Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dog Bites Man

Until this past Wednesday, the last time I got bit by a dog was about 1973 or so.  Way back.  And it happened in roughly the same area, the back roads running through the farms and open fields around my hometown in Pennsylvania.  In roughly the same fashion, passing through, in 1973 on a bicycle, Wednesday while on a morning run, along a route I first started running in 1978.

It was a traumatic experience that first time.  We called that stretch of road “the Milee,” I think after the mile-long creek that ran parallel to the road.  Back then, housing was sparse: a few old single-frame houses, but mostly bolted down trailers on small parcels of lands between wooded areas.  I’m sure if someone had filmed a simple car trip along those road back then and showed it to me now, I would be shocked at how “wild” the area was, as compared to the dozens of small, sometimes expensive homes that have sprung up in the woods and fields in the passing decades.

But there was that one stretch of straightaway road that remains virtually the same today, a few small trailers, two or three houses, farm equipment.  One of the home owners has expanded over the years and now has a field for two horses and a mule, along with a bunch of ducks and dogs that I hear barking every time I pass.  All behind fences.  Unlike back then, when it was common for all those farmers to have dogs wandering free in their fields.

This became a problem periodically.  The worst incident was the big German Shepherd owned by the Hampton family, I think his name was King, getting loose and killing a few chickens in a neighbor’s coup.  Only to be shot dead by the teenage son in the family that owned the chickens.  Unfortunately, he was in his right as the dog was trespassing on their property.  We all sided with the Hamptons, because the kid shooting King seemed like a wild over-reaction.  But looking back now, King was a pretty frightening animal, a large dog, who loved to bark and chase.  He would often pick up small, cut-down railroad ties with his mouth and carry them around.  I never got bit by King, but I got chased many times, and had I not known the dog as well, would have been scared shitless in his presence.

A German Shepherd much like King attacked me one day in the summer of 1973.  We would often take field trips on our bicycles back then, along the Milee, where we’d park and drink from the streams or simply go in the woods and enjoy them, skipping stones, swimming, playing hide-and-seek.  I wouldn’t dream of going into the woods today, and couldn’t as most of that land now has homes nestled between wooded lots.  Going out to the Milee Road seemed like a big adventure, and it was to our pre-teenager minds where every distance more than a few hundred feet seems impossibly long.  It was only about two miles from our house: I would go on to run five and seven mile routes along those roads in a few years.

But I recall riding along that road with my brothers and sister, probably another kid or two from the neighborhood.  We knew about that dog who lived in one of those farm trailers, but also knew if you sped up around there and kept your mouth shut, you’d be way past the property by the time he started barking.

It was drizzling that day, a misty summer rain, and I recall us picking up speed as we pushed our 21-inch Huffy’s fast through that forbidden zone.  But it was hardly forbidden, just an area of public road where a guy was too cheap to buy some fence to keep his dog in.  I recall that dog snarling and barking, which of course scared the shit out of us.  I was bringing up the rear, peddling my ass off, and I could hear the dog’s nails clicking on the macadam of the road as it approached.

Next thing I knew, I heard a ripping sound, could feel the dog’s snout on my upper thigh, then a searing pain shooting down my leg.  I knew he had got me, and I started screaming.  But didn’t stop pedaling.  I figured, this son of a bitch will kill me if I stop.  I don’t remember much after that, save all of us pulling over a few hundred yards away, me sobbing, and showing everyone my leg, where there was a six-inch long gash where the dog had bit tried to get hold of my leg then slid off, blood seeping into my shorts.  I don’t even know how we got home, as I was carrying on as though a shark had chewed off my leg, but we did.  My parents rushed me to the hospital, where I got tetanus shots, and various ointments and bandages for the leg.  As bad as it looked, it didn’t take that long to heal.

I can’t remember how the situation with the dog was handled, save to say my parents called the cops, and we never had a problem with that dog again, whether it was put down or sent to a shelter or what.  It was like a demon being removed from our collective dreams, just one less thing to worry about when we got on our bicycles.

