First thing on Wednesday morning I was treated to a waiting room scene no vet with a steaming hot, vente-sized latte in her hand ever wants to see: blood, tears, and a painful poodle with puncture wounds. So much for the $5 coffee…

This poor ten year-old poodle obviously needed a look-see and some pain meds ASAP. She’d been attacked by a neighbor’s dog just as she’d set out for her morning walk. The attacker had easily slipped his collar, leaving his horrified owner standing with ghost-leash in hand as his dog barreled across the street in the direction of the unsuspecting poodle.

A few quick shakes of the attacker’s head, a series of well-aimed kicks on the part of two terrified owners (and one well-armed workman wielding a hammer) and the situation was at last under control. Well…sort of. Now comes the pain of the treatment, the anguish of the patient’s owners, the expense of it all and (finally but not insignificantly) the acrimony that inevitably results between neighbors in the wake of these inter-dog conflicts.

When I put it that way, my job would seem to be the easiest part: fix up the dog. Period. But somehow that’s never the way it goes—not entirely, anyhow. For some reason, the vet always seems to get dragged into the resulting inter-neighbor melee.

While I’m busy taking X-rays, giving antibiotics, clipping wounds, installing catheters and assessing orthopedic injuries, the dogs’ owners are often battling it out by cell phone, getting lawyers involved, or in one memorable instance, coming to blows in the waiting room.

It’s heavy business, this dogfight stuff. Not least because in big-dog-little-dog (BDLD) cases the small fry are often battling for their lives by the time the dominant aggressor’s done with them. That’s high stakes. Add in the high cost of intensive healthcare (and the opposing party’s frequent unwillingness to take responsibility for the soaring bill) and even the most obvious, one-sided disputes turn extra-ugly.

Luckily, yesterday morning’s wasn’t among those. Not at first, anyhow. The attacker’s owner called early on to speak with me, begging to be assured that the victim would survive. She then asked to be called with the total for the bill so that she could pay for it. I congratulated her on her civil approach to the issue.

Later, however, it became clear that the superficial wounds were more extensive than they initially appeared. Under anesthesia, it also became apparent that although obvious orthopedic injury had been spared her (I hadn’t seen any issues on the X-rays), some damage to several crucial ligaments had been sustained (probably the result of strong jaws yanking on her hind limb)—ouch! Double ouch when you add in the stress and expense of the orthopedist’s surgical ministrations.

As I might have predicted had I reasonably invoked Murphy’s Law, the inter-neighbor stress level had grown in the intervening hours. “Dangerous dog” and “Animal Control” began to surface as key terms applied to the case. When it also surfaced that the attacker had previously killed cats, all hell might have broken loose.

So far, cool head have prevailed and little Miss Poodle’s recovery goes well. But it remains to be seen how far the inter-human dispute will go. One thing’s for sure, though: one quiet neighborhood will never be the same after this…