Numbing cold and snow helped Joe and me decide to ‘up sticks’ again, just months after last Thanksgiving, when we’d driven down to Pensacola to spend that holiday in relative warmth. Now we were once again fleeing to Florida. At 3 a.m. Wednesday we piled into our elderly low-milage GMC van, with eager Bryn the first one in. She recognized the signs that another adventure was beginning. Bryn loves watching the ever-changing scenery from those big windows. (Very occasionally she’ll see a dog’s head hanging out of a passing car’s window, ears flapping, eyes shut, nose working vigorously to sort out grazing cattle sniffs.)
13 hours later we rested at a La Quinta Inn just south of Nashville (thus avoiding the next morning’s into-the-city traffic jam), and were off again on Thursday by 8 a.m.
At 5:30 p.m., Panama City Beach, and our hotel, were just minutes away.
Hey!! This particular terrain was familiar!
“Dee, remember that great dog park that was part of a large recreational area? Wasn’t it right along this highway?”
Yes! And within one minute we saw its entrance and turned into the park, delighted that Bryn could stretch her legs. Checking into our hotel could wait a bit longer...
A funny thing: as soon as we moved through the big gates leading to the baseball/soccer fields- and eventually to the dog park area, she stood, vibrating. She knew this winding road!
And sure enough, there was the bark park- empty now, as it was dusk. But who cared? She rocketed round and round its spacious interior, gleefully leaping into and out of the huge sandpit.
Eventually she paused, panting, eyes shining.
This place is good, Boss!
After catching her breath she moved around more methodically, catching up on the news.
Then a red SUV drove up. Hooray! Company! Bryn dashed to the fence to greet the visitors.
A small, slim young woman sat in her car for a few minutes, thinking. Finally she got out and let her dog into the park. He was a big, sleek mix of black boxer and hound possessing lots of rakish charm. Bryn and he immediately began playing catch-me-if-you-can and wrestling.
Watching them, she spoke. “I’m glad there’s just your dog, for now. They’re having fun, aren’t they? Towser needs this. It’s been a while since we’ve been here.”
I smiled and moved closer. There was something arresting- even wary- about her manner. This very pretty woman was tense, but determined, I thought.
Her eyes met mine, noting my puzzlement, and suddenly her story poured out.
“I brought him here two weeks ago to play with the other dogs. There were lots- maybe 15- -but then- suddenly, a big golden retriever/collie mix charged me, clawing my face and snarling horribly!” She paused, thinking back.
“I’m so glad I had a coat on: it protected my arms...”
I saw healing claw marks marring her smooth, blemish-free face.
“I was so shocked, and so scared! The attack came out of nowhere. That enraged dog was trying to kill me! Lots of other people ran over to pull it off: it took every bit of strength they had. Its owner was horrified, and deeply apologetic, and he took it away. I was incredibly lucky to escape with scratches. I couldn’t stop trembling for a long time.
“The story gets worse. The man arrived at his home, got the food bowl ready, and again, with no warning, his dog murderously attacked him! He somehow managed to wrestle it off, but he’d been bitten multiple times. He chained it to his truck’s bed and rushed to a vet, who found that the animal was in the terminal stage of Rabies, which had rendered it insane. The owner immediately drove to a hospital, where they did a complete exam, stitched him up, and began treatment for that lethal disease.
His rabid dog was mercifully put down that day.”
Her eyes stared into the distance.
“Luckily I saw the news and realized I was likely infected, too, so I went right to the hospital, where they examined me thoroughly and immediately gave me the vaccine. If I hadn’t read the papers or watched the local news on TV I would have died a horrible death. I still wonder if the people who helped me were injured, too. I hope they’re all right: they saved me!”
She looked away, reliving the nightmare, but there were no tears. This woman was tough. She’d come back here, determined not to let the experience wreak her dog’s happiness, or forever taint her natural optimism.
She was courageously revisiting a place where her world had almost ended.
I voiced my admiration.
She shrugged, offering a tiny smile. (Spontaneous laughter would take time to revive. But it would return. She was that sort of person.)
“Can’t look back. I just want to get on with life. This was a rare event, and it’s over with. Besides, Towser loves it here.”
Raising her coat collar up around her neck she shuddered. “Oh, it’s getting dark and colder; time to go.”
Towser came willingly.
Just before shutting the gate, she paused, thought for a while, and, with head bowed, told me one more thing in a quiet voice.
“...Turns out that his four-year-old dog had never seen a veterinarian. Not one time. He’d had no rabies shots. No immunizations of any kind. No monthly pills for heartworm. Nothing.
“How can people be like that? The guy loved his dog, but he thought immunizations for rabies, heartworm and other killers were risky! I know parents of young children who would agree with that thinking. They won’t immunize their kids.”
She shook her head.
“Incredible. What appalling ignorance! His cherished pet died from a horrible, preventable disease, and he and I could have, too. All those other innocent playing dogs were potential victims, as well...”
I saw that thousand-yard stare again.
She waved goodbye and they left.
As Joe and I buckled up, a large, new bone-shaped RED sign wired to the fence caught our attention. Black words declared:
‘ANIMAL BITE REPORTING IS REQUIRED BY LAW.
For all non-emergency dog bites please call the
Panama City Beach Police (Number given)
It is important that the person(s) bitten and the owner of the
dog(s) remain at the dog park until PCPD arrives.’
There are rules posted for dog owners who visit bark parks: the list is long, the writing small.
One like THIS, using BIG, bold letters, should stand out.