Up a tree…
|March 21, 2019||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
From my perch in an oak tree, watching the sunrise, I had plenty of time to contemplate the irony that people want to talk about cougars and bears and creepy people on the trail, when it’s actually “man’s best friend” that has given me far more close calls. For the *first time in my life, I had leapt into the unforgiving embrace of a California foothills oak tree in order to escape a dog. An 75-80 pound muscular dog had appeared barreling around a bend in the single track in front of me, and seeing no owner in pursuit – and getting no answer to my shout of “loose dog” – I chose the tree option. My knees and forearms now matched my feet – bloody. I had forgotten my socks and decided to do my 14 mile training run anyways. It was turning out to be a hell of a run.
*The fact that this was the first time I had climbed a tree to escape a dog speaks more to the lack of climb-able trees on my running routes, and not the number of times I’ve wanted/needed to….
I yelled “Loose dog!” again and heard a man’s voice in the far off distance. I yelled “come get your dog!” Then I watched as the dog maniacally ran around chasing turkeys, the man arrive out of breath, the dog gleefully avoid him, the man yelling some more, and the dog continuing to race around out of reach at full speed away down the trail.
Yay……The easy rhythm of my earlier run gone, I creeped down the trail, wondering when I was going to be face to face with this dog again. I finally caught glimpse of the dog and the man, along with a women and another dog, near the trailhead parking lot there. I cut through the parking lot – hoping to avoid another confrontation – but the dog spotted me (yes, it was still off leash even through those antics) and it came towards me again. I moved towards the pit toilet door, ready to leap in, yelling “please get your dog!” Glory be, the guy grabbed him by the collar.
I was really really really nice. I talked about FEELINGS instead of rules (it is a trail no dogs are allowed on, even though I don’t usually say anything if the dog is on a leash).
I told them that their dog really REALLY scared me back there on the trail, and how I had resorted to a sport of my youth (PSA it’s easier to climb trees as a kid than in your thirties), and stayed in a tree for 10 minutes to get away from him.
He said the dog was off leash because he was a year old and “needed to get better off leash”.
I reiterated how scared I had been to see him coming down the trail without an owner in sight. How completely our of control he was, chasing turkeys (what turkeys? asked the guy). That after I got out of the tree, the fun of my run was ruined, now wondering at what point his dog was going to come back down the trail and barrel towards me. I told him that my dog was three years old before she could be let off leash in an unfenced area, and I understood how much it sucks to be at the end of the leash on a dog you want to set free.
Then something magical happened.
They apologized for their dog scaring me. As I ran away down the trail, their dog was on a leash. Even better, I felt like the next time I encountered this couple on the trail, their dog might still be on a leash because some of my words may have sunk in.
I had been heard. I didn’t get that by lecturing. I shared how I was feeling. I was honest about how scared I was back there on the trail when I decided to climb down that tree and later to move forward on the trail. Talking about my actual feelings was a scary, vulnerable thing to do. It’s easier to be mad and angry – especially when you know you are in the right. But, in the end, I got an apology and what I really wanted: their dog on a leash and perhaps a better understanding of how their decision to let their dog off a leash (against the rules) affected someone else’s experience on the trail in an extremely negative way.
Of course…on a beautiful spring morning that wasn’t the only dog I encountered. Yet another person decided that their “has no recall but he’s friendly so it’s ok” off leash dog was allowed on the no dogs allowed trail. I was mugged by a large chocolate lab who followed the predictable pattern of “Come Fido! Come! Oh…well…he’s friendly”, as the dog ran towards me barking, stopping at the last-minute to sniff me while continuing to ignore his owner. I did my “normal thing” which is to
climb a tree stand on the side of the trail and ignore the dog until the person and the dog have passed me. The women made a snide comment about some people “just not liking dogs” as she passed.
I own a dog. A dog I would have LOVED to have brought with me on the run if this trail allowed dogs. By the way, I don’t mind dogs on trails as long as they let me do my business of running without significant interference. Your off-leash dog that trots in front of you without giving me a second look? PERFECT.
I turned and said the most awful thing I could have said to her, although I didn’t realize it until I was exactly 1/4 mile down the trail from her.
“I’m over it, ever since I had to climb a tree to get away from an 80 pound out of control off leash pitbull this morning”.
I was already running down the trail as she passed me, feet throbbing and bleeding, two miles to go before I could jump into the car and make it back home by when I promised my husband I would (it was his birthday). I was not in the mood for another conversation with a dog owner. There’s only so many conversations I can have about feelings in one day, so I was brief and answered the question I was asked.
“About one mile up”.
It was only a 1/4 mile later I realized that I had neglected two very important pieces of information, which probably accounted for the pallor of her face I had glimpsed as I ran away, having shouted the last piece of information over my shoulder.
- It had happened 2 hours ago.
- I knew for a fact that the owner and dog had left because the second time I had passed that trail head, their vehicle was no longer there.
I didn’t do it on purpose. But when I thought about it, in a way it was fitting. Another dog owner had made the same choice she had – take a dog on this trail, and take it off leash without being able to recall it back. The consequence of this other dog owner’s decision was that now she had to wonder whether there was some loose dog up ahead that was going to make her bike ride a little less pleasant, something I had also experienced as a result of her action.
As a female, mostly solo, trail runner for almost two decades, it’s amazing how many people ask me about the wildlife, or the creepy humans that they imagine infest every square inch of the trail, just waiting to pounce. But, in almost 20 years I’ve yet to be threatened by a bear or a cougar, despite running in their territory regularly. While there’s plenty of times that I’ve defensively decided to run down a different trail because of a “feeling” when I saw someone, turned around because of a funny chill or smell in the air – I’ve never been chased, grabbed, stalked, or threatened by creepy people. More realistic risks are weather, heat exhaustion, hypothermia, or twisting an ankle or breaking a bone several miles from the car without cell phone reception. But by far, the biggest risk every time I lace up my shoes and hit the trails is loose dogs. Unsecured dogs on un-fenced property that feel free to run off their property onto public space and threaten me. Dogs that are not controlled on leash and lunge towards me jerking the leashes out of their owner’s hands while I try to pass on single track. Or, most puzzling to me, people who chose to bring dogs into public spaces and take them off leash on purpose without being able recall them when needed.
PS – I wasn’t kidding about the blood on my feet. Here’s a sampling of what one foot looked like at the end of the run. I tried slapping some band aids (and socks) on everything and running 48 hours later and managed to shuffle my way through a very painful 2.2 miles. Today 4 days after this run, I STILL can’t wear shoes without a lot of pain and running is a no go. SO FRUSTERATING. I should be able to just will some silly little blisters away with sheer force of “want to run” right? I’m so not amused. Past Mel should have made better life choices for the happiness of Future Mel.