With Halloween approaching, it’s only natural to start thinking and talking about things that scare us. How I long for the days of my youth and a good healthy scare- werewolves and zombies and vampires and all of that, made-up monsters who retreat into myth at the end of the day. But as we all know, that mythos is a cover for the real monsters that lurk out there- rare, fortunately, but flesh and blood humans with something wrong in the head. And they terrify me.
When I was a senior in high school, I had a stalker. It was before stalker laws were in place, before anyone even really understood what it was all about, so when my parents called the police to report that some lunatic was calling me and threatening to kill me, they wrote it off as a crank call.
I never forgot the terror of that moment, standing alone in the kitchen with the phone receiver in my hand, wondering if someone was standing outside the front door. That was my first lesson in the world not being a very nice place.
One of the great benefits of living in a mild climate as I do is the ability to be outside enjoying the weather year-round. I didn’t let my bad experience sour me on the joys of being out alone with my thoughts, inhaling the grassy smells of dusk out on an early evening jog. It’s a common refrain of running clubs- “Don’t go alone!” but of course that is one of the reasons it’s as enjoyable as it is.
Chelsea King felt the same way, before having her life taken in a park I’ve been to often. Her only mistake was trusting the world to be a decent place and a well-traveled park to be a safe location on a weekday afternoon.
A year or so ago, after Emmett became ill but before I got Brody, I was running alone in a little hilly area by my house, maybe 50 yards from the road but blocked from view. I had a sudden thought in my head- “Oh my God- what if a mountain lion tries to eat me?” and I froze. I don’t know why I’m terrified of mountain lions, of all things, but there you go.
A minute later, I hear rustling in the leaves and a large German Shepherd comes tearing around the corner, snarling. He stopped about 10 feet from me, barking with his hackles up. A few seconds later, his owner comes puffing up.
“Oh, he’s just scared,” he said, as I watched his very confidently aggressive dog continue to bare his teeth.
“Can you please put his leash on now?” I asked, not taking my eyes off the dog.
“I don’t have one,” the moron replied.
“Then you need to grab him and leave here now,” I said.
“I got him,” he said, his hand around a palmful of scruff. “You can go now.”
“That’s okay,” I replied, “you first. Leave.”
As he was passing by, he stopped. “You have a leaf or something on your leg.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said, my tone getting chiller.
“Just let me-” he leaned down, and in that split second I had to decide whether to kick him in the teeth or not, so I said “I GOT IT,” and skittered back. Then he left.
It was the last time I ran in that area, and the last time I ran without a dog. I suspect he was just an idiot and not an actual malicious creep, but unfortunately women have to live their lives suspecting just that. Not a quarter mile away, a young girl was assaulted right off the main road on a Saturday morning- the busiest time for pedestrians in our suburban area. It’s the reality of this world in which we live.
It’s not the reason I got a dog, but it’s nice to have a companion so I can feel a little more comfortable out and about. Brody doesn’t exactly strike the picture of fear with his mushroom collar and his crimped ears, but he has slightly crazy eyes, and that might be enough to keep passersby moving along. There are gyms and very high traffic walking trails in the area, but that misses the point of the whole exercise in solitude. Having an alert and watchful cohort is a big comfort.
Dogs aren’t foolproof, of course. There is more I could do to be safe- run with a group, take pepper spray, that sort of thing. But it is one thing, and that is enough. I try very hard to live safely without letting my entire life be determined by fear, so I leave the headphones behind now and take the dog. He doesn’t even realize it, of course, but it’s just one more reason having a big beast hanging around is good for the soul.
This is one of the reasons i was sad my Toby didn’t get just a bit bigger, as a puppy everyone (example, the vet and puppy class trainers at petsmart) told us he was going to be huge. I was excited then that i was going to have a big dog to kinda keep people moving if needed. But he’s only about 55 pounds and just doesn’t seem big enough to really scare anyone, lol. Hopefully it’s just because in my head he’s still a puppy and couldn’t/wouldn’t ever hurt a fly!
Susan Montgomery says
I hear you! Finn is as easy going a docile as you could want, but he is 34 inches at the shoulder and 140 pounds. All he has to do now is look out the front windows, and no one will come to the front door. Add to that size the Irish Wolfhound reserve, and people hesitate to come up even when I am walking him.
I have always felt safer having animals, not necessarily as a form of protection, but more as an alarm system. For some reason, I can be in a house full of people but still be terrified that someone with malicious intent will burst in my bedroom in the middle of the night and there I would be with no warning. Having a dog or cat in the room or bed with me helps ease that fear, even though they’d probably not do much 😀 It’s like the placebo effect.
The other day at our clinic, it was after closing time, and suddenly we heard a man’s voice at the back door. “Hello?”
Thank goodness the back screen was deadbolted, but when I came into the back area, the man saw me and tried to open the door! At this point, one of our employee’s terrier mutt (35 lbs., looks like a long, stretched out version of Toto) started barking and bellowing like crazy. The dog was around the corner, so the man couldn’t see him, but he immediately took a step back from our door!
He wanted to make an appointment for an exam for his dog! I was getting a weird feeling, so I told him we were closed and he’d have to CALL the next day. He kept asking questions, but our ferocious mutt was barking so loud that the man was getting distracted, so he decided to leave. I LOVE our little mutt… even though he’s only 35 lbs and not much bigger than a standard dachshund, he is VERY protective when it comes to all “his girls” at work.
