Wrong place for a tourniquet

Peter
Peter Jackson
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Our golden retriever is not a morning dog. When my wife and I are up scrambling to get ready and out the door, he barely musters enough energy to drag himself out to the main landing and flop down again.

(Our English setter is not much better, although she's much older.)

I empathize entirely with the dogs. I'm not a morning person either, but I still manage to drag myself out to the car in the mornings.

Our golden retriever is not a morning dog. When my wife and I are up scrambling to get ready and out the door, he barely musters enough energy to drag himself out to the main landing and flop down again.

(Our English setter is not much better, although she's much older.)

I empathize entirely with the dogs. I'm not a morning person either, but I still manage to drag myself out to the car in the mornings.

Like most people, we personify our dogs in our own image. We share our thoughts and emotions with them. They are very much a part of our family - in fact ours are, in lieu of the real artifact, our kids.

Andy, the retriever, has been a rascal and a thief ever since we brought him home as a small pup. He'd race around the house, getting into everything he could. Occasionally, he'd stop and stare up at us with wide, pleading eyes. I remember that look well, because it meant he was peeing on the carpet.

Our setter, Fergie, was determined to put the little rug rat in his place, but still enjoyed playing with him.

Her favourite trick was to grab at his collar and give him a tug. He would respond playfully.

One day, the two dogs were frolicking in the living room as I puttered around the kitchen. My wife wasn't home.

Out of the blue, Fergie began to bark and yelp frantically, and the little fellow let out his own high-pitched whine. I ran to the living room to find Fergie firmly clamped onto the pup and shaking him violently around the room like a rag doll.

For a split second, I thought Fergie had snapped.

Could she really be attacking him?

Then I realized what had happened. Fergie and gotten her bottom teeth caught in Andy's collar, and in her panic to shake free, had twisted it tight around her lower jaw like a tourniquet.

I grabbed Fergie by her own collar and tried to pry her free. The collar was tightly clamped around her jaw, and I couldn't twist it off. In her terror, she began to struggle again.

By now, I realized that Andy had gone limp.

It's hard to recall what goes through your mind at times like these, but I remember wondering how I was going to tell Sheila, when she arrived home, that our new pup had choked to death.

I felt a sickening burn at the bottom of my stomach. I could not undo this knot. Our pup, it appeared, had bitten the dust.

Every now and then, in a fog of panic and despair, a small flash of commons sense pierces the gloom and lights the way out. It was one of those moments that had me jumping to my feet and racing for the kitchen.

I yanked out the cutlery drawer and grabbed the sharpest knife I could find. Dashing back to the dogs, I slipped it under Andy's little red collar and sliced straight through it with one stroke. The pup fell lifeless to the floor.

I would not have hesitated to perform mouth-to-snout resuscitation, but I wasn't sure it was necessary.

So I rolled Andy onto his back and rocked him back and forth. "Breathe, Andy, breathe," I said, common sense having abandoned me once again.

For a few seconds, it appeared hopeless. Then his eyes slowly opened and he looked at me blankly. I rolled him onto his stomach and he lay there in a daze - reflecting, I'd like to think, on his near-death experience.

It was only then that I noticed a few lumps of dog turd scattered around the room. And there was blood on my hand. I had cut it while fumbling for the knife.

This episode came to mind last week when I read Pam Frampton's disturbing column in the Oct. 3 Telegram ("At the end of their rope"). If you haven't read it, do so. You can find it online at www.thetelegram.com.

It tells a haunting tale of a tethered dog, and of the exhausting efforts of SPCA volunteers to save dogs from inhumane living conditions.

Collars and dogs belong together. A collar holds a dog's identifying tags. More importantly, it helps a dog understand its boundaries. Dogs want boundaries -they are happier that way. A properly trained dog (or, in our case, not so well trained) knows no greater joy than trotting beside its master at the end of a leash.

But a collar, as I've demonstrated, can be a source of unintended danger. And it can, as Pam starkly relates, be an instrument of unthinkable torture.

Before you put a collar around your dog's neck, ask yourself what purpose you expect it to achieve. Do you want your dog to thrive and be a part of your life?

Or will you just attach that collar to the end of a chain and walk away?

If you can't - or won't - engage the dog on a regular basis, give it to someone who will. Or bring it to a shelter.

If all else fails, put the dog down. Because death is better than a lonely, maddening life at the end of a chain.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram's commentary editor. He can be contacted at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

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