This past Wednesday, I got the nostalgic thrill of getting bit again.  Honestly, I was surprised that this still could happen today as most farmers with dogs either have them trained not to go near the road, put them on long chains or build fences so they have an area to wander.  Everywhere I go on my runs around the woods back there, dogs are there.  Always barking.  There’s the family in the log-cabin house with the old Irish setters coming up the Spring Crest Hill, dogs that don’t bark, but will chase.  And those dogs have always been friendly.  When they catch you, they want to be petted.  Unlike the dog at the house on top of Hampton’s Hill, which will bark horrifically at anything non-automobile that passes.  Then again, I haven’t heard that bark in at least two years, so maybe he finally died.  I think the same happened to at least one of those nice Irish Setters, and the one I still see looks pretty old.

In any event, while I hear dogs all the time on my runs, I’ll often only see them through rails or fences, hear them barking through windows.  There are public ordinances back there against dogs roaming free that apply whether you live in town or along the rural routes.  Some owners of dogs out there along the back road tend to be oblivious of these rules.  Their dogs are nice to them, but bark like hell at anything else, often aggressively, which I’m sure they’ve been trained to do.  Unfortunately, not trained to be real guard dogs, but sort of morally-retarded guard dogs: make noise at anything that moves.  They somehow know not to bark at cars, but go crazy over everything else that: a. moves, and b. isn’t their master(s).

There are two such dogs like this on the other side of the Spring Crest Hill.  Again, farm folks, not sure exactly who they are, but I gather a young couple owns one of the two houses next to each other just over the top of the hill.  Each has a dog, both barkers, both usually locked in on their porches.  They go nuts when I run by, only to start dolefully howling after I’m about 30 yards down the road.  Their howling usually alerts another dog just down the road who used to roam free years ago, but must have been chained up since as I haven’t seen him in ages.

I like dogs but can’t stand idiot dogs.  Much like people.  Most farm dogs are idiots.  They’ve been trained to be friendly to maybe five or six people, immediate family or neighbors, and treat everyone else like potential meat, despite the fact that public roads snake all along these properties, and I can’t be the only one out there running, or walking, or biking.  Generally when I’ve had snags with dogs along these roads, there’s always something annoyingly condescending about the owners, who are invariably rednecks.  I don’t say that as an insult, more as shorthand for you, dear reader, to gather with whom I’m dealing.

I’ll be there, in my shorts and t-shirt, paused as I try to coax a barking dog to get off the road so he doesn’t get run over as he chases me down the road, then backs off when I run towards him, then chases me down the road as I start running again, then backs off when I again run towards him, repeat for about five minutes.

If anyone should be pissed off and condescending, it should be me.  I’m minding my own business, traveling on a public road, and this shithead animal, who is illegally roaming free, is making me stop.  But the farmer who comes out tends to have a bit of a been here/done that attitude, oh, you’re messing with my dog again, don’t worry, I’ll save you, here Schep, leave that wandering homo in shorts alone now, I know he’s a dick, but humor him, old canine friend, he doesn’t know any better.

I’ve been on the receiving end of that attitude literally since 1978, when I first started running those roads.  Back then, daily, now more like every two months when I visit.  And it’s a rare occasion when I have to deal with an unchained dog, as I gather most dog owners foolish enough to let their dogs run free have either paid the price with dogs run over by cars or euthanized by the SPCA for attacking pedestrians.  It’s a no-win situation for the fools who do this, and they’ll surely spend the rest of their days cursing the 10-year-olds or relatively innocent car drivers who lead to the pre-mature deaths of their family pets.  Never once realizing they essentially killed their own dogs with their rank stupidity.

