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.
I didn’t want to detract from the narrative of my tale, but my decision to climb a tree wasn’t just because of a loose dog running around. He charged me in a way I felt was aggressive instead of “wild but friendly”. He was very much in “chase prey” drive mode.
Your controlled response was saintly. I have been chased, nipped at, and knocked down by dogs while I was running in a rural area on asphalt roads. The only response to my “your dog knocked me down” was “Can you believe he’s just a puppy!!?”
I live in a rural area and I have so much anciety about dogs I don’t run much from home except in my less rural immediate neighborhood :/
How I handled the second dog is much more what I usually do. Requests to please get their dog repeated politely but firmly. When they tell me it’s friendly I continue to stand by the side of the trail repeating my request. I do not interact with the dog or say anything that would suggest that I find this rude uninvited presence in my personal space ok. Internally I’m usually in full out panic mode. Which over the years I’ve channeled into this calmperson who is polite and still. But it completely freaks me out. I have usually less than two seconds to assess on the trail whether a dog is friendly or not, and how can I trust the judgement of a person that apparently thought taking a dog off leash that doesn’t have a recall?
The tripping thing is problematic too. I have one eye, usually fatigued, and on a rocky singletrack. A clumsy large dog knocking against me could easily knock me down.
Btw I BROKE MY ELBOW WHEN MY OWN OFF LEASH DOG KNOCKED ME DOWN DURING A RUN!!!
I run with my dogs on leash mostly but off leash if we can (and it is allowed and appropriate, def not on single track). I have two very well manner trail dogs that make us become MAGNETS for these loose dogs. I get SO pissed when I am trying to keep a he’s just friendly dog out of my dog’s faces. I just had an encounter on a local trail where a very friendly over the top golden was NOT on a leash, kept harassing my dogs, would not come back to the owners or let them catch it. They made such a big deal about being sorry yet when I got further down the trail they had let the damn thing loose again and it wasn’t coming back to them at all. Sigh. I also run on rural country roads passed several places that have “country dogs” that just roam free. It makes my blood boil. Our safety means nothing to them and it pisses me off. Plus, I have found that country road drivers don’t exactly drive slowly so it is miracle to me that these dogs don’t get hit routinely. I am so glad you were okay but hate that this happens. It gives us who are good dog owners and stewards of the trail a bad name.
Yes! It always astounds me that the poor decision to take the dog off leash in the first place is followed up by the even more poor choice to CONTINUE TO LEAVE THE DOG OFF LEASH.
When I run with my Brittany I actually pick her up in my arms as I wait for the people and dog to pass. I don’t want them greeting her. I don’t want the risk of two unknown dogs interacting on the trail. It’s just too risky. Most of the time the other dog owner does seem to realize how rediculous it is that I’m standing there with a 38 pound dog in my arms while their dog bounces about avoiding them while I politely ask them to get their dog.
“Don’t worry, my dog is friendly!”
“Really? Because MY HORSE IS NOT!”
My horse is now much more tolerant of dogs leaping and sniffing and getting under her feet. But she did knock the front teeth out of a “tailgaiting” dog who decided to nip her heels. I did NOT offer to pay the vet bill, because I am a b*tch that way. I had already told the owner that my horse does not like dogs, I had already asked the owner to please call the dog away. Then the dog yelped. Sorry, not sorry.
I am sorry for the dogs whose owners don’t teach them manners. My five-year-old dog rarely gets to be off-leash in public because he makes poor choices. I’d love to let him walk without the leash, but no.
I’m absolutely not paying the vet bill when my horse kicks or otherwise maims an off leash dog. Nope nope nope.
I love your approach to the owners in both situations. Definitely gives me something to think about if/when this happens to me. I hope to be as tactful as you were with the first folks. Definitely effective!