Jasper bit down into Chloe’s neck as if it were a jelly doughnut. My sweet senior dog did not stand a chance against the pit bull, half her age and holding a grudge.
Chloe, whom I rescued from a shelter in New Jersey more than a decade ago, has been my best friend and constant companion ever since. I am a reporter at The New York Times. Over the last five years, as I was holed up working on investigations about Donald Trump’s finances, Chloe’s job was to guard the president’s tax return information. She kept me sane. I kept her safe. Until now.
Chloe and I live in a cabin in the Catskill Mountains. My exercise is hers, long walks together, through fields, forests and often country lanes in our neighborhood. On the morning of the attack we were on one of those roads, with my friend Shawna Richer and her dog, Scout.
Jasper’s frenzied barking began as we approached his house. I looked over at Shawna. Silently we calculated the possibility of passing with Chloe and Scout, both leashed, as swiftly and softly as possible. Jasper had other ideas. He shot off the porch and across the sprawling front yard as if launched from a slingshot.
Then he stopped at the edge of the property. He sized all of us up and his eyes locked on Chloe, a solid 60-pound Labrador-basset hound mix who is 12 years old. Suddenly a woman emerged from the house, screaming for Jasper to come back. Instead he advanced toward Chloe until they were nose to nose. Then he lunged, locking his jaw around her neck.
A few days later, one of the dogs was on death row and the other recovering from deep puncture wounds to her neck and abdomen. One person was in the hospital.
Chloe first encountered Jasper two summers ago. She was on a walk, on leash, with my brother, David. They met the wayward pit bull alone on a road. Jasper came at Chloe but David kicked him. Jasper went running. Chloe escaped without harm. We did not report the incident, something I now regret.
For many dog owners, part of the allure of country life is wide-open spaces where their pets can run free. I used to be one of these people, but over the years I learned the hard way the importance of a leash.
I have encountered a few dogs like Jasper, the unsupervised ones that can turn violent in an instant. Jasper had quite a history I learned about anecdotally only after it was too late. Another neighbor’s dog had been attacked. Animal control had a record of it. A few years back Jasper had bitten one of his owners, the police told me.
I held onto Chloe as we all fought to separate the dogs. Jasper’s teeth were deep in Chloe’s neck and her fur was flecked with blood. Shawna kicked Jasper in the chest and tried to wedge herself between the dogs’ muzzles, while at the same time trying to keep Scout out of the fight.
The woman fought hopelessly to gain control over Jasper. As she grasped at his collar, he bit her hard.
On our walks we see all sorts of dogs, and owners. There are the off-leash dogs who come bounding toward me. The owner is always nearby, assuring me their pet is friendly. This drives me crazy. These people are taking a huge risk, blindly betting their dog will mix with mine.
Then there are dogs like Jasper, dangerous and often roaming around alone. After Chloe’s first brush with Jasper I bought pepper spray. But when he came for her this time, I wasn’t carrying it.
In the days after the attack I heard from friends who felt that Jasper’s being a pit bull was to blame. I fault only the owners, who failed to leash Jasper. After Chloe was attacked I watched “The Champions,” a documentary about the fate of the pit bulls abused by Michael Vick, the professional football player who served time in federal prison for operating an illegal dogfighting operation. Dozens of pit bulls were seized and rehomed. The movie is a testament to the idea that many dogs, regardless of breed or the conditions they were raised in, can be rehabilitated with proper attention, training and love.
In the right home, with informed, responsible owners, even Jasper could have had a safe, happy life. But in that home, on that morning, he was only dangerous.
As his grip tightened on Chloe’s neck and I saw her blood on my jeans, the reality that she could well die on this road overcame me. Through tears I said goodbye to her. I told her I was sorry.
The bloody assault continued. At one point Chloe’s big brown paws covered Jasper’s face as if to say, “Please, please stop.” Finally the woman’s shouts raised her father, who came running. He snapped a leash to Jasper’s collar, and pried his jaws from Chloe. They retreated to the house.
Shawna and I collapsed to our knees on the blood-spattered road. Fight or flight had overwhelmed us. We couldn’t catch our breath. Our lungs burned. Our jackets and jeans were covered in blood.
I looked over at Chloe. Bitten, bleeding, but alive. Scout, who remarkably had stayed out of the fight, pressed her body against Shawna. We trudged the short distance home in silence.
My vet treated Chloe’s puncture wounds, two on the neck, one on her side. She said we were lucky. Chloe’s thick neck rolls and collar had absorbed some of the attack and probably saved her life. She got a rabies booster and antibiotics.
The woman went to the hospital with a hand injury. A few days later, I received an email from her father.
He said he had rescued Jasper as a puppy. “I wish you could see him with his family. He was a kind, loving pet, but not so with strangers and other dogs,” he wrote. “I turned my back and he slipped away. I can only say I wish it never happened. Our family is devastated.”
The local animal control officer told me the family had to surrender Jasper to quarantine because his rabies shots were out of date. Initially there was talk that Jasper would be returned to the owner. Later I learned he would have to be put down.
“It’s for the best and we all know it,” the father wrote.
As I read the email, sitting in my car in the parking lot of a local Home Depot, I began to sob. I was devastated for Jasper and his family. I believed they loved their dog. I wanted to find him another home, a pit bull sanctuary, something. I imagined their goodbye at the humane society. I wished we’d never walked by their house that morning. I wished Jasper had been leashed.
Chloe is recovering from her injuries. For weeks after the attack my body was covered in bruises from holding Chloe tight to me as Jasper attacked her. Shawna is anxious on walks now and carries a large stick. I do not leave the house without pepper spray.
A few nights later I saw a post about Jasper on Instagram. He looked peaceful and sweet in the photograph. “Rest in peace Jasper, my heart is breaking,” the caption read.
It made me sad for everything that didn’t have to happen.