It's not a particularly good time to be a dog.
Oh, sure, there's that whole drinking-from-the-toilet thing. And the sniffing-other-dogs'-butts stuff. But lately -- around these here parts, anyway -- a dog's life has gotten a lot more, well, dangerous.
The year started off promising enough for man's best friend.
There was the story we ran back on Jan. 6 about Gracie, a South Ogden cockapoo who is the only Utah dog featured in the 2013 "The 365 Days of Puppies a Year" calendar.
And then there was the tragic-but-heroic tale of Jake, a 13-year-old golden retriever/Lab mix who, on Feb. 27, perished after rescuing a sleeping family member from a fire.
But then, just this month, the pooch P.R. machine broke down. In the last couple of weeks, two dogs -- in two separate incidents -- have been shot and killed by Ogden police officers.
Everybody and his or her dog is upset over these latest events. Some blame the homeowners for failing to keep their dogs under control. Others blame a trigger-happy police department. Personally, I haven't seen this kind of emotional response since Rep. Curt Oda suggested that shooting, clubbing or decapitating would be a good way to deal with the feral cat problem in Utah.
I've been bitten by dogs twice in my life -- both times while serving an LDS mission in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. (As it turns out, Baptist ministers aren't the only ones who don't like Mormon missionaries.)
Thankfully, neither bite was severe enough to require medical attention. And though the first bite merely annoyed me, the second one scared me to death.
The first time I got bit, I'd been on my mission only for a couple of weeks. My companion and I were walking down a residential street when one of those small, yappy dogs came out of its yard and nipped me on the ankle. It broke the skin, but just barely, and the moment I turned to face the dog, it ran away.
The second time, with a different companion, I was in the Arkansas countryside, knocking on doors one early summer afternoon. As we walked up the driveway at one house, we saw something in the shadows between the two vehicles in the carport. It was a German shepherd, sleeping on the cool concrete.
We froze, then slowly began to back away. Sure, we were faith-filled, invincible 19-year-olds, but it takes a whole different kind of stupid to mess with a sleeping dog.
Just like in an old Western, as we quietly retreated, one of us -- my companion insists it was me, I know it was him -- stepped on a twig. It snapped, we held our breath. The dog awoke, looked up, and ... heeeeere's Johnny!
Without a sound, the animal charged us. By now, we were backing up much faster, not caring how much noise our sensible missionary shoes made in the process. As the German shepherd reached me, it leapt in the air, lunging at my face. Instinctively, I raised my right arm to a defensive position, in front of my throat and parallel to the ground, and the dog latched onto it. But just as quickly, it let go and then charged my companion.
What happened next was nothing short of a Mormon miracle. As the dog leapt into the air, my companion -- who had a black belt in karate -- shouted "NO!" and did some sort of lightning-fast wax-on/wax-off move with his hand, striking the dog atop its snout.
The dog stopped, sneezed twice, gave my companion a puzzled look and then retreated into the carport.
As for me, I had some slight bruising on my forearm, but nothing more. And I am quite certain it was the tightly woven polyester material of my durable two-pants suit that protected me from a more severe bite.
Needless to say, we did NOT share the message of The Restored Gospel with that household -- not that the German shepherd cared, since everyone knows all dogs go to heaven anyway. (Their masters, on the other hand, are apparently on their own.)
So, what does this story have to do with the recent rash of dog shootings? Just this:
Although I believe the police department could do with some reviewing of the procedures and policies for animal encounters, I'm not about to second-guess the officers at the scene. Because when that German shepherd came at me, I was fearful enough that if I'd had a gun, I would have used it.
And not just used it, but I suspect I'd still be rapidly dry firing it long after the homeowner came out to call off Rover.
So then, where do all cats go? Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.