Justin Marozzi

I’ve spent years in war zones. And the most terrifying moment of my life just happened in Norfolk

The English bull terriers had come flying toward us like calf-high missiles

I’ve spent years in war zones. And the most terrifying moment of my life just happened in Norfolk
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[/audioplayer]It happened so quickly, as these things always do. My wife Julia and I were pootling about on Wells beach with our fluffy mongrel Maisie when suddenly two fighting dogs, English bull terriers, came flying towards us like calf-high missiles. Declining the usual canine politesse of a bit of bum-sniffing, one immediately locked its jaws around Maisie’s throat, the other clamped its teeth into her right back leg. They then tossed her around like a rag doll, as my wife and I desperately tried to haul them off. Maisie was howling in terrible distress. She was seconds away from being killed.

With enormous difficulty, Julia managed to pull one of the killers away on its dangling harness. The other had no collar or leash and was getting stuck into Maisie. I had to mount it, sit on it, punch its head and try to prise open its jaws. This last manoeuvre involved putting my hands into the bull terrier’s mouth and having my fingers redesigned by its teeth.

Eventually we detached the two killer dogs. One of the owners arrived. Middle-aged. White. Shaven hair. ‘We’re calling the police,’ Julia said with that anger in her eye that always terrifies me. ‘Don’t do that,’ he said. ‘The police will have them destroyed.’ Surveying our terrified dog and my mangled, blood-spurting fingers, I confess my feelings regarding the imminent fate of this gentleman’s dogs were not as humane as they might have been.

Fearing the destruction of their dogs, the owners separated and slunk off into the dunes. We saw the man beating the living daylights out of his bull terrier, kicking and whipping it, which prompted a concerned member of the public to confront him. Cue much swearing.

We rushed to the vet where the traumatised Maisie was treated for shock and various wounds. She returned home the following afternoon with stapled puncture marks around her neck and leg and severe bruising to her groin. Tail at half-mast.

I went to A&E, where I was seen, after the usual long wait, by a doctor called Aladdin. Judging by his accent and moustache, Dr Aladdin could only have been Iraqi. Having spent much of the past decade in Iraq, it felt like seeing an old friend. He’d spent years patching up soldiers during the Iran-Iraq War. ‘I treated the first casualty in Gulf War One,’ he told me cheerfully. There was lots more chat about history being written by the (Sunni) victors, his harrowing experiences in Saddam’s prisons in the 1980s, the torture and execution of his brother and the media’s unfair misrepresentation of the recently departed prime minister Nouri al-Maliki (I had to disagree quite strongly on the last point). My fingers were bandaged up — stitches to follow a week later — and off we went.

After the attack, I posted an angry tweet: ‘1/2 To the owners of 2 English bull terriers who attacked us on Wells beach #Norfolk yesterday: we will hunt you down & bring u to justice’; ‘2/2 You almost killed our dog, left us with £850 vet bill, slunk off like cowards and left us hospital bound to A&E without an apology. Nice’.

It is strange that, after years in conflict zones, being kidnapped in Libya and narrowly avoiding a suicide attack in Mogadishu earlier this year, the most terrifying event in my life should have been a Sunday afternoon dog walk in North Norfolk. The most painful thing about it, though, is that the owners of the bull terriers have yet to be apprehended. As I write, BBC Radio Norfolk has just finished a phone-in about dangerous dogs and a witness to the attack on Maisie called in. Norfolk Constabulary is also on the case, appealing for more witnesses and pursuing the offenders for a crime under the Dangerous Dogs Act. Justice may yet prevail.

Bull terriers will always have their defenders — there are those who believe Hitler was misunderstood — and many of them are in the Middle East. Google ‘bull terrier attacks’ and make up your own mind. The man with half his face hanging off, the dog with its ear ripped off, the child with a lacerated eye. There’s a reason why collies, labradors, spaniels, poodles and 99 per cent of other pet dogs don’t elicit the same fear and loathing.

Justin Marozzi’s latest book is Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood.