Sunday, 14 August 2022
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Putnam: Small dog parks could be answer after 18-pound Murphy mauled and euthanized

After an attack last weekend at a dog park that left a small dog dead and dog owners traumatized, it may be time for Lansing area dog parks to wall off areas for smaller breeds.

Cheryl Carlson, a longtime police dog trainer from St. Johns and owner of Cher Car Kennels, said separating dogs may offer a solution.

I reached out to her after reporting the story of Murphy, an 18-pound Havanese mauled at the DeWitt Dog Park last weekend. The dog that attacked him, Luke, is an 80-pound Great Dane and American bulldog mix.

Six-year-old Murphy’s injuries were severe. His family euthanized him.

“Two little dogs get in a fight, you go to the vet. Two big dogs get into a fight, you go to the vet,” Carlson said. “You get a big dog in a fight with a little dog, the little dog is going to die.”

Carlson not only trains service animals, she teaches utility workers and postal employees how to deal with aggressive dogs.

Small dog viewed as prey

She said the attack last weekend may have been a dog acting on instinct. Murphy may have been viewed as prey and not another dog.  That fits the story told by those at the dog park. Luke, the bigger dog, had just entered the park and ran directly to Murphy and attacked him.

Lansing area has three official public dog parks and a fourth in the planning stage. None of the three have a separate small dog area, though the Soldan Park at Hawk Island, a county park, had one when it opened in 2007, said Ingham County Parks Director Tim Morgan.

It closed in 2009 after neighbors complained about the noise and that section of the park was closed.

The Northern Tail Dog Park opened in East Lansing in 2007. City Parks Director
Tim McCaffrey said there’s been discussions to create an area for smaller dogs but funds haven’t been available. He estimated it would take $10,000 to $15,000 to pay for more fencing.

McCaffrey said there’s also been ongoing talk to create a fee-based fob entry system, like that used at Soldan Park. It would raise money to support the park and make sure all those entering have agreed to the rules. The investment to create the system hasn’t made it into the city’s strained budget, however.

Related: Putnam: Murphy, an 18-pound dog, was mauled at DeWitt dog park

Meridian Township is planning two new dog parks at Central Park. One, in the Nancy Moore Park, will be designated for small dogs — with a weight limit likely at 25 pounds — and open later this summer. A larger dog park is expected to open next spring in Central Park South, said LuAnn Maisner, the township parks director.

She said the park has been in the planning stages for several years. Best practices show that it’s better to separate dogs by size.

Like many others with doubts about the parks, Carlson, the dog trainer, said she believes dog parks are a good idea in theory, but that owners of the dogs must have “above average” understanding of dog behavior.

There’s the rub.

The owner of the dog that attacked Murphy said she’s never been to a park before. Her dog was recovering from confinement after surgery and she wanted to socialize him.

Steve Curtis, Murphy’s owner, desperately tried to free his dog from the bigger dog’s jaws, trying to pry them open, then pulling on the big dog’s nose.

As a dog lover and owner, I couldn’t help but put myself in the position of Steve and Colleen Curtis, fighting for the life of their small dog, Murphy, and imagining their horror.

Don’t pull dog under attack

Carlson’s advice to anyone facing a similar terrifying circumstance is to avoid pulling the dogs as that could worsen the injuries.

“The biggest thing is you don’t want to forcibly remove the little dog from the big dog because that will cause damage,” she said.  “If at all possible, try to keep the small dog still….it’s better than trying to pull the dog away.”

A quick action to defuse the situation is to hose the attacking dog if water is handy, or to pour water in the dog’s ear or aim the hose in their ear. Use water from a water bottle if that’s what’s available.

“That will make them let go,” she said.

She said another tactic is to choke the bigger dog by twisting the dog’s collar from behind so it’s hard to breathe. The theory is that the dog will gasp and let go of its victim.

If the dog doesn’t have a collar, use a leash or belt.

You can also reach down to the dog’s side at the same time in a “flanking move” and pull on the loose flap of skin that connects the end of the dog’s chest to the rear leg.

Yank hard, Carlson said.

Most of the advice I read was counter-intuitive, such as staying calm and not yelling unless you’re calling for help.

I can’t imagine not screaming as a beloved pet’s life hangs in the balance.

Staying calm?

The reason to stay calm is that dogs may become more agitated and think someone is in competition for their prey, Carlson said. They could bite down harder to try to run with the dog.

Many on Facebook reacting to the story offered solutions. One was to grab the hind legs of the dog and wheelbarrow the dog away by making it walk on its front legs only. That could be a good move in a dog fight, with two people breaking up the dogs, but Carlson warned you have to keep moving or the dog could turn and bite.

University of Florida veterinarian Brenda Griffin, who instructs animal shelter workers on how to break up dog fights, advises to use a strong jet of water directly in the dogs’ faces so that they can come up for air. 

Other tactics are to throw a heavy blanket over the dogs, and to carry citronella spray, a scent dogs don’t like, to spray directly in the fighting dogs’ noses.

Carlson said the spray may be worth a try but may not be enough to stop a dog intent on killing prey or in a fight.

Murphy’s death has struck a chord in the township. DeWitt Township Police Chief Brian Russell said the township is investigating the incident.

Murphy’s owners want his death to result in something positive.  I think that’s already started with discussions by dog owners on how to keep dogs safe.

Maybe separate parks for Murphy-sized dogs could be the answer.

Judy Putnam is a columnist with the Lansing State Journal. Contact her at (517) 267-1304 or at Follow her on twitter @judyputnam.


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