The bike path in summer. We’re not quite there yet, but it’s coming.

Most mornings Travvy and I head out in the general direction of Old County Road and the bike path beyond it. We have three basic routes, all circular and all taking about an hour’s brisk walk to complete.

Sometimes, though, when I’ve got something to mail or I’ve run out of something that can’t wait till the next serious grocery run, we go in the opposite direction, toward the West Tisbury post office and up-island Cronig’s. This takes us through the Island Farms subdivision.

After trespassing alongside a house that’s deserted most of the year, and where a big pine that went down in one of the March nor’easters is still blocking the driveway, we come out across from a single-story house with a big garden on one side and goats and chickens out back. Trav is intrigued by the goats, and since the chickens do occasionally cross the short, dead-end road I keep an eye out.

The main event at this house, however, is always the dogs. There are two of them, medium size, short-haired, one brown, one brown and white. As soon as Trav and I come in sight, they start tearing back and forth along the perimeter of their invisible fence line. There are craters in the dirt at either end where they wheel and start back in the other direction, dodging around the considerable plantings en route.

They’re good-looking dogs. Until yesterday, I hadn’t given much thought to what breed they are, beyond surmising that if they belong to a breed, it’s probably the same one.

A few mornings ago, the brown one crossed the invisible fenceline onto the pavement and came at us teeth bared. I stood my ground, yelling — I’m pretty good at yelling — and the dog finally retreated to the yard. I should have reported this, I can see now, but every one of the dozens of times we’d walked by, the dogs had stayed on their side of the “fence.” So I thought it was a fluke.

In the front yard of the deserted house is a small deer family. Here Trav gets acquainted.

When Trav and I passed that way late yesterday morning, with Trav, as always, on a leash heeling at my side, both dogs crossed into the road snarling and barking and ambushed Trav from behind, knocking him down. One of them tried to sink its teeth into Trav’s hindquarters. I screamed bloody murder and charged at them, making them back off but not give up.

What I really didn’t want was Trav to start fighting back. A 10-year-old malamute against two apparently much younger and more aggressive dogs, and me hanging on to a four-foot leash — this could have been very ugly. Surely someone would hear me yelling and come out of the house?

No one did. I hope this meant no one was home. A guy did appear some ways up the road into the subdivision, ready to intervene — didn’t I say I’m pretty good at yelling? — but by then I’d managed to scare the two dogs back into their yard.

Trav scrambled to his feet. We moved out of range. He seemed OK, but when I cleared away some tufts of loose fur toward his tail I found a scrape that was bleeding slightly and what looked like the imprint of a tooth tip. Under a wet place on his side was a similar scrape.

On the return trip, I was on guard. I also wondered if Trav would be leery of passing within range of those dogs again. Did he get why those dogs who always raced back and forth barking so ferociously hadn’t come any closer, and why this time they had?

Trav trotted along on my right side while I gave strenuous warnings and the evil eye to the dogs on my left. We made it through.

When I got home, I called West Tisbury animal control to report the incident. I learned from ACO Tony Cordray that the commonwealth does not consider invisible fencing to be restraint. In other words, if you’re ordered to restrain your dog, invisible fencing alone will not meet the requirement. When I described how the two dogs had stayed in their yard dozens of times as we passed by, he said that the batteries in the collars that must be used with invisible fencing must eventually be replaced.

Tony also said that because the dogs had drawn blood, they would have to be quarantined. Even if they’ve had rabies shots? I asked. Apparently so: State law requires a 10-day quarantine for any dog or cat that bites or scratches another animal or a human. I ventured cautiously that I didn’t know, but I guessed the dogs might be pit bull mixes, hoping I wasn’t getting into canine profiling.

Then I posted a short account of the incident to the Islanders Talk group on Facebook, as a cautionary note both to those who use invisible fencing and to anyone in the Island Farms subdivision. Trav got a lot of sympathy, and I got some useful info about invisible fencing. One user commented that dogs who consistently run back and forth along the boundary line are not considered good candidates for invisible fencing. It was also suggested that other complaints had been made about those two dogs. Hmmmm . . .

I cleaned Trav’s wounds, thinking all the while that a smaller dog with much less fur could have been seriously injured in a similar attack. As the afternoon wore on, he growled when I stroked his left foreleg. He’s a growly dog under any circumstances, but these growls advanced to snarls, so I took them seriously. When we went out for our early evening walk, he favored that leg and didn’t want to go faster than a walk. We took a shorter and slower than usual stroll and returned to the apartment. He gamely made it up the stairs.

This morning he was back to normal, trotting along, bushy tail waving. It was a close call, but we’re both OK.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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13 Responses to Ambushed

  1. Susan Holmes says:

    What a scary experience! Glad to know you both escaped serious injury, and appreciate the info about invisible fencing.

