Ask Me About My Scar

When I was seven, I was bitten by my relative’s new dog at a family gathering. I’d wandered off to find Pluto sleeping and knelt down to pet him goodnight, startling him no doubt. My parents didn’t even put on shoes before rushing me to the hospital where I received 18 stitches. We were all shocked at the time, astounded by the sudden dismal turn of events. My relatives just rescued Pluto as a birthday gift, and everyone was excited to bond with this new member of the family. By the time I woke up in the hospital bed, Pluto’s fate had already been decided by the adults. The magnitude of guilt I felt in that moment was indescribable. I didn’t want Pluto to go away at all. I wanted to apologize to him. Looking back on this 14 years later, I’ve learned to let go of this guilt as my 7 year old self couldn’t have known any better.

When we returned home, my friends visited to give me get-well cards, their dimpled faces solemn for the first time. I hadn’t looked in the mirror since the event. The facial expressions of my friends and family dissuaded me from that curiosity. My family tiptoed around the subject for years, afraid of upsetting me with the memories. Occasionally a classmate would ask how I got my scars, to which I’d be pleasantly surprised and open to sharing. The thing I’ve learned is that conversation heals us.

My scars now serve as an invitation for dialogue about the prevention of dog bites and how darker life events ultimately lead to a brighter life perspective. I want people to know that dogs are still the love of my life. The bigger the better! I want others to know that it is okay to ask me about my scar, ask me what happened, ask me what I learned from it.

There’s basic information I’d like people to consider before coming to conclusions about dog attacks or victims. First, children under ten years old are more likely to be bitten due to their lack of physical boundaries. It’s encouraged to caution a child from doing certain behaviors such as petting without asking the owner’s permission first or invading the dog’s personal space. Second, a dog’s likelihood of biting as a defense does not correlate with its breed. The third take away I want to emphasize is that dog bites are common. These aren’t isolated incidents. There is a whole community of adults who’ve been bitten by a dog as a child and who choose to advocate for more canine awareness and empathy.

How can we make a difference? A dog bite prevention lesson introduced into elementary schools would greatly decrease the risk of hospital visits due to canine injuries. Talking to your siblings, children, nieces, nephews, or the kids you babysit are also beneficial ways to get involved in the discussion. It’s natural for children to want to adore animals, but we owe them the basic knowledge necessary to do so for the safety of both themselves and the animal.