|Spoiler Alert: Safe & Sound|
If I hadn't waited a few days to make this post, it would have started out a lot differently, with dramatic self-deprecating statements such as "I don't deserve to have a dog" and "I have no business being a dog blogger" but time and reason have calmed me down enough to write about it from the standpoint of (more) lessons learned and the fact that mistakes and accidents happen in life and in dog life. One of the most valuable aspects of the dog blogging realm for me is feeling that I'm not alone, that others have shared an experience and that we can learn from one another. Rebekah from My Rotten Dogs recently posted about Faolan's Great Escape, not long after my own experience with Boca slipping her harness on a hike.
Having the statistics of pet loss on the Fourth on July drilled into my head for the past week, I was not so surprised to grab a runaway dog (on a Flexi-lead, with a collar so loose it came off in my hand when I reached for it) outside of the ball field early Friday morning, but I didn't expect to lose my own dog the very next day. It wasn't the first time Ruby has gotten away from me after a rabbit. Twice she has pulled the leash out of my hand and run off after a single rabbit in my townhome complex, and come back. Dragging the leash makes recovering her a bit easier. This time was different.
We were on our morning sniffabout, which is normally a fairly leisurely stroll around the complex lawn with lots of grazing and rabbit-spotting on the girls' part. I've always been hesitant to lump "rabbits" in to Ruby's reactivity triggers because, well...the list is so long already, and I chalk it up to prey drive rather than fear or anxiety. This year the rabbit population has exploded, and we see probably no less than twenty on any given walk. This morning they were out in full force. Ruby spun and lunged toward one and instead of feeling the leash go taut and snap back when she hit the end, she was gone. I was left holding the leash, snap intact.
I started calling her immediately, trying to keep the panic out of my voice, and ran after her with Boca at my side attempting to keep Ruby in view as she raced after a seemingly endless succession of rabbits. Just as she would lose one into a shrub, she would see another. Twice I lost sight of her but due to her "hunting screech" - a high-pitched yelp she makes in pursuit - I was able to keep on her tail. At one point I thought I would just try running home to see if she'd follow, and she did start to, but then another damn rabbit would appear. I was finally able to gain on her and grab her harness as she backed out of some flowers.
The whole episode lasted probably no more than two minutes but it seemed like an eternity. Ruby was thrilled and unaware of the many dangers she faced. Luckily, no other people were out - although her dog reactivity is frustration-based and what she wants most is to meet/jump on/play with other dogs, the feeling isn't always mutual. Luckily, she stayed within the perimeter of the complex - we are not far from several very busy streets. Luckily, I was able to snatch her up - and once I did, I did not let go. I carried her halfway home, then stopped to examine the leash before clipping it and knotting it to her harness. It seemed fine, the snap functional, and I still can't explain what happened, but I will not use that leash again. It was one of my favorites and the first one I bought for her - the lightweight snap was nice because it didn't bang against Ruby's chest on her front-clip harness - but I can't take any chances.
I spent the rest of the morning near tears, hugging and kissing Ruby, shaking, and chastising myself for all the ways I'd failed as a dog owner. Later I shook it off, knowing it wasn't productive, and started focusing on the things I can change. First: equipment check and re-check, as well as utilizing gear with sturdy hardware, since I know Ruby is a puller and puts things to the test. Second: recall work. I know without a doubt that this is the single most important thing for a dog to know, and Ruby's 25+ tricks are useless when it comes to saving her life. It is also one of the most challenging things to teach to a dog with high prey drive, little focus, and limited access to safely-fenced areas to practice. I don't believe I can ever be more interesting than ten rabbits. One rabbit? Maybe. Third: Since I know the recall will always be a work in progress, I need to concentrate on at least redirecting Ruby's attention and lessening her reaction to the rabbits. I've tried using chasing them as a reward, and it works to some extent in that I can get her to lay down and wait when she spots one, but the chase itself is so exciting that she can't calm down after that. For now I am practicing asking for a sit or down when she alerts to one, and then we walk on. I'm keeping the leash shorter as we're going through the Rabbit Convention Zone, so she can't race to the end.
I love this little dog so much, and for every challenge she presents me with, I love her that much more. I'm charged with keeping her safe, even when that means saving her from her own rocket-speed, rabbit-crazed, terrier-brained self.