My parents divorced when I was very young and my mother had to go back to work to support us. I remember that it was a hot summer and I was too young to have started first grade. My mother had a co-worker who had a little boy that was about my age and she had a young teenage girl who was babysitting him in her home. Somehow a plan was worked out that I would stay with her son and the babysitter while the two moms went off to work.
I don’t remember the boy’s name, or the babysitters for that matter. What I do remember was the giant St. Bernard they owned. We didn’t have dogs growing up and like many children, I always wanted a puppy. I loved the fact that this family had a big furry dog to play with.
It didn’t take long, however, to discover that for whatever reason, their St. Bernard did not like me. The owner had asked the babysitter to keep the dog in the basement during the day while I was there. He literally stood almost eye-to-eye with me and it didn’t take much for him to knock me down. But the babysitter was a sappy young lass and felt bad for the poor pooch needing to stay in the basement. In hindsight, the dog was probably very happy staying down there given the temperatures upstairs. Like I said, it was a very hot summer.
Still, the babysitter wanted me to get along with the dog, so she brought him upstairs so I could pet him. Bad move. In a split second that she turned her back, the dog tried to bite me. She didn’t see him do it and when I cried out, she said I was being silly. He was only trying to lick me.
Then he lunged. The babysitter had been holding on to his collar, but it took little to pull from her grip. Screaming I ran in one direction and the babysitter grabbed the little boy and ran in the other. She ran out the kitchen door leaving me alone in the house with Cujo! (not the dogs real name)
The house was a cape style home and I ran from the kitchen into the living room, but there was nowhere else to go. Luckily, (and I do mean luckily) the living room contained two end tables on each side of the sofa. The end tables were open underneath and I was small enough to crawl under. I curled in a ball, covering my head with my hands and screamed while the dog tried to dig me out from underneath with its claws.
In the meantime, the babysitter tried coming into the house. As she opened the kitchen door, the dog left me and tried to attack her. Running back outside she tried to keep the dogs attention by banging on the door. Thinking there might be an escape, I crept out from under the table. As soon as the dog realized I had moved, he chased me back underneath.
I don’t know how long I was under there nor do I recall how the babysitter finally got me out. I remember being outside in the hot sum, barefoot, (my shoes were still in the house with the dog) waiting for the mothers to return. My back hurt, but if I was bleeding, I could not tell.
From there I was brought to the hospital to be checked out. My back was covered in welts caused by the dog’s claws. I am sure there was some breaking of the skin as my mother would coat my back with Neosporin every morning for a week after. Other than being a little traumatized and having a very sore back, I was fine. The next day, my mother brought me back to the house, despite my pleading not to go. My mother swore to me the babysitter had been spoken to and she would not be letting the dog up from the basement.
Within that summer, the same St. Bernard bit the mailman and the newspaper person. They eventually had to put him down. It was the one and only summer that I went there. After that, my mother put me in a preschool and then had me spend my summers at the Girls Club or the Y.
I still love dogs, even St. Bernards, though I have never owned one. But I will never forget how quickly an animal can turn on you. To this day I wonder what would have happened had those end tables not been open underneath or if he had attacked the babysitter first.