Moose, a 1-year-old chocolate Labrador, was at the Ballenger Creek Dog Park when he spotted a ball.
Another dog had been following him since he arrived at the park with his owner Ariel Cevallos. Moose was playing with that dog.
But now, his attention was on the ball.
Then, out of nowhere, another dog came and broadsided Moose.
“And that’s when it kind of all escalated from there,” Cevallos said.
A scuffle broke out with the dog biting at Moose. The other dog’s owner jumped up, calling to her dog. Other dogs ran over to watch the fight.
Cevallos tried to get at Moose, but the other dog had him pinned. Moose wore a harness, but he was on his back, and Cevallos said she could not reach it to grab him.
Eventually, another dog owner waded in and grabbed Moose. The chocolate Labrador had a superficial injury to his chest. None of the humans who broke up the altercation were bitten.
Cevallos did not get the information of the other owner, and she said she did not know to report the incident. Moose went to a veterinarian and will likely have to have follow-up visits.
Moose’s injury is the result of one of at least four biting incidents at the Ballenger Creek Dog Park in the last month.
Two of the incidents were reported to the Frederick County Health Department and Frederick County Animal Control, which put out alerts looking for the owners of the dogs in each incident.
Frederick County Parks and Recreation will have a dedicated park ranger at Ballenger Creek Park, which houses the dog park, on Saturdays and Sundays, said Matt McKee, park superintendent.
It is not unusual to see bites at the dog park, McKee said, although he noted that the park is starting to see more. Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest days for the dog park, he said.
There are rules against aggressive dogs at the park, he said. If the park ranger sees one, or the department is notified in time, an aggressive dog and its owner might be banned from the park.
But the parks department is often not notified right away, which limits what can be do, McKee said.
And during a scuffle, people do not always think about contacting the parks department or getting the owner’s information. That happened in Cavellos’s case, as well as in the case of Mike Pagliaro, of Frederick, who had to receive rabies shots after being bitten a few weeks ago at the Ballenger Creek Dog Park.
Pagliaro had to get 11 shots after he was bitten while trying to get two dogs off of his Bichon Frise, Daisy. Pagliaro is doing well, he said. He did not have any side effects from the rabies shots.
Daisy is still recovering from her 30 wounds, he said.
She is still afraid of other dogs, said Jennifer Boykin, Pagliaro’s wife.
Despite the recent bites at the dog park, veterinarian Dr. Morse Davis said that people can still go to the dog park. But before going, owners should make sure their dog’s temperament has been assessed. Trainers can do this, he said.
Make sure the dog is socialized. When going to a dog park for the first time, go slow and talk to other owners. Make sure their dogs have also been socialized.
Dogs can have a group mentality, so when they see a fight break out, they might gather around like middle school children. Dogs also resource guard, like with toys or treats.
Davis recommended that people keep their dogs on their leashes at the beginning, so that owners can grab their dogs if they need.
If a scuffle does break out, the best thing to do is to throw something at the dogs or yell at them, maybe pull the leash. They can also carry citronella spray, which is a harmless citrus smelling spray. Dogs do not like the smell so it can make them stop, he said.
So are dog parks safe?
“Are playgrounds safe to bring their kids?” Davis said.
It depends, he said, and people can take precautions. Or, if they prefer, a good alternative might be a doggy play date where both owners know how their dogs play with each other.