I probably shouldn’t have blogged about losing my chill factor, or about being attacked by acorns, even though it was largely in jest. The Universe apparently didn’t get the joke, and it jinxed me: the very next day I had a confrontation. Yes, things got tense beneath the branches of the wise old redwood trees.
I was exiting the serenity of the redwoods, my chill factor on maximum, when a German Shepherd bounded toward me, barking. It freaked me the fuck out, and not just a little freak out. For me, dogs have always triggered something deeper, especially when they appear hostile.
When I was young I was attacked by a dog. I wasn’t mauled or anything. Okay, to be perfectly honest, the dog only bit me on the butt, which is actually pretty hilarious when I put it that way, but unfortunately for me it was enough of a traumatic event (me being just a small lil boy and all) that, to this day, I experience a flood of fear whenever there is a menacing dog in my vicinity.
In fact, until recent years, I would feel fear and panic in the presence of any strange dog, even the small ones. Living in McCarthy, Alaska for the last four summers has helped me tremendously on this count. At any given time during the summer, it’s not unusual to have a herd of a dozen or more dogs swarming around the Golden Saloon, in the center of town, and I’ve gotten to know the local dogs, which has helped eased the trauma trigger, at least a little.
In recent years I’ve made extended efforts to understand dogs, like how they act and react, trying to understand things from a dog’s perspective. It’s helped, and I now really like dogs. Even so, I’m still re-traumatized when a big dog comes at me.
I simply can’t help it. I’m just seized by fear. I can recover from it fairly quickly, but in the moment, I’m paralyzed and I can’t think. It’s unlike anything else, really. I don’t experience anything like this kind of fear even when I encounter a bear or a moose, or any far more deadly and threatening animal. When I encounter a bear, I feel an intense rush of fear (cause a bear is a bear and nothing makes you feel your mortality like seeing a bear), but oddly it’s just not the same as a dog.
Here’s the thing about the forest that I walk and hike in: it’s a “no dogs” area. The signs are clear. Nonetheless, locals still walk their dogs, which is cool — truly it’s okay by me — but a lot of locals let their dogs off the leash. Some are apologetic when their dogs disturb others, but on this most recent walk, after the German Shepherd came at me, the dog owner was not sympathetic.
When I recovered from the paralysis of the trauma, I was immediately pissed and yelled something at him. I don’t remember what I said, but it must have been some comment about his menacing dog, because I do remember that his response was “Well maybe he doesn’t like your attitude.”
We exchanged words, and the weird thing was that his dog actually started to follow me, quite happy and pleased to be in my company.
I was still pissed, though, still under the spell of the anger that usually floods my mind after the dog trauma, so I told him that it appeared that his dog didn’t respect him, and that if his dog didn’t respect him, then maybe he ought to put it on a leash. And that finally shut him up.
I’m not proud of myself about this. Quite the contrary, but that’s the truth of what happened.
In another instance, it was actually comical. Last winter or spring, a woman had three large barking dogs who literally surrounded me. So, of course I freaked the fuck out. Then I calmed down just enough to be angry, and we had a very short confrontation before she walked away, but while walking away she told me that she didn’t have to leash her dogs, because her dogs all had kind personalities. And that shut me up, because just what exactly do you say to someone whose “kind” dogs have just surrounded and traumatized you?
In truth, if you’ve taken the time to read this far, I’d appreciate some feedback, both from people who have dogs and people who don’t. Clearly I have a biased perspective, since big barking dogs trigger the old trauma, but am I wrong for thinking that it’s bad manners to let your dogs loose on a public trail system? At the very least, big dogs (when off the leash) tend to get in people’s way and seem to be at least a little annoying. Is it too much to ask people to put their dogs on a leash?