I was walking with our one-year-old cavapoochon on the way back from the baker’s in Acton on Sunday morning when I spotted a man with two greyhounds coming towards me. At least, I think they were greyhounds. They looked like they’d been injected with steroids, making their muscles grow and pop and giving their faces ravenous, desperate expressions. ‘Just as well he’s keeping those dogs on the lead,’ I thought. Sure enough, as soon as they spotted Malinky they went crazy — barking, squealing, straining at the leash. Did they mistake her for a rabbit or a rodent of some kind? Mali looked terrified, as if she knew she’d been earmarked as a Scooby snack.
Then one of the beasts broke free and started bounding towards her, saliva spilling from its jaws.
I’ll return to this story in a moment but, to put it in context, a six-month-old chihuahua was killed by a boxer pitbull in Acton Park last month. The owners managed to separate them, but by then Bobby’s ribs and skull had been crushed. The vet couldn’t save him and now, on a nearby park bench, there is a little shrine to the poor fellow, complete with a bunch of flowers. The owner was understandably traumatised. She relayed the story on the local ‘Next Door’ group to warn others of the danger: ‘We will never get over this as he was our child. Devastated and heartbroken. He was a tiny happy little boy who loved everyone.’ She asked for witnesses to come forward, because the owner of the pitbull did a runner.
My next-door neighbour had a similar experience a few years ago. She was picking up her son from John Betts, a local primary school, when a red setter attacked her poodle Maddie. Another mum bundled them into the back of her Chelsea tractor and sped to the nearest vet, with my neighbour administering mouth-to-mouth on the back seat. In this case, the vet was able to save the dog, but only after she’d had brain surgery totalling £10,000. Maddie’s still alive, but she’s not about to win Crufts. She has a bite-sized chunk missing from her skull, making her head look like the Apple logo.
The rogue greyhound was only about 20 feet away when he broke free and was already trying to fasten his jaws around Mali’s head by the time I was able to react. I whisked her up off the ground and cradled her in my arms, turning my back on the other dog to use my body to protect her.
It was no good. The greyhound leapt in front of me and tried to prize Mali from my hands in a frenzy of blood lust. I lifted her as far above my head as I could in an effort to keep her out of harm’s way and the other dog started jumping up in the air, jaws snapping. At one point, he tried to scramble up on top of me to get to her and bit me on the shoulder. Luckily, I was wearing a coat and his teeth didn’t break my skin. All the while, Mali was yelping in fear and wriggling to get free, her flight reflex kicking in.
I’m not sure how long it was before the greyhound’s owner managed to pull him off and re-attach the lead. It felt like an eternity, but in reality was probably just a few seconds. He asked if my dog was okay and I inspected her for bite wounds and couldn’t see any. ‘Have you definitely got him under control?’ I asked, before putting Mali back down. The responsible thing would have been to get his name and address and report him to the police, but I don’t suppose he would have given them to me. He was a squat, heavily built man with the same predatory look as his greyhounds.
As I walked the rest of the way home, I shuddered to think what would have happened if another member of my family had been in the same situation. Caroline might have been able to fend off the dog, but my two youngest sons and my daughter wouldn’t have. That would be a double whammy: not only would Mali have been injured or killed, but the child would have been wracked with guilt afterwards. I thought a little dog would be quite low maintenance and so she has proved to be, but I hadn’t anticipated the danger that she might be eaten by a big dog. That risk is heightened in an area in the throes of gentrification like Acton, where the parks are shared by yummy mummies with lapdogs and working-class men with pitbulls. A great combo if you’re the owner of a local vet, but a bit of a nightmare for us small-dog owners.