As a general rule life in the hood is not kind to dogs. Nor, for that matter, is it kind to children and old ladies. Then again, there’s a ninety-year-old woman living in The Bluff who regularly sports a t-shirt that reads ‘I Got Skills.’
Rules are made for nothing if not to be broken.
But dogs tend to live a particularly miserable existence. Nearly all are underfed, abused or abandoned and most of the ones lucky enough to have a home spend their lives tethered to a four-foot section of chain, their entire universe narrowed down to a tiny patch of mud.
This neglect makes them aggressive and mean. Social animals simply aren’t meant to live their lives in squalid isolation. So it’s not uncommon for someone to get bitten.
These bites are usually minor. Usually. I once treated a man who lost his left leg below the knee. He’d gotten so drunk he completely forgot a dog had bitten him until he ran out of money and sobered up. Four days later.
Unlike Will Ferrell’s character in Austin Powers, I haven’t encountered a gangrenous wound that smells like anything as nice as almonds. This man’s swollen, oozing limb smelled, if not like nuts, then certainly like something no longer living. A surgical resident happily lopped it off before leaving for his honeymoon in Cabo.
You can imagine, then, my total lack of surprise when I was called out to a dog bite. I simply shook my head and laughed as my partner put the ambulance in gear.
This particular attack occurred at one of the sprawling and poorly constructed apartment complexes thrown up to replace the city’s sprawling and poorly constructed housing projects.
When we got there we were told to look for a wounded man near a dumpster. Since 911 calls typically occur under strange circumstances, billboards, abandoned cars or even dumpsters commonly serve as landmarks.
This particular dumpster happened to be in the front of the complex. Parked next to it, so crookedly and hastily it simply had to contain our patient, was a silver pick-up.
We pulled alongside of it and hopped out. Our patient nervously poked his head out of the window.
‘He still here?’
I stuck my hands in my pockets. ‘Who?’
Convinced he wasn’t about to be eaten, the man stepped from his truck. I couldn’t help but notice he appeared unharmed. Completely and totally unharmed.
I asked him what the problem was.
And this is what he said.
‘Okay. See I was walking to my truck, right. Not here, I mean. This here’s just where I escaped to. At the time I was attacked I was out front of my apartment.
‘Anyway, I was walking to my car. Around about this time I hear a noise. Now my eyes ain’t what they used to be and it ain’t nothing back there but shadows so I just keep walking.
‘Then I hear it again. This time I know what it is. It’s a goddamn dog. Naturally. Whole area is full of dogs. Running wild, biting everything that moves. Peein’ all over.
‘So I spin around and I see it. No. Actually I see two dogs. And they’re circling around me. You know the way dogs do. And they’re barking and growling.’
Here I interrupted him. Considering his total lack of apparent damage I was curious about what exactly had bitten him.
His eyes got big.
‘They was poodles. Big ones though, knee high and white. Just snapping and barking. So I yell at ‘em to keep moving. To get on out of there. I keep on for my car but these dogs, they won’t quit. It was like they was out for blood, the both of ‘em.
‘So I turn around to face ‘em and boy I tell you the bigger dog took one look at me and all hell broke loose.’
Believe me when I tell you it is not easy to keep a straight face while a grown man uses the words ‘All hell broke loose’ to describe a poodle attack.
‘And that thing, boy, it sinks its teeth right into my leg. BAM! Imagine that! Here I am, ain’t done a damn thing, and this dog’s going after me.
‘Just as I reach around to swat it off here’s the other one. Coming at me from the other side. Now I got two dogs after me and I’m hollering for somebody to come and give me a hand but you know nobody’s coming.
‘Every damn time I open my door I got ten people trying to poke their head in my apartment, nosy bastards, but when I need a hand, weeellll. Suddenly there ain’t a soul around.
‘So finally, I shake the thing loose and it takes off running, him and his friend. Two of ‘em tear off that way. Through them bushes over there.
‘I limp over to my car, you can’t imagine the pain, and I sit down. Once I make sure those devils are gone, I reach down and have a look at my leg. And that’s when I called you.’
‘Where’d it bite you?’
‘Right here on the leg!’ He points to his unripped jeans.
An apologetic look washes over his face. ‘Well, it didn’t rip my jeans but look at this!’
He yanks up his pant leg and shows off his two-inch scratch.
I shift my weight from one leg to another.
‘May not look like much, but it was bleeding like hell.’
I mention his sock isn’t bloody.
‘Well, I mean it bled bad. Not so bad that it dripped down to my sock, maybe. But it was bad. For a second.’
I’m not sure where to go from here. My partner offers him a band-aid but he shakes it off. He wants the police to see the wound. He starts to say something else when I see a flash of white out of the corner of my eye.
‘You said the dog was white?’
He presses his back against the truck. ‘You see it?’
I set off to see if I can find the attacker, noting that he said ‘it’ instead of ‘they,’ confirming my suspicion that one dog was involved not two.
I’m across the street when I catch sight of him. The dog, maybe fifteen pounds, is a little white puff of hair. With a blue scarf tied around his neck. He sees me and stops. He barks but he’s so small his feet come off the ground with each yelp.
I smile. Take out my phone and snap a picture.
When I get back to the victim I tell him I think I’ve located the assailant.
‘Was he wearing a blue scarf?’
‘Yup. I saw him.’
An uncomfortable silence settles between us. I know there wasn’t a second dog. I also know the one that bit him was tiny. However, mocking your patient is a major no-no in this business.
‘What you probably wanna do is see a doctor. Get a tetanus shot. Find the owner, make sure the dog’s had all its shots.’
He nods. ‘Police coming? I wanna make a report.’
Some people all the medicine in the world can’t cure. ‘I have no idea. You want us to take you to the hospital?’
He looks at his leg, at us. ‘No. I don’t suppose. I do wanna talk to the police, though.’
After he signs a refusal form and my partner hands him a band-aid the property manager comes whizzing by in her little golf cart. I flag her down.
‘Hey, everything okay?’
‘Yeah. You, uh, you happen to know who owns that dog?’
I point to the dog. He’s happily dragging his butt across the grass. The property manager gets out of her cart, shades her eyes against the sun. Finally she sees him.
‘Oh!’ She stomps her foot. ‘Skittles!’
Skittles looks up at us, then disappears between two buildings.
‘Naughty boy!’ she yells. Then to me, ‘He’s always escaping.’
‘So you know whose dog he is?’
‘Oh yeah. Skittles lives in 4905. Did he do something?’
‘He bit that man over there.’
She covers her mouth. ‘Really? Is he okay?’
I remain silent, let the answer work its way into her brain on its own. Finally she smiles.
‘I guess he probably is, huh?’
‘Appears to be.’
As we hop back into the ambulance I take a last look at our patient, waiting in the safety of his truck for a cop. It’ll be at least three hours before anyone comes.
My partner puts the truck in gear and we drive off. In front of the complex there’s a group of kids playing football. One of them catches a well-thrown fly and is on his way to an easy touchdown when he suddenly stops.
Before he can scream Skittles comes tearing across the grass, twelve pounds of hell raising fury. The mere sight of him sets off a stampede and in seconds the entire group is in full retreat, scattering in a dozen different directions.
And right in the middle of it all is Skittles. Barking and yelping. The happiest little dog alive.