Two fears

July 17, 2010

Perhaps it’s the teacher or the mom in me. I feel compelled to address the issue of safety when out running. Except this isn’t really a “how to be safe” kind of message, it is more just an explanation of my own two worst fears.

Bad Dogs
My first worst fear when I’m out for a run is encountering a dog who’s out on the loose. I know in my head that most dogs are friendly, and my own experience has played that out many times. (Too many times, by the way. Please keep your dogs under control! For the dog’s safety, as well as for the safety and emotional well-being of others, particularly children!)

But I guess that I know that there are too many instincts and doggy thoughts that will always remain a mystery, and one really can’t predict what will happen in every setting. I’m out running with a dog — that is interesting to other dogs, plain and simple. Maybe I look tasty, maybe it looks fun, maybe my dog looks particularly lovely that day … Many dogs see us and decide to investigate and try to approach us.

It used to be that I would see a dog, and I would give a nice firm and authoritative “No!” that usually did the trick. I have gone through many obedience classes with my own 3 dogs, and I also went through training to become a puppy class instructor. So I think I’ve been comfortable around dogs and have some basics down on how to get them to behave.

Something pretty scary happened to me a few years ago, and ever since then I am very edgy when I see dogs without leashes or owners in sight. More than 3 years ago, I was 7 months pregnant with my son Max, and I was in the habit of taking my dog Josie, a Brittany spaniel, for a walk in the evening. As you probably can guess, a strange dog approached us, and I gave it my usual “No!” and waited for the dogs to get over their customary sniffing session. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse. Much worse.

This dog, bigger and taller than my sweet Josie, exploded into a fury of teeth. I stood by helpless as this dog pretty much kicked Josie’s ass. I can still hear the sounds of it all — barking, growling, and the yelping, crying, and whimpering of my poor dog.

I’m not sure why this other dog stopped. I believe that I was really expecting it to go on until Josie was dead. And I didn’t know what to do — I was yelling, cursing, and looking around for something, anything to beat that dog senseless, with no luck. But it did stop. And Josie was a complete mess.

Since that time, I know my heart begins to race and I unconsciously veer away from dogs, even those who are confined in a fenced-in yard. And I know that Josie either is picking up on my vibes or has her own issues; she usually moves to the other side of me when a dog barks or approaches. We’re both “nervous Nellies.” Even friendly dog owners who seem inclined to let our dogs “say hello” are not immune from our hang-ups. I make pretty lame excuses for not stopping as well: “She’s protective of the kids,” “She’s getting older and grouchier,” or simply “she’s not friendly with other dogs.” I’m sorry, it’s just that the truth is that our nerves can’t take it.

The Boogey Man
I’m not being sexist when I say that the other fear I have is of a strange man trying to hurt me. Statistically, it’s men who are usually the perpetrators of violence against women. I also know that most men are perfectly safe, and most would actually come to my aid rather than give me any trouble. I’m counting on this.

When I was younger, I suppose I was either quite practical or fairly cavalier in my approach to personal safety. Depending on my living situation, I would either tell someone or leave a written note that briefly explained what time I was leaving for a run, my anticipated route, and a brief description of what I was wearing. I figured if someone needed to file a missing person’s report, or, morbidly, identify the body, this would give them something to go on.

I’m not in the habit of doing this any more. Perhaps I’m being superstitious. Perhaps I can’t quite bring myself to consider this as a possibility any more. And yet it is there, in the back of my mind, as a possibility. Someone might be lurking, and because either as a result of Nature or Nurture, they feel like hurting someone, and I might be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I can’t imagine how I would react. Would I fight back? Beg for mercy? I don’t know. All I know is that I hope I can remember the advice I hear over and over again — don’t let a perpetrator take you to a second location. That is what leads to missing persons reports, and that is how families never get closure. I have heard this many time from many different sources, including the Oprah show (So there! That’s as convincing as I get these days.) If they are set on doing harm, well then they should do it here and do it now. And hopefully I will never have to find out what I’m made of.

There are a few tips to follow that do make you less likely to be vulnerable to be victimized, some of which I do adhere to:

1. Run with someone, or run with a dog.
2. Do not run late at night.
3. Do not run with earphones in your ears — you need to be aware of your surroundings.
4. Run on routes that are populated and lit.

The advice I don’t adhere to, but would encourage you to consider:

1. Vary your routes, and vary the time of your run.
2. Run with a cell phone and/or whistle and/or pepper spray. ( I do this if I have a running stroller, but not when I’m just running with my dog.)

I guess this seems like a very depressing topic, but it’s been on my mind, and now I have it out of the way and can get back to more cheerful topics. Some of this will seem like a real inconvenience, but I believe it’s fairly minor compared to any worse-case scenarios. Like we used to tell customers in the bike shop, as a way to encourage them to purchase helmet. “Yes, I suppose that helmets aren’t ‘cool,’ but neither is brain damage.”

Precautions are just that; we are not planning for disasters, we’re just making sure that we can handle whatever comes our way.

Isn’t that just like a mom?

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