The Vacation that Wasn’t

I have heard many stories about vacations gone wrong. I know two different couples who have wrecked rental cars the moment they pulled out of the lot. So much can go awry during the times that we plan to be fun and relaxing. I am sure everyone reading this has at least one awful story… Where you are stranded, often in an otherwise great setting, at the complete mercy of your surroundings and hosts.

Nothing could have prepared me for what happened on me and Miles’ first vacation in two years. A month ago, the opportunity arose for me to plan a fun and affordable trip. My acquaintance had invited Miles and I to come stay with her and watch her and her Welsh Terrier compete at the 2013 Canadian Agility National Championships, which were happening near her home.

Miles’ first plane ride as an adult went very well. He behaved perfectly in the airport (even with a cat in front of us in the check-in lineup!), and slept during take off, only waking briefly during the bumpy moment at the end. I was so proud of him. And a tad jealous of his amazing ability to get quality sleep on a plane.

When my acquaintance picked us up, she said that she didn’t believe in face-to-face on-leash introductions of dogs, so I respected her wishes. She had graciously set up a crate for Miles in the middle of her van. Her Welsh Terrier was in his own crate on the floor, and her Airedale  was loose in the back next to Miles’ crate. We stopped a few times, and whenever I lifted Miles in or out of his crate, her Airedale pushed her nose into Miles’ face and bum. It was a bit of an unintended (and one-sided) introduction, I thought to myself.

Interesting side note on dog-to-dog greetings: I grew up in the country. Unacquainted dogs didn’t meet each other up-close that often, and when there were lots of dogs and people in the same space, they were typically preoccupied with their jobs.  When I moved to the city, I immediately noticed that a primary focus of puppy class was to teach excitable pups not to rush other dog’s faces or bums directly upon meeting them. In other words, in the city, where there are dogs and people everywhere, it is crucial for dogs and owners to learn safe greeting skills, and how to handle less-than-ideal situations without overreacting. Nothing triggers a bad situation between dogs more than a dramatic reaction! Our trainers emphasized building greeting skills with more severity than anything else — and they were right in doing so. Basically, at home, if I take Miles outside, no matter what time of day or night, he is likely to encounter at least one new dog. Some are trained, some are not. Miles knows to approach other dogs respectfully, and when another dog is over-excitable, he knows to take a step back. This training has served us well in many different settings across North America, both rural and urban.

When we arrived at my friend’s house, she said it would be a good time to carefully introduce the dogs, on a one-on-one basis. I followed her lead. First, she let her Airedale loose in the backyard, and then instructed me to let Miles free. I set my suitcase down, and told Miles he was free to roam. He was happy to be in a nice backyard meeting a new friend, and wagged with joy. The large female Airedale ran up to him quickly, and pushed her nose into his face and then his bum. Miles was taken a bit off guard and hopped back a step, as he usually does if a dog approaches him in such a manner.

It all happened so fast. In the blink of an eye, the Airedale had Miles’ neck in her jaws, and her body enveloped his. I could barely see Miles, but I could hear his piercing shrieks of pain and terror. My friend and I were standing within a foot of their bodies when the incident occurred, and my friend was able (with great effort) to get Miles out from under her dog within milliseconds of the attack. Had we not been right there, Miles would be dead. The large dog had a direct aim for his jugular.

I whisked Miles away from my friend, who had saved his life, and all I could think about was hugging him tight against my chest, convincing him he was safe. When I saw his wounds I almost fainted. We set off to the vet, which was a bit of a drive. Miles huffed and puffed and shivered in shock. I focused on being calm so I could show him that everything was going to be ok. My friend had gotten him away from the dog in time, and he was going to get medical attention right away. If I kept the wounds very clean, avoiding any infection, he was going to live.

When we got Miles cleaned up and got his prescriptions, we went back to my friend’s house, and she took her Airedale to be boarded with a friend. I sucked in my emotions, and focused on bathing Miles and cleaning and treating his wounds.

I wasn’t able to go home right away for two reasons. Shock being the primary one. When I had the shock under control, I called our airline, and due to it being the week of a long holiday weekend, I could not afford a flight home. Miles and I stayed with our friend and went with her to Nationals. My top priority was caring for Miles. The thrill of Nationals was a distant memory. Miles was shaken, anxiety ridden, and in a lot of pain. Amazingly, the 6-7 deep puncture wounds he had endured healed healthily within two days. The gashes on his neck were a lot more concerning. I worked diligently to keep the wounds clean and clear of infection (which in the most ideal setting, is still no small task), and even harder to be a calming and soothing caretaker. Trying to do all of that at Nationals, which is pretty much a high-energy campsite with hundreds of dogs and people, in hot weather… It felt like a hellish form of camping. On the positive side, I met some amazing people, and did get to see a few teams I knew compete. Amazingly enough, Miles was okay with being around so many dogs, and even met lots of new dogs with a wagging tail. What a little guy.

A week and a half later, although the gash wounds are still nasty and deep, Miles is healing well. Dog bodies tend to close wounds quickly, first through great swelling, which can seal even the deepest gashes back together within 1/2 an hour. But this physical response can come at a great price, because it can lead to life-threatening infections getting trapped in deep wounds. I have been cleaning and hot compressing Miles’ wounds often, so that the seal stays open, and they can heal from the inside outward. We have seen our vet (and finally got Miles pain medication, which apparently he should have gotten last week, oh my gosh). Miles is a bit hesitant, and more attached to me than usual, but he is very good with my nursing tasks, and he is very happy to be alive and home.’

Click here if you wish to view images of Miles’ injuries. }

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