It happened. And it was our worst nightmare.

My wife and I have two small dogs, Lucy and Zoey. Both are a Maltese mix of some sort. They are also rescue dogs. Our daughter found Zoey scampering across Lakewood Mall one day. She was about eight weeks old.

We saw Lucy on the Stockton Shelter website. She was a stray that the animal control officers scooped up somewhere in Stockton. She was also just a few months old, we think. Sheri Didreckson, who operates Poke-A-Dot’s Dalmatians and Friends Rescue from her country home, arranged for us to adopt her.

They have become like our kids, our babies. Can you relate?

Two Sundays ago we took Zoey and Lucy on their usual morning walk. Our regular route passes by Starbucks on Ham Lane. We spotted some friends there as we walked by that day. We didn’t notice the large Labrador retriever until it was too late.

The dog was on a leash, but the owner, who was sitting right there, apparently didn’t have a hold of it. His dog quietly but swiftly made its way to Lucy, snatching her in its jaws, and began shaking all nine pounds of her like a rag doll.

It was awful. Traumatic. Unbelievable. And it seemed to happen in slow motion, as I think back, just like people recount a car crash happening in front of them. But this was no vehicle accident. It was our beloved Lucy being eaten alive. Right in front of us. For a couple long seconds we couldn’t comprehend what was happening. We felt helpless.

The dog’s owner eventually got control of his dog, and it released Lucy from its powerful grip. She lay there in the gutter a broken, bleeding, yelping furry ball. She cried in pain and sheer terror. She bit me as I picked her up. I thought she was dying, bleeding internally. She was also bleeding heavily from a bite wound on her back. There was a bulge on her side that no one could touch.

The Aftermath

Everyone was in shock and disbelief, especially me. I lost it. I felt rage, utter rage. I spewed unkind words towards the owner and his dog. I shouted that he just killed my dog! He killed my dog! They killed my sweet little Lucy. Her only offense was walking by at the wrong time and being small.

Then miracles began to happen. Retired Lodi Police Sgt. Doug Chinn was just leaving Starbucks and offered to drive Lucy and me to the nearest emergency veterinary hospital, which is in Stockton. I accepted. The ride there was the worst. I cradled Lucy in my arms like a small child who’d just been hit by a car. She yelped in pain with every bump. I kept expecting her to close her eyes for the last time. I didn’t know Stockton could be that far away.

Our first stop was at an animal clinic on Fremont Street near I-5 in Stockton. They didn’t have a doctor on duty, so staying there was pointless. We were told about another clinic across town on Hammer and West Lane where there was a vet doc on duty. Doug called ahead. We sped away. Precious minutes were slipping by.

We arrived at the All Creatures Veterinary Emergency Clinic about 10 minutes later. They were waiting for us and took Lucy in immediately. She was in God’s hands now.

In the meantime, the attendant presented us with a range of potential treatments and their costs. Now it was my time to feel some pain. I’d often pondered how much I’d be willing to spend to save a pet. I had my answer: whatever it takes. In this case, the down-payment was $800, with more to follow. Maybe much more.

We waited for word on her condition. Doug stayed with me the whole time. He’s the hero in this story. Then the emotions started to flow, wave after wave. It was not pretty. If we’d only seen the other dog sooner, we could have scooped up our dogs. If we’d only had a can of Mace to squirt into the intruder’s eyes. If I’d only had a bat or a club … The “what-ifs” are haunting.

We soon received word that pain meds had been administered. X-rays had been ordered. Lucy was stable, at least for the moment. The next update would be a while, so we returned home to await further news. I took off my blood-soaked jacket and t-shirt. Lucy’s precious blood was all over my chest from having held her.

Waiting was purgatory of the unknown. Would they be able to save her once they knew the extent of injuries? Would they say she should be put down? The possibilities were painful. In the meantime, flashbacks filled our heads. Like a vivid horror movie on a continuous loop, my wife and I re-lived the terrifying event over and over again, second-guessing everything we did.

We received “the call” a couple hours later. It was good news. The doctor reported that Lucy had a badly broken rib, a deep puncture wound on her back, but otherwise her injuries weren’t critical. She would survive. It was a miracle. She’d be laid up for about six weeks, on a diet of pain meds and antibiotics, but she’d recover.

We contacted the other dog’s owner, and to add insult to injury, he’s refused to pay Lucy’s vet bills, which are over $1,000. It may require some legal persuasion. Seems he’s upset by the incident being reported to city animal control.

A Few Takeaways

Lucy’s near tragedy could have been prevented had the owner had full control of his pet. There have been other occasions when big dogs passing by have eyed Lucy with lunch in mind, but an owner’s leash prevented anything from happening. Small dogs have no chance against large dogs. And their owners have almost no time to react if an aggressive animal approaches. Forget about trying to kick away the other dog. You’d need the speed of Bruce Lee to be fast enough. You might get in a few good retaliatory licks afterwards, but that’s about it. Damage done.

If your dog bites another dog (or even worse, a human), be prepared to cover the medical costs. California is a “strict liability” state, which means you may be liable, depending on circumstances. The good news is your homeowner’s policy might cover it.

All animals are unpredictable. They are animals. They’re all good pets — until they aren’t. A leash is the only margin between you and a potentially deadly attack.

Lucy’s home now, resting peacefully, enjoying her Fentanyl pain patch, pretty much zoned out. But she is very fragile. Pick her up the wrong way and you’ll hear about it. Her recovery will take a couple months, and the area around her broken rib was so grotesque that it will require reconstructive surgery to repair. She will never be the same. But she’s alive! The vets say Lucy was very lucky. Exclamation mark. They also say she may develop a case of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which she is already showing signs of. That makes three of us.

Steve is a former newspaper publisher and lifelong Lodian whose column appears Tuesdays in the News-Sentinel. Write to Steve at

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