    Given the number of off-leash dogs (and some on-leash with foolish owners), I now carry a hickory staff on our walks. And when the clueless watch their dogs charging us and yell “Don’t worry, he’s friendly” I yell back “We’re NOT!” That’s had good results!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Trav is reactive and doesn’t appreciate being rushed by a dog he doesn’t know, though I have to say he’s become more tolerant as he’s gotten older. This wasn’t the first time he declined to fight back. Some dog owners are complete idiots.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. David Fielder says:

    Wow! So sorry to read about Trav’s run-in. Give him a hug from us.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jennie says:

    Wow! So, did Animal Control visit the home and owner, and quarantine the dogs, AND also tell the guy to replace the batteries on their collars? Poor Travis. ☹️


  4. Karen says:

    Actually – I have four dogs, all well cared for and not particularly aggressive. My poodle cocker mix and my great dane will attempt to attack strange dogs that approach their territory, although our strong fencing doesn’t permit it. So, even happy well cared for dogs are capable of behaving this way if they are the protective type and feel their territory is being invaded. The invisible fence does not provide much of a barrier – I don’t use them because they are not a guarantee, as you found out. Some dogs charge them if provoked enough, and the batteries go weak and die too. Some dogs are of that type of nature that they will not challenge the boundary, others are very bold, their drive outpowers the fear of the “shock”. Dog owners who have this type of fencing should be very vigilant regarding battery charge too. That those two dogs returned to their yard without fuss tells me there was no batter charge and probably hadn’t been for a while, they had figured that out.

    You are absolutely right – a smaller dog would have come out much worse in that attack, and you’re lucky the dogs didn’t turn on you as you defended Travis. I would make sure those dogs are fully innoculated against rabies, etc. I’m assuming during the quarantine this will be evaluated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen, I agree 100%. Dogs come with instincts. They have and/or develop “personalities,” if you will. They’re affected by their previous experiences. The variables are many. As an amateur in the world of dogs, I’ve learned to qualify the word “aggression” when I use it.” For instance, with “fear-based aggression,” a dog might attack if it’s afraid it might be attacked. A “dog-aggressive” dog might go after other dogs but be fine with people. There are several young children in the household of the dogs who attacked Travvy, so I’m guessing this might be the case here.

      One German shepherd in the neighborhood I grew up in was aggressive toward boys but perfectly OK with girls — because she’d been mistreated by boys. A dog in my current neighborhood is very hostile to Trav and has actually got loose and come after him a couple of times: that particular dog is a rescue, and his people don’t know all that much about his history.

      Dogs also get accused of being aggressive because they snarl, snap, and even bite when they’ve been provoked beyond endurance and the humans didn’t read the warning signals. (This is why I hate all those supposedly cute images circulating on social media with little kids and dogs and no adult in the picture [presumably because they’re taking it].)

      The worst dog-aggression stories I’ve heard usually involve a large dog and a small one. I try to withhold judgment unless I know more about the case because I’ve run into so many small-dog owners who are totally clueless. They don’t get that their dogs are dogs even if they can be picked up and carried around, so the dogs are — I hate to say “asking for it,” but that’s not far off.

      Good point about the dogs returning to their yard without hesitation. I’m pretty sure these dogs were current on rabies vac — dog licenses are renewed annually in my town, and you can’t get one without proof of inoculation. The ACO stopped short of saying that rabies was non-existent among dogs on the Vineyard, and I wouldn’t assume anything about the wild animals.


  5. Ellen T. Miller says:

    No visit to the vet to make sure there is nothing in the wound? Or a shot of antibiotic?? Are the attacking two dogs being quarantined? So sorry to hear this. I wonder if those two dogs are being properly taken care of since happy dogs do not usually become aggressive. Good that you talked to the animal warden — if it’s who I think it is, she will take care of the situation. Please keep me posted. (Did I ever mention that I am on the MV DART — Disaster Animal Response Team? We co-ordinate care of pets when people go to a shelter during a natural disaster — hurricane, winter storm, etc.) Best, Ellen

    Liked by 1 person

    • I did first aid, including an antibiotic ointment. If Trav’s sore leg hadn’t resolved within 24 hours, or if the wounds start looking inflamed, then we might go to the vet’s. Tony Cordray is our ACO. He’s fairly new (less than a year in the job) but I hear good things about him. He said the dogs would have to be quarantined because under state law a 10-day quarantine is required whenever a dog or cat scratches or bites a person or another animal.

      I attended a DART run-through a few years ago at the Tisbury School so I know a bit about how that works. 🙂


  6. How horrible for you and Travis-the-Wonder-Dog! I’m so glad he is on the road to recovery and the offenders are on their way to doggie jail where their mom and dad should be!

    Liked by 1 person

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