An Unfortunate Family Conflict 

D. E. Larsen, DVM

Cody almost danced on the exam table. His stub of a tail wagged so hard that it wagged his entire rear end.

“Whoa!” I said as Cody was trying to lick my face. “You can hardly contain yourself, Cody.”

“He is so happy to go in the truck. He doesn’t care where he goes,” Renea said. “But he does seem to like you, Doc.”

Cody was almost two years old, and his activity level showed it. He couldn’t sit still if his life depended on it. He was a dark liver and white springer spaniel, healthy, happy, and high-strung.

“What are we doing for Cody today?” I asked.

“He is overdue for his rabies vaccination, and my sister and her family are coming for a week next month,” Renea said. “She has a little boy who is a holy terror. The last time he was here, he wouldn’t leave Cody alone. I just want to be safe and make sure Cody’s rabies vaccine is up to date.”

“You’re being very wise,” I said. “Just in the event Cody would nip the little hellion, you will keep the public health people out of the issue if his vaccine is current.”

After the exam and vaccine, we put Cody down on the floor. He bounced around the room. He was so happy he nearly knocked me down.


It was several weeks later when I noticed Renea sitting in the busy reception area, wringing her hands as she waited to talk with the front desk. When she caught my eye, she jumped up and came back to talk with me.

“Doctor Larsen, I have to talk with you. Do you have a minute?” she asked.

“We’re pretty busy, but I can spare a moment,” I said. “The exam rooms are busy. Let’s step into my office.”

As soon as the office door closed, the tears started.

“I just don’t know where to start,” Renea said as she dried her tears. “My sister’s little boy tormented Cody from the moment he came through the door. It went on continually. I tried to keep them separated, but I couldn’t do it all the time. Anyway, he was on the back porch with Cody, pulling Cody’s ears, when Cody had finally had enough. Cody snapped at him and caught him on the side of his face.”

“I hope it wasn’t a vicious bite,” I said. “Is the little guy okay?”

“Yes, he is okay,” Renea said. “It was just a snap, but it did break the skin, and it looks like there may be a scar. But you would have thought the world came to an end.”

“So, if he is okay, what is the problem?” I asked.

“My sister is insisting I put Cody to sleep,” Renea said. “If I don’t, she will never visit again. I just can’t do that, doctor. She doesn’t understand. Cody is my child.”

“There must be a resolution here,” I said. “Have you explained your position to your sister?”

“Yes, but I don’t think it meant anything to her,” Renea said.

“A little tincture of time will help,” I said. “Give her a couple of weeks, and then talk with her again. There should be an easy compromise to offer. Maybe you could board Cody in a kennel or with some friends anytime your sister visits. Cody might not like that, but it might be better than the alternative. Some dogs love going to a kennel. It is sort of a social event for them.”

“My sister thinks I’m crazy to call a dog my child,” Renea said. “Do you think I am crazy?”

“When I was in vet school, we had a similar event happen,” I said. “It was a couple of classmates in the class ahead of us. The circumstances were a little different because the bite was a vicious one, and it caused significant injury to the child. I am unsure if there was any provocation involved. But it led to a lot of discussion in the school. Dealing with the ethics of pet ownership and the owner’s bond to the pet. And the child substitute pet, which is becoming more common.”

“How did that turn out?” Renea asked.

“I’m not sure I know the whole story,” I said. “I know the dog was not put to sleep, and there was never a consensus from all the discussions between classmates. But I don’t think the friendship between the two involved survived. However, it’s much easier to give up a friend than to give up a sister.”

“That is for sure,” Renea said. “I like your advice about the tincture of time. The emotions will have cooled in a couple of weeks, and I think she will accept the kenneling offer.”

“Now you should know, I was in favor of euthanasia for the dog in Colorado when I was in school,” I said. “But the situation was different. It was a vicious bite that scarred the kid’s face for life. That doesn’t say anything about the potential emotional scars after being attacked by a dog. And there was no clear evidence that the child provoked the attack. I felt at the time that the dog was untrustworthy. Your situation is far different. Cody is a good dog; he just had his fill of being tormented. And to answer your question, no, I don’t think you are crazy.”

“Well, I’m glad I came and talked with you,” Renea said. “I feel much better now. Thank you.”

“If your sister wants to talk with me, that would be fine. Just have her call me,” I said.


Things worked out between the sisters. Cody went to stay with Renea’s friend and neighbor, Marsha, whenever her sister visited. I never met her sister or the little boy, but I don’t believe the boy was scarred for life, either physically or emotionally.

Photo by Celyn Bowen on Unsplash.

Published by d.e.larsen.dvm

Country vet for over 40 years in Sweet Home Oregon. I graduated from Colorado State University in 1975. I practiced in Enumclaw Washington for a year and a half before moving to Sweet Home to start a practice.

One thought on “An Unfortunate Family Conflict 

  1. Kids can be rough on animals. I am glad this one resolved well. When I was a child, the people across the street had a little dog who was normally quite friendly. One day when the dog was asleep on the porch, their own little boy came up behind the dog and hit her on the tail with a hammer. As you can imagine, that poor dog who had been peacefully napping, yelped and spun around, biting the child. The boy was not severely injured, but learned not to hit the dog with a hammer after that. In that particular case, the family kept the dog, and the child learned a valuable lesson.

    Liked by 2 people

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