A Halloween House Sitting Tale

It was a beautiful Halloween night in London. An ochre Supermoon filled a darkening October sky. Ian un-clipped the three shaggy terriers we were dog sitting to let them run and play in the park. Inexplicably, a cold shiver ran down my spine.

An Unruly and Feral Pack

We’d been living as nomads and traveling across the globe as house sitters for the past three years. This house sit in England was the last in a series before we left to spend the winter in Thailand. It promised a comfortable and fun month: three dogs, two cats, large and modern family home in a nice north London town. The dog owners’ instructions were specific: Let the dogs roam freely in the yard. Walk them every morning, noon and night. Visit the local park daily. But one request left me uneasy. The owners insisted we let their dogs run off-leash in the park. Even in their own backyard they were an unruly feral pack. Their owners brushed off all misbehavior as either cute or inconsequential. Wanting to please them and get a 5-star review, we rationalized to convince ourselves their lack of training and discipline wouldn’t be a problem. We fed each other steady lines of reassurance: ‘At least they aren’t big dogs. Terriers aren’t dangerous. Aren’t they cute and fun! Just three rambunctious pups as harmless as hamsters.’

Relax, Everything Will be Fine

Still, I couldn’t shake the nagging urge to be cautious and follow my instincts. My spouse Ian, always bolder and braver, proposed a compromise. “Relax!, he said, “Everything will be fine. We’ll find a remote corner of the park away from everyone. Let’s use our time here to train the rascals.” So we did just that. We’d let them off leash only when there was no one else in sight and we trained consistently every day. Come! Stay. Down. Shake. Down. Stay. Come!  Good dog!”. The flaxen heads bobbed. Their fluffy tails wagged. Over and over and over again they obeyed without a problem. There was no sign that they could be anything but good dogs.

Satisfied with our success and with just three days left until the owners returned from their Mediterranean vacation, Ian reached down to let the dogs run loose for their evening play time.

“Brrrrr!” A sudden icy wind kicked up and my intuition screamed, “No! Don’t unleash the dogs!”

Release the Hounds!

We were tucked away in a hidden corner of the park. There was no evident danger. Wondering what was triggering this prickly feeling, I scanned the area around us. Then I spotted trouble ahead. Far atop a distant hill two elderly ladies were walking little lap dogs. I caught Ian’s eye, “Let’s take the dogs home. Now!” We called, “Come!” and they galloped back at once. Before I could breathe a sigh of relief the lead dog turned her head and saw her prey. Without pause she turned toward the hilltop and sprinted like a jaguar. In a split second the other two joined the chase. My blood ran cold. “No! NO! Come! Down! Stay!” Zero response. “Oh my GOD! NO! Ian!”

Ian sprinted after them. The hill was long and at a steady incline. I followed but it was like trying to run wearing cement shoes. My legs felt heavy and slow, my lungs burned and my thoughts registered in disjointed scenes and sounds. I heard terrified animal cries up ahead. Yelping. Shouting. Oddly, I looked up and saw the old women swinging their terrified little Silkies around in the air by their leashes. Other loose dogs ran toward our unhinged pack and surrounded the terrified prey.  Attacking dogs leapt for the little Silky terriers like dangling toys.

Once I caught up to the frenzy, I grabbed two of our dogs by the collar and braced myself on the ground to hold them back. They charged and bucked like bulls. I caught the sickening sight of a tiny dog’s ear caught between unyielding teeth and saw a small dog yelping as his leg was pulled by a bigger dog. Ian pinned down two other dogs from the pack. A woman tapped him on the shoulder and shouted, “Let my dog go!” What? By some hellish twist of bad luck, her dog had joined the fight and was an exact replica of the three dogs we were sitting. He let it go, handed me our third dog, and focused on helping the stricken old ladies save their dogs from the pack..

The Aftermath – A Dogs LIfe

And just like that, the spell snapped. The frenzy died down. Our exhausted dogs gave up the game, and quietly laid down and wagged their tails.

Miraculously, both small dogs were spared and neither suffered any obvious injury. The old ladies, however, were a hot mess. Both were down on the grass, sobbing and heaving. We got them up and, while Ian escorted them and their dogs to the veterinarian, I took the demon dog pack back to their den.

We all survived. Just.

Late that night, as a malevolent moon sank back into oblivion and the hounds of Hornchurch slept and dreamed their doggie dreams. Their tails flicked, their tongues lolled, and they snored the satisfied dreams of the exhausted. No one would believe they had been the same three dogs with wild eyes who tore at two tiny dogs and frail elderly ladies.

Exhausted, I couldn’t sleep for stress and worry. The owners could not be reached. All we could hope for was that the next two days would breeze by easily until we could leave the sit. Just two more days.

Just When We Thought it Was Safe

But of course, that didn’t happen. Early the next day there was a knock at the door. I looked through the peephole. Two London policemen were standing outside. “Ugh! What now?”, I thought. Since it was Ian’s decision to ignore my cautious pleas to keep the dogs on leash, I let him answer the door and deal with the police.

The ladies were filing a complaint. Even though there was no physical injury, they were afraid to go back to the park and their dogs were understandably traumatized. And who could blame them for calling the police? We certainly did not. We told the policemen that the owners could be reached to deal with the ladies in two more days.

Lessons to Learn

What came next was as shocking as the attack itself. The police let us know that, while there were to be no charges filed or penalties imposed today, we would be responsible for any future veterinary bills or liability. “WHAT!, I cried. Why us? They’re not our dogs! We were only doing as told by the dog owners.” While the officers were sympathetic to our situation, they told us It didn’t matter. Local laws state that whoever is minding the animals at the time of an incident is responsible, not the animal’s owner.

What a nightmare!  And a good lesson to learn: Never unleash the Hounds in Hornchurch.


*This story is based upon actual events. All names have been changed to protect the innocent, as they say.  Any resemblance to actual persons, or dogs, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

**A guest blog by Tracy M., an international house and pet sitter.

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