Indiana-the-dog and I were trucking along today, on our daily walk, in a pretty little neighborhood that is nearby. My imperfect but so-wholly-loved dog has come a long way from the beast we brought home over a year ago. He is still anxious around other dogs. Sometimes, he responds to other dogs simply by whining with his ears forward and tail wagging, like he wants to play. Other times, his hackles rise and he throws his big self up into the air, barking and snapping at the leash. Never does he ignore another dog.
Today, we were huffing up a hill, music in my ears and lots of good things to smell in Indy's nose, when around the corner comes a kid, maybe nine or so, dragged by a brindle pit bull. (Yes, this is going to be a story about a pit bull. And yes, I have known many wonderful pit bulls that are kind and gentle. This is not one of those.) He was followed by another, slightly older kid. The dogs saw each other and began the snarlfest immediately. I moved off the sidewalk and dragged Indiana past, telling him to leave it. We passed the kids and the brindled dog, and Indiana calmed quickly.
The pretty, hilly street we were walking is a loop. I figured, since I'm looping, the kids and the dog must be looping too, so I made sure to be on the other side of the street than what I imagined they'd be on. Sure enough, as we reached the bottom of the hill, here they came around the loop on the other side of the street. I told Indy to leave it and he did, he left it, for a second.
For some reason, between the time we had first passed and this moment when our paths reconnected, the kids had taken their dog off the leash. Neither Indiana nor I had noticed it when we saw him come around the corner on the other side of the street.
The brindled dog came barreling at us, snarling, teeth bared. Indy, much larger than him, spun around to face him. And they were snapping, aiming for each other's necks, spinning and spinning, while I tried to yell and kick the attacking dog away. Standing back and away from the fray, the kids' mouths were moving, clearly calling their dog, but the music was too loud in my head and I couldn't hear his name. I didn't have time to pull the earphones out of my ears, but kept dodging with Indy away from the dog that kept lunging at him.
A neighborhood man ran up to us with a yard tool, an old lawn-edger, in his hand. In my head, another set of images played while we twisted and kicked, snapped and snarled. My imagination showed me Indy's back torn off, skin slipped off by the other dog. I yelled and yelled.
And then I stopped. Yelling wasn't calming anything down, and though I wasn't any less scared, I just stopped moving and stopped shouting. Indiana stopped spinning and stood tall over the other dog. The other dog's ears fell back and butt tucked under. The older of the two boys was able to get close enough to his dog to snap the leash back on him, and he was close enough to me now that I could hear him through the music that still played in my ears. "Calm down," he said to the dog,"calm down."
I pulled one headphone out of an ear. The younger kid, near tears, kept saying, "We're so sorry. We're so sorry." The man with the edger was lecturing the kids about the leash law. I said thank you to him and walked towards home, but I didn't get far. While the threat was now gone, my adrenaline still had the better of me, filling my mouth with its metal tang. Indiana and I got maybe a half block before I had to sit down on the curb for a minute. Indiana stuck his nose in the back of my hair, then came around front of me and sat down too. He was perfectly calm.
For years now, every Friday afternoon I ride a horse. I'm not the best rider, but I'm a pretty decent one, getting noticeably better as time wears on. One thing that I know I am good at is staying calm with the flighty horses. When Mac, the 17 hand Saddlebred, decides the tiny squirrel in the trees is something terrifying and threatening, and responds to this treat by snorting, pawing, and throwing himself in the opposite direction of the direction in which he had been moving, I keep my seat. I stay calm. Soon, likewise, Mac is calm, too. Horses don't give me adrenaline metal mouth even if I am scared. My mind, for the most part, has mastered the outward physical reaction, which in turn, eases my internal reaction. Of course, I was taught this lesson over and over the hard way by the craziest, most arrogant, most shockingly beautiful mare, the horse I had when I was a teenager. One of my trainers says it this way: "I am scared by a horse every day. But I don't react with fear, because if I do, no one is in charge."
My overreaction today helped no one. It did not help the terrified kids. It didn't help the quiet neighborhood rattled by my shouting. It didn't help the neighborly man who came running, willing to take on a wild-acting dog. And, it really didn't help Indiana, the dog I love, who needs to learn that most dogs are just dogs, most dogs are ignorable, most dogs don't create mayhem.
Fear has a place. Hysteria doesn't.