With the dogs on the Spring Crest Hill, this wasn’t the first time I’ve dealt with them running loose.  I gather both dogs are normally locked in on the porches of those houses, and there doesn’t appear to be any fenced-in area for them to roam around.  But back in September, I came over the hill, and sure enough, coming up the house, the smaller black dog (not a pit bull, but some type of larger terrier) came barking up towards me on the road.  I’ve learned with dogs to not show fear, to either stop, or if they appear not to be in attack mode (and aside from that crazed dog in 1973, I’ve never seen this), to run towards them, as nine times out of 10, that dog will retreat, still barking.

Sure enough, I ran towards him, and he retreated.  Just as I did, a guy in his 20’s came down the hill from the house, calling out the dog’s name.  I told him, I’m trying to get your dog off the road so he doesn’t get hit by a car.  Thanks, buddy, I appreciate it, Red (not real name), come on over here, stop barking now.  Again, that sort of casual attitude that I don’t equate with a dog running loose.  No apologies, again, the vague attitude that it’s somehow my fault for inconveniencing this asshole animal who can’t stop making noise.  I’m used to that, no need to escalate the situation, which I’ve often thought to do, but I know it will lead nowhere good as this horse’s ass will feel threatened on his home turf and respond accordingly.  When I used the word “redneck” before … this is what I mean, that attitude, the counterfeit authority from someone who is exerting no real authority.

Well, Wednesday morning, I come over the hill, and sure enough, I see that black dog rooting around in the tall grass on the downside of the road away from the house.  I can only imagine how many cars have had to slow down coming over the lip of that hill to avoid killing this animal.  Then again, I don’t live there, I have no idea how much they’re allowed to roam free like this, but if I see it twice in four months, I have to assume it’s too regular for their own good.

I approach, dog starts barking, and now I hear the other dog barking, a large mixed breed from the other porch, who is also roaming free.  Not a big deal, just slow down, make the occasional charge towards them, and they back off.  The usual.  But this time, as I start to run away, the black one comes towards me.  I stop and hold out my gloved hand (it was in the 20’s that morning) so he can sniff.  He does.  I start running.  He lunges out and nips at my hand, doesn’t hurt, but I find it annoying that this dog is playing games with me.  As I start running, the other dog comes up behind my right leg and snaps at my calf.  I felt a slight thud on my leg, like bumping into a hard object, but make no note of it.  A woman in her 20’s on the porch finally calls out to the dogs, and they run away.  We wave at each other, and I take off running again.

I really didn’t think anything was off until I got home and saw there was a small puncture in my sweat pants on the back of my leg.  I then rolled up my pants leg to see that there was a small blackish-red spot on my calf where the dog must have bit me, with a small trickle of dried blood beneath it.  It looked more like I had fallen and scraped my leg.  It didn’t really hurt; I hadn’t even felt or acknowledged it when it happened and ran four miles afterwards.  I guessed that the sweat pants absorbed most of the blow, and I was left with this flesh wound that would have been a whole lot worse had I been running in shorts.

In any event, I gave it a thorough cleaning and have been treating it with Neosporin and a bandage every day – it’s not a problem.  When I got back to New York yesterday and told a few people, the response was the same each time: are you going to sue them?

Sue them?  I didn’t even bother going to a doctor.  Those are essentially kept family dogs, not wild, rabid wolves, and people get bit by dogs all the time.  I know I did when I was a kid and had dogs, nips here and there, dog grabs your hand while you’re playing and inadvertently draws blood.  Shit happens.  Not going to be suing anybody.  Not going to the doctor.  It’s been enough to annoy and inconvenience me, but not enough to worry me or have me thinking we’ll have to amputate.

By the same token, the experience has brought back memories of when that dog ripped into my ass back in the 70’s, and it has unnerved me in that sense more than any.  I realize if I were to report this thing to the local police, chances are good those people could lose or be forced to put down that animal, which I don’t want.  I guess I just wish rednecks could be a little smarter?  Have a little more common sense?  See the world from someone passing them along the road instead of that same place they remain along the road?  That sort of healthy realization has clearly happened with most of the people along those country roads back home, but every now and then I’m reminded that some things don’t change.