Sunday, March 2, 2008


Last week, I had a life-altering experience that put my life into perspective.
I've been distracted of late, focused on getting my new website ready for its debut in mid-March, to coincide with the mailing of the galleys (Advance Reading Copies) of THE LAST QUEEN. Last week, I also turned in the manuscript for my Catherine de Medici novel, after a feverish four months of editing following my agent's wonderfully insightful comments. It's all been quite exciting, but I've been rushing to work and to home, walking my dog Paris in between, and not very attuned to the moment, as they say.

I love going up to the park after work with Paris because it reminds me that the best things in life are, to quote a cliche, free -- fun, laughter and love. My dog has been with me for almost eight years; I got her when she was nine weeks old. I'd been inconsolable over the recent loss of my previous pet and Paris was so beautiful with her tricolored markings and milky puppy eyes, I felt she'd come to me just when I needed her.

Last Tuesday night at around 6:45, we were in the park with friends and their dogs when out of nowhere Paris let out a terrified sound unlike anything I'd heard before. I saw her being attacked by a small pitbull. It had Paris by the back of her throat, at her ruff, only two or three paces from where I stood. As my dog started screaming, I threw myself on top of the pit. I knew instinctually that unlike other scuffles we've had over the years with other dogs, this one might cost Paris her life. I straddled the pit (by now, it was dark outside, so my friends were rushing to secure their pets and try to help me) and shoved my hands into its mouth to pry its jaws off my dog. It didn't take more than half a minute to get the pit loose but it felt like eternity. My adrenaline was pumping so hard I couldn't hear my own screams, though later my friends said I was wailing, hitting the pit in the face and thrusting my hands between its jaws.

When it finally let go, its jaws snapped shut on my hand. The pain shot right up my arm into my shoulder and back, paralyzing in its intensity. I yanked my hand out as the pit lunged after Paris again. I slammed it in the face with my knee and saw it bite me, but I didn't feel anything. I scrambled to Paris, grabbed her up in my arms and went racing to my car. I could see lots of blood and she was panting hard as I put her in the car and my friends started assisting me. My hand had gone numb and was starting to swell; when I happened to glance up as one of my friends went running to her house to fetch towels, I saw the owner had leashed the pit and was staring at me with a stunned look on his face. He said, "My dog has never done this before."

One of my friends cornered him to get his information, while another called my partner and then rushed Paris and me to the emergency vet. There, they kept Paris under observation for five hours, in fear her trachea had been ruptured. Her ear was lacerated badly (part of the lower lobe was torn off) and it bled a lot, plus she had two deep punctures on her upper back where the pit grabbed her. Fortunately, she showed no trachea problems and the vets let me take her home after dosing her with antibiotics and pain meds. They didn't want to perform any surgery because they said she was too traumatized and needed to rest overnight, so the next day I took her to my regular vet where they stitched up her ear and her back. They put a shunt in her back to drain away the infection, and told me to hot compress the area four times a day.

Yesterday, the shunt came out. She appears to be healing well, physically and emotionally. My vet told me that I saved her life, as the angle of her wounds indicate to him that the pit was, in fact, trying to get her by the throat to kill her. We have no idea what provoked the pit but when I reported the attack to Animal Care and Control they said pits can do this, for no apparent reason. It was off leash and so was Paris, but my dog isn't aggressive, and I suspect the pit came after her ball. Whatever the case, all I know is that one minute we were tossing the ball and the next the pit had barreled into her.

I had to get a tetanus shot and I'm taking a 10-day course of antibiotics (the same as Paris's, only the human grade). One of my legs is punctured from the bite and the other leg is badly scraped from fighting with the pit on my knees on asphalt, near where Paris and I were playing. Oddly enough, my hand wasn't wounded save for a tooth graze from the pit's incisor on my ring finger but moving my fingers hurt for days. My doc says the tendons are inflamed and will slowly heal. I was totally freaked out, of course; the next day when it all sank in, I broke down in tears at the vet's while waiting to pick up Paris after her surgery.

The pit's owner paid the vet fees and surrendered his dog to be destroyed. He reiterated that his dog had never attacked another dog before, but then he added, "She's almost four years old and if a pit is going to turn, that's the age when they do it." I replied that he was totally irresponsible for knowing this and still letting his pit run off leash in a public park where there are other dogs, especially smaller dogs. But in the end, I mostly felt sad that the event had caused my dog so much pain and taken the life of another dog. Though I believe that after such an attack, the animal can't be trusted, I've always been a strong advocate that when things go wrong, it's not the animal's fault but rather the owner's. And it was clear to me that this guy had no idea of the type of his danger his dog might pose. Animal Care and Control informed me that every month in San Francisco there are two to three serious pitbull attacks on animals.

While it's been the most terrifying thing I've ever been through, it has put life into perspective. I feel like one of those moms who's lifted a car off her trapped child. My entire body was so sore when I woke up the next day, I knew I'd used muscles that I didn't even know I had! More importantly when I woke up, I saw Paris asleep between my partner and me, and I realized how close I'd come to losing her. Life can turn on us like a pit bull, fast and unexpected. I promised myself that henceforth I'll be super vigiliant in the park, but even more so, I'll be more aware of the importance of living every day in the moment.


Daphne said...

Wow! What a terrifying experience. I am glad that you and Paris were not more seriously injured. I hope both of you are better soon.

C.W. Gortner said...

Thanks so much, Daphne. We're doing much better. Paris is back to wanting to play ball - always a good sign - and while I'm still very wary in the park, I'm taking it as a good sign. Better safe than sorry.

Kelly Hewitt said...

CW -- I am so very glad to hear that everything is okay and that both you and your dog survived what had to be a very harrowing experience.

justin said...

My regards, CW. A horrible experience, I'm sure, but glad to hear you're both fine.

Susan Higginbotham said...

How awful! I hope you and Paris are mending.

Amanda said...

What a fright! You are very lucky to still have your little Paris, and to have escaped with the relatively small injuries you both have. It just shows how unpredictable dogs of that kind of breed can be. In its 4 years it may have been a wonderful dog for its owner, but it could definiately not be trusted again. What a shock for its owner!

Give Paris a big cuddle from all of us!

C.W. Gortner said...

You are all so nice! Paris and I are on the mend, though I'm steering clear of my neighborhood park and instead driving 15 minutes to Golden Gate Park, which is safer. I thank you from the heart for caring and letting me know it.

Lezlie said...

I'm new to your blog, so I just saw this. I'm so glad Paris is OK. And you have the right attitude. It's usually the owner, not the dog. It's so sad that things like this have to happen before they get it.

Books 'N Border Collies