's owners had two kids and another dog with them. One of the kids was an infant in a sling carrier.


When their dog struck Thea, the couple did nothing. The dog not only went for Thea but it also bit Thea's dad when he tried to separate them. He kicked the dog and it finally let go. Then, Thea fled in fear. The couple still did nothing. And, when Thea's parents went after their pet, the couple grabbed their kids and their dogs, loaded them all in the car, and ran off while onlookers watched in disbelief. Unfortunately, none of those watching were able to get their license plate number. They did, however, pick up Thea's family's stuff and take it to the visitor center for safe-keeping while they were in pursuit of their little girl.

Based on their reaction, I would say that the couple had seen the highly aggressive side of their dog in the past. They ignored it, hoping that their menacing pet would not do anything serious. Well, it did. And, instead of doing the right thing at that point, they bolted, even as their children watched. Parents of the year? I dare say, no.


I realize that people can be despicable. But, it still surprises me that people who are despicable would take on the responsibility of pets and children. And, it blows my mind that these two behaved in such a way in front of their children, an infant and a young child. The infant won't remember a thing but the kid just might. And, parents who lead with that kind of example are the reason why so many children end up going down the wrong path and learning ways to cheat the system, cheat those around them, and ultimately cheat themselves.


I've heard people say that there ought to be a license to raise children. I've heard the same thing about having pets. I could not agree more.


In this case, I wish somebody had gotten the couple's license plate number so that the children would have had the opportunity to see the consequences of their parents' actions. That way, they would learn from a very early age that their parent's lack of responsibility and integrity caused a family to lose a beloved pet, caused a man to get hurt, and could potentially cost their family a great deal as well.

Luckily, we got word that Thea had been picked up by Prince William County Police on Tuesday morning. They spotted her getting onto Rt 66. Wow! Thank goodness that Thea was found when she was and that she only had some minor scratches on her. After spending two terrifying nights out all alone, I'm sure Thea was thrilled to see her parents, even if they did meet her at the vet's office.


A terrible thing happened to Thea's family on Sunday and, it could have been avoided. If you have a reactive pet, get help from an animal behaviorist, avoid crowded parks and trails, always keep your dog on a leash, and warn other pet parents that your dog is not comfortable around other animals. And, if you have a friendly, well-socialized pet, don't assume all dogs are like yours. Respect the space of reactive dogs and watch for them. They are out there and some are clearly in the hands of the wrong owners.

There was nothing that Thea's family could have done to avoid the vicious attack. The responsibility falls entirely on the owners of the other dog. And, at the very minimum, I hope that they took note of their dog's aggression and are planning to do something about it. After all, they have two young children to think about.

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