Like any busy American, getting everything done, outside of my workday, is a challenge. And so when my time is pressed, it’s often a question of who gets exercised in my house—the dogs or me? Because my fur babies have loads of energy, they often win, which results in a trip to the nearby dog park. But to counter that, when we arrive, instead of sitting on a bench like many of the pet parents, I often try to squeeze in some steps.
I find myself aimlessly meandering around the park as my Doberman, Lyla, runs like a maniac, picking up all the muddy tennis balls she can uncover and my rat terrier, Rocky, sniffs every single blade of grass. And in addition to sneaking in a cardio session, I pride myself on my dog park multi-tasking abilities. While my pups run and play, I’ll make phone calls, send text messages, and tackle my email inbox. But I can safely say that I no longer endorse doing anyof this!
Eight days into the New Year, my neighbors asked if we could get our pups together to play at the park. They have a Bullmastiff mix (who I am now convinced is part rhino) named McCovey and he is Lyla’s best friend. The two will often wrestle for hours in his backyard but since his owners are replanting their grass, their play sessions have been put on hold. So we agreed to meet them at the park. My husband and I arrived first and let Lyla run around for a bit before McCovey and his mom got there. And when the gate opened and Lyla’s buddy came spilling out, she lost her mind. The two had never been to the park together so they went absolutely crazy upon recognizing each other. They ran full speed around the giant fenced in area, chasing each other and stopping for impromptu wrestling sessions. At one point, I walked over to find Rocky. Lyla saw me and came running over excitedly. McCovey chased her as fast as he could. Lyla slammed into him and he lost control and went flying…right into my hip. And then I went flying.
The impact knocked the wind out of me. Welcome to the world of football. “You essentially got taken out by a linebacker,” my orthopedic doctor told me at a later date. I fell super hard on my side and ended up face down in the mud. It was not my finest moment.
I immediately tried to stand but felt like a gorilla was sitting on my back. I knew something was wrong and that this wasn’t a “dust off your pants and move on with your day” type of injury. After several minutes, my husband helped me up and I hobbled over to a bench. I watched as McCovey and Lyla continued to play, but I was throbbing in pain and trying to catch my breath. After receiving an MRI, doctors discovered I had three hairline fractures in my hip.
The irony of the situation is that the day before my accident, I remember telling my husband that Lyla had developed a behavior where she would run off to chase a ball and would later recognize me from across the park. She’d get so excited and come running full speed to get to me and would swerve at the very last moment. “I literally thought she was going slam into me so many times. It was scary!” I told my husband. “She does that but she swerves at the last minute,” he told me. “As long as you don’t move, you’re fine.” I learned the hard way, however, that all it took was a clumsy pup to be running alongside her to throw her plan of not colliding with me completely out of whack.
The crazy thing is, until the incident, it never really dawned on me that getting injured at the dog park was something that could happen. Any time I took Rocky and Lyla there to play, I always kept an eye out for anything that could endanger them. Sure I’d walk around and send some texts but I was careful to always glance up and watch to make sure they didn’t encounter an aggressive dog. If they did, I would immediately steer them away to play in a different area. I made a point of throwing a toy for them to fetch far away from other pups that might have ball aggression. I kept them away from stagnant puddles of water; hillsides filled with rattlesnakes, and gopher holes that they could have possibly twisted their ankles in. But it never even remotely dawned on me that keeping myself safe was something that I should have been focusing on as well.
I’m writing this essay on week one of starting physical therapy post the accident. I’ve had a tremendous amount of time to sit on my couch, binge watch embarrassing reality shows, and reflect upon how this situation could have been avoided. In my case, it really couldn’t have been. I wasn’t texting during the incident. I was fully present and was keeping an eye on my dogs. In fact, I had briefly lost sight of Rocky and was on my way to head over to stand by where he was sniffing when I got nailed by McCovey out of nowhere. It was, by every definition of the word, an accident.
But the event did get me thinking about all the times when I was checking emails, chitchatting with fellow dog owners, or taking a phone call instead of paying attention to my surroundings while at the park. “I’m never going to the dog park again!” I told my husband twelve days into my injury, when the MRI finally confirmed my diagnosis. I meant it then, of course, but have since changed my tune. I will return to the dog park but rest assured, I have pledged to not allow myself to be distracted while I am there. I’ll probably hang out in a corner with my dogs or will sit on a park bench and take in some rays. And while I’ll always continue to keep an eye out on Rocky and Lyla’s safety, I will make sure that keeping myself out of harm’s way is an equal priority.
Let this be a PSA to anyone who reads this: Injuries at dog parks can and do happen. I am living proof of this. Dogs are unpredictable, especially when they are not your own. Keep an eye out for your surroundings, don’t get buried in your smartphone, and keep yourself safe.
Nicole Pajer is a freelance writer who lives in Los Angeles with her husband, energetic Doberman, and rat terrier.