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  • Writer's pictureJeanette Micallef

Potentially Vicious

Updated: Dec 14, 2023

After months and months of struggle in my journey with my new rescued dog, Ozzie, I think I am finally in a place where I can tell his story without being completely triggered to a state of anger and resentment. It has taken a lot to get here.

Last August, when my heart dog, Stubby, had to be euthanized, despite being completely devastated, my tarot card pull and my heart full of grief told me I needed to rescue another dog. I chose to go to the same animal rescue. Looking online, I saw Oswald and something in me knew he was my next rescue. I decided that I would know if he was my dog if the first time we met, he put his head in my hands like Stubby always did, and let me rub behind his ears.

When we met, he was not only a huge bundle of energy, but was also very mouthy. He put his mouth on me, and while he never bit down, he had clearly not been taught as a puppy that teeth was a no-no. The volunteer tried to calm him with treats, but he was energy level 10 the whole time we interacted. At some point I got overwhelmed and asked if we could go in the visitor room and sit and talk, allowing him to adjust to being in the room with me. After a coupe of minutes of jumping around and causing a bit of havoc, he finally walked over to me, put his head in my hand, closed his eyes and let me rub behind his ears. The volunteer said she had never seen him do that with anyone. I knew in that moment that I needed to do whatever it took to rescue this dog.

The problems began after we signed the paperwork -- as we were leaving the shelter with him. The volunteer came running after us with a gallon Ziploc bag of prescription drugs that she said were for him. Doggy Prozac and two other drugs that were for, as she put it, "kennel anxiety". I had never run into this before and it was highly distressing to me. Not knowing what we were getting ourselves into, we thought we would simply be able to train him out of his anxious behaviors and into compliance -- after weaning him off the drugs.

He was mouthy, yes, but he seemed like it would be easy to train him out of that...until we saw how he reacted to strangers. Strangers and children. Basically anyone but us. It took him a while to adjust to our Shihpoo, Bernie, and Bernie to him, but within about a week and a half they were on pretty good terms. He didn't react well to people and dogs walking by the yard, however. All strangers to him, he'd bark, growl, and charge back and forth along the fence rather aggressively.

One day, when I was at work, Bernie, our little Shihpoo and resident escape artist, bounced off our yard's gate until it opened. Both dogs got out. It just so happened that a pair of pre-teen girls were walking by just at that moment, wrapped in blankets.

Yes. Wrapped in blankets, walking through the neighborhood.

I literally do not understand.

Regardless, when the girls saw the dogs, both barking, they started screaming and flapping their blanket-clad arms. Ozzie thought the flapping blanket was a toy, and that the girls wanted to play. He lunged at the corner of the blanket to grab it with his mouth, and accidentally caught one girl's hand. A single tooth grazed her hand, resulting in dramatic screaming, but it the end, a simple Band-Aid as a remedy.

My husband talked with the girls, one of the girls' fathers, the neighbor who witnessed it, and offered any and all help we could provide should she need to see a doctor or anything.

In that moment, we had no idea how much more serious and dramatic things would get. Or how expensive.

That evening, at 10 PM, the police arrived at the front door, asking about the dog and the situation. We were told we'd likely get a citation in the mail.

A couple days later, the mother of the girl who was not bitten, was out walking her dog at 6 AM as I was getting ready for work. Ozzie was outside, now on a 250 lb braided cable for safety, with the gate rachet-strapped shut until we could afford to replace the fence post. I hear him growling and barking, and then I hear her screaming. I run out immediately only to realize she was making a scene in the street about how my dog "viciously attacked" her friend's daughter.

Then she called Animal Control.

What followed was multiple fines, lawyer fees, court dates, legal charges and probation for the dog, and for my husband.

Oz was up to date on all his shots. Neither the girl who was bitten, nor her parents have ever come back to us with questions, concerns, medical bills -- all of which we would have gladly taken responsibility for, and done whatever was needed to make things right. We offered.

Instead, the city I live in, the City of Livonia, decided to make this situation a big money grab. Between the lawyer, the court costs, the fines, and what they charge monthly for probation, we are right around $5K.

The costs are not just monetary, however. Two misdemeanors and one felony means that if there is any further incident with Oz, my husband goes to jail for 93 days and they kill my dog. The level of stress this has caused us, and in turn, Ozzie and Bernie, has been the highest cost...and it's nearing a year of dealing with it.

Could we have sued the shelter? Perhaps, It is more important to me that they be able to continue to do the good work they are doing there for so many animals and families. Suing them, as a smaller shelter, would likely shut them down. I did not want that.

I did reach out to the head of the shelter to inform him about what had happened and I did get his promise that he would investigate and remedy those issues in their process. Will that truly happen? I hope so.

Every day, for months, I would let my dog out and be harassed by this woman who was literally not involved. Every single sound I heard would make me jump out of my skin and off the couch, sprinting to the back door to make sure he hadn't gotten off his chain, that no one had stuck a hand through the fence and was getting their fingers chewed off, that nothing had happened.

But nothing had. I have just been living in a constant state of fight or flight. Is it worth it to do whatever it takes so he can have peace? It totally is, however, it is taking its toll.

My dog has anxiety, likely created by an abusive situation the shelter was not privy to when he was brought to them. He's also a puppy. Only this month will he turn two, and prior to the training we have given him, he's had little guidance and structure.

He's also a Pitbull mix. And I have to ask myself, if Bernie, my Shih Tzu/Poodle mix had been the one to lunge for the blanket and catch a tooth on that girl's hand, would everyone have reacted the same way? Perhaps it's the label of "dangerous breed" that created this problem as much as all the other parts that contributed to it.

We were given a list of things we had to do, according to the city, to make things right in their eyes. Put signs on the fence, spelling out that he is potentially dangerous. Make him wear a muzzle any time he is outside, even when in our yard and on his cable. Make him wear a bright red dog tag that says "Potentially Vicious Dog" on it, like a doggy Scarlet Letter warning the world. A Scarlet Letter that costs an additional $50 per year on top of the regular cost of updating tags annually. Training. Probation fees for a year...

Every time we think we've been hit with the last of it, something else happens.

We've been training Oz. We've done all the things we were asked to do. I've been doing Reiki with him, and approaching all interactions with him from a place of reinforcing calm, love, and structure.

He's an empath. He feels what we feel. When we freak out he freaks out. When we are depressed and anxious, he is too. He has triggers just like we do, and he

needs love and understanding as we help him heal his trauma. I attracted him into my life and he attracted me into his. There was no mistake. Everything is always working out for me, and for Oz.

He's everything I needed in a dog, and I'm everything he needed in a mama, and just in time.

Because of Ozzie, I am a more responsible pet parent.

Because of Ozzie, I am slowing down and seeing what is needed in the moment.

Because of Ozzie, I am tuning in to the energy first and the mundane second.

Because of Ozzie, I am learning how to better recognize what's missing in a situation and how to provide it.

Because of Ozzie, I am learning what unconditional love is, what it looks like, and what it does. It doesn't give up or flake out because things get hard.

Because of Ozzie, I am embracing my tenacity, my resilience, my ability to staunchly stand up for what's right.

Everything happens for a reason and for our good, for our growth, and often for the betterment of others as well. I believe in this more than I have ever believed in anything.

I am grateful every single day for this beautiful, fuzzy little soul that chose me to be his fur mom.

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