Note: This is the fifth in a series of super-short stories about animals. Except this one’s not so short. Sorry!
Let me set the mood for you: It’s the spring of 1983. The final episode of “M.A.S.H.” had just aired, Michael Jackson introduced the moonwalk to the world, and children across America were waiting for the final episode in the “Star Wars” trilogy to be released. On our boomboxes, we were rocking out to the Stray Cat strut, or passing the dutchie pon the left-hand side, or trying to figure out what a Vegemite sandwich was.
I was a sixth grader heading to a friend’s house on a sunny Saturday morning after watching the Smurfs and Scrappy Doo cartoons. No one was home at my house. I’m sure my parents had no idea what I was doing that day.
At my friend Jim’s house, we decided to play either Kick the Can or Whole-Block Tag or some game where we sneaked into backyards. Jim’s block was unusual for our neighborhood; it had an alley, making it easier to open neighbors’ gates.
I remember it was cold; I was wearing jeans and a winter coat. It might have been the end of spring break. Most of the 12 houses on the block were fair game, although everyone knew to avoid the house next door to Jim; that was the home of Macduff.
Macduff was some sort of terrier. Not too big, but he made a lot of noise (he had a Napoleon complex going on, and as a smaller-than-actual-sized human myself, I related). The rumor was that he had bitten multiple people. So stay away from Macduff’s yard.
At one point in the game, my friend Dave and I found ourselves about to be caught, and rather than giving up, we decided to do what no one would expect us to do: we’d cut through Macduff’s yard! Genius!
Dave went first. I was always the kid hanging in the back of our group of friends, saying, “Guys, I’m not sure this is a good idea.” We entered from the alley, and there was Macduff, sitting quietly on the patio, on a long leash. Dave cut straight past him to another gate, but I hesitated near Macduff. He was wagging his little tail, looking at me curiously. I don’t know why, but I went to pet him.
That’s when he turned into the Tasmanian devil. He snarled and leaped into the air with his teeth baring. He clamped down on my right thigh and locked his jaw.
I let out a scream that was so high-pitched that neighborhood windows probably shattered. Flocks of geese lifted up off of nearby ponds and scattered. Other dogs started barking.
I came to my senses and smacked Macduff off of me. I turned to see Dave holding the gate open, and I went to run, but Macduff wasn’t done with me yet. He lunged back and latched himself onto my calf muscle, digging in. I shook my leg up and down with him still attached; for a split second, he released his grip, and I kicked him away from me.
If you are picturing the scene from “There’s Something About Mary” when Ben Stiller wrestles with Puffy the border terrier, you’re on the right track.
I ran out of the yard, and we all gathered back at Jim’s place. My jeans were ripped open in two places, and blood was oozing down my leg. What we probably should have done was gone into Jim’s house to tell his parents and seek medical attention. What we actually did was mumble, “Well, I guess we should get going,” and I said, “See ya tomorrow!” and limped the 4 blocks home by myself.
When I got home, no one was there, except our dog, Tiger. I took off my jeans, which was painful with the open wounds, and tossed them in the garbage. I grabbed a package of Band-Aids and (I remember this clearly) used 16 of them to cover the thigh wound. The blood soaked through almost immediately, so I used 16 more. I sat in our living room with my leg propped up and covered both wounds with Kleenexes. I kept thinking, “Oh man, Mom and Dad are going to kill me.” There may have been a little bit of shock involved. Tiger knew something was up and stuck close to me.
My dad was first to return home. He walked into the front door, saw all the blood, and went into emergency mode. “What happened? Are you alright? Where’s your mother?” This was in the age before cell phones, plus I was 12, so I have no idea how he contacted her and let her know he was taking me to the ER. There was never a moment where my parents got mad at me.
We spent the afternoon in the hospital. Turns out I had done a decent job stanching the bleeding with my 16-Band-Aid soak-and-replace routine.
I remember that for the next 2 weeks, I got permission to wear sweatpants to school because it was too painful to pull jeans or cords on over the bandages covering the wounds. (Was there a dress code at our public school in 1983 that wouldn’t have allowed me to wear sweatpants without the permission? Seems unlikely; I used to wear a T-shirt that said, “Where the Hell is Nashwauk, Minnesota?,” and no one said anything.) There was a lot of bruising, similar to when you have surgery, and afterwards the bruising and swelling is sometimes worse than the incision pain.
The Monday night after the bite, there was a knock on our door. A police officer wanted to talk to my parents and me. If ever there’s a moment in a 12-year-old’s life when he decides to dedicate himself to the straight and narrow, having a cop at the door would be that moment. Officer Friendly explained that since Macduff had already bitten people before, he was all caught up on his shots, so I wouldn’t have to get any shots myself. (How convenient that he was a repeat offender.)
Also, since I had gone into the yard uninvited, Macduff’s family wasn’t getting any citations. Put yourself in their shoes: your little dog has bitten someone, so you decide to erect a fence to your backyard, and for extra safety, you put the dog on a leash so he can’t go anywhere anyway. And somehow a neighborhood kid still manages to get himself bitten by your dog!
The scars faded. I can just barely make them out if I look closely. One bonus to the whole ordeal is that, as a general rule, I try to avoid doing things that lead to police officers knocking on the front door. (I was probably heading in that direction anyway, but Macduff gave me a good nudge.)