When it hits about 15 minutes after closing time, if we are running late and still have clients in the office, he sits in the middle of the clinic and starts barking because he knows there aren’t supposed to be clients there anymore!
Hey, there are sharp pointed things at one end of that animal (and a noxious foul odor eliminating machine at the other end) and even though I adore dogs, I am always careful, and wait for the owner’s permission before I approach to pet. Our Abby dog would lick you to death and dizzy you with her twisting and turning when you would pet her, but all of our neighbors were cautious because she greeted everyone with a bark, growl and tail going like mad, all the while holding the biggest toy she could find in her mouth. That was her invitation to play.
Shelley @ Green Eggs & Hamlet says
Oh my gosh, your story about the creeper with the German Shepherd is SO scary. I’m glad it turned out alright and that Brody offers some peace of mind. I’m afraid my little Hamlet does absolutely nothing to strike fear in the hearts of would-be attackers but it’s nice to have him along. Plus, I trust his instincts: if he growls at someone (a rarity) we move right along. I really believe in a dog’s sixth sense.
brooke & Darwin says
I always feel safer with Darwin (130lb Great Dane) around. She loves people, but the sheer size of her freaks people out. It’s funny because I don’t really think of how big she is til other people react to her.
I couldn’t agree more! I feel so much safer with an 85-lb big, black dog accompanying me around the neighborhood. Clyde doesn’t give off the “come over here and pet me” vibe unless he knows you. I do carry pepper spray as well, but that’s more for the canine creatures like the GSD you encountered. Nothing infuriates Clyde more than an off-leash dog running toward us when he is on-leash and minding his own business. Haven’t had to use it yet, but I’d rather use a little pepper spray than see one dog hurt another.
I used to walk my old dog, Baby, a lot as a teenager. She was very very large, 140 lbs and just massive all around. Big paws, tree trunks for legs, strong barreled chest, and she was also the sweetest, gentlest, and most loving dog I’ve ever known. That didn’t stop people from being terrified of her.
It used to annoy me when people would veer off the paths to get away from her. For a while, it felt like they were insulting her by assuming she was vicious. Then I was raped, and I realized that it was better if people were afraid of my dog. As much as she would have loved everyone to croon over her, the last thing I needed as a young girl was random strange men being in my personal space like that.
Now we have people hesitant to come to our door because Chewy is big, not huge (95 lbs) but big nonetheless, and Q is a wolfdog who looks pure. Chewy is very excitable and friendly, where Q is shy and a little reserved, but both are huge sucks. The only people who get to know that are friends, family, and the delivery guys who are here all the time.
I like to be left alone now, and aside from the occasional older lady or kids commenting on how beautiful the dogs are, most people give me a wide berth. I appreciate that.
I get a mix of approaches to Bailey. He is a red, muscular, positively glowing and gorgeous 70 lb lab/pit mix with a very pit bull looking face. Reactions to him walking on a leash by my side, very intent on where we are going and not paying a bit of attention to anything or anyone but me, vary from, “Oh he’s so gorgeous! What a pretty boy! Can I pet him? Is it ok for my little girl to come up to him?” Those are my favorite people on the planet probably. Yes, yes, and YES! Please adore my dog, and here’s a cookie for you to give him so he will adore you too. My Bailey is a people person, especially little people whose faces are at the perfect level for kissing. We also get, “Excuse me… is that a PIT BULL?” I try to be a good ambassador, I really do, and say, “He’s only part. The other part is marshmallow with a little lab mixed in.” But sometimes my defensiveness and absolute adoration for my darling boy gets the better of me and I say something like, “Yes and doesn’t he just look like he might eat you right now??” There sits Bailey, at my heel and probably leaning his head against my knee, big amber eyes lolled up at me saying, “Nuff talkie. More walkie.” Sometimes he pulls to the end of his leash towards these people in the hopes of head scratches, sometimes he ignores them all together and licks himself… He’s pretty good about getting “the vibe” from people and just sits. I suppose it’s good that some people are afraid of him. I would like to think he would defend me if someone tried to grab or otherwise harm me while we were walking…. but I really can’t be so sure. When we roll on the floor and play hard, snarling at each other, head butting and shoving each other all over the place, he comes at me with his mouth open and lands his teeth in the most hilariously gentle way on my shoulder, arm, leg, foot, etc. He doesn’t even close down! I have a feeling that’s what a burglar would get… Here comes Bailey, charging at you full speed… He jumps, he puts his paws on your chest, oh no what’s this huge dog going to do to me… he licks. That’s it. 😉
When we had our Border Collie about a month I took her for a walk at night. We were in a parking lot that had a small wooded area in the middle. No camping or fishing, just pine trees left standing there to make city dwellers feel like you’re not living a mile away from the airport. We were walking next to the woods when she jumped three feet in the air while turning all the way around. I had never seen her bark and snarl like this before. I’ve had her for twelve years now and she has never barked like that again. When I turned around to look there was a man coming out of the woods two feet behind me. If he had reached up he could have touched me. He had frozen in place when she started barking. She wouldn’t take her eyes off of him, I had to drag her away barking. I don’t know if he was going to do anything or not. But it was too strange to be in there in the first place and then no reason to pop out right behind me like that. I ran home and locked the doors.
She has never had another aggressive moment. If she had thumbs, she would open the door for our family and friends. She thinks everyone who comes over is there to play frisbee, feed her chicken and tell her she is pretty.