The street I live on is quiet, only six houses on our block. Just beyond our street are the most pristine yards imaginable. Lawns are cut evenly, flower beds meticulously cultivated, burgeoning colors from these flowers and those. Decks are stained, patio furniture awaits the next party. As I walk to the bus stop, neighbors I don’t know are leaving for work, taking out trash, opening curtains.
It takes me eight minutes to walk to the bus stop from my house, but I give myself 10 because the quiet is so calming, so pleasant. There is honeysuckle in the air and despite there being no one around to make me smile, I smile. But I’m also paying attention, because I’m about to pass the one house I dread, the house with the white dog.
Two years ago, as I jogged for the bus (a different bus route on a different street), I heard the dog before I saw it. Immediately it was upon me and I was running, it was barking, chasing me around and around someone’s Jeep. It was still dark, the owner had no control, no leash. Admittedly, I’d been running for the bus because I was late. Maybe I startled the dog. Regardless, it wasn’t listening to its owner’s calls to stop. We’d been around the truck six times before the owner was able to tackle the dog (seriously, he jumped on the dog’s back and held him down).
I know it is irrational, this fear I have of virtually every dog I happen upon. I know that every dog doesn’t want to eat me like that one clearly did, every dog doesn’t deserve being called Cujo. But more often, I’m coming across people who don’t respect my fear, dog owners who know their dog’s temperament and assume that I should too. What I assume is if you allow your dog in your yard unattended, you think the dog won’t jump the fence and attack me. What I assume is if you allow your dog in your yard and you are also in the yard, you will be able to control your dog if it tries to attack me. What I assume is you won’t walk down the street before the sun is up, with an unleashed dog. At the end of my street there’s a dog that the owner constantly says no one should be afraid of. He said this to a jogger one day after she saw the dog, too late, and it was lunging for her. “Oh, don’t be scared,” he said. “He doesn’t bite.” “Does he have teeth?” asked the jogger.
I know every dog isn’t vicious. It doesn’t make it easier to walk past the white dog’s house.
A few days ago as I walked, I noticed movement in a yard across the street. I glanced over and there was the white dog. I’d never seen it before, after a month of walking the four blocks to and from the bus each day. I quickly assessed the height of the gate, how fast he might move if he was so inclined, how fast I could move with two bags and a purse. I kept walking but so did he, along the gate, his head turned to me. And then he put his paws on the gate as if to say, keep walking. I dare you.
That dog was talking to me with his eyes. So, I listened. And I backpedaled, detoured myself down a street I hadn’t been down before, that may have had more strange dogs. Even though I know that was likely, I couldn’t bring myself to walk past a dog I knew was there. Later that evening, the white dog was still there, lounging in its yard. I got about two houses down before it noticed me, stood on its hind legs and again dared me with its eyes, a penetrating I Wish You Would stare. I turned around to use that morning’s detour street, but as I got to the corner, there was another dog, huge, barking. I stood on the corner and felt my heart thump as though it too wanted out of that situation. I called my husband. “Come get me, please.”
“Where are you?”
Whispering: “On the corner.”
Since that day I’ve altered my route. Some days I go the opposite direction, using a different bus, which is inconvenient, but if I get spooked, I can’t help it. Mind you, everything spooks me. I can unknowingly step on a leaf and jump at the sound. There can be squirrels or birds rustling in a bush and I will be poised to run. I know it’s ridiculous. And yet, I am convinced that a dog is going to lunge at me out of nowhere. I have imagined the searing pain of it biting into my thigh (it’s always my thigh). The past few weeks I’ve had nightmares about dogs, always big dogs, chasing me. Most of the dreams end with me just making it to my destination, then being unable to enter. I wake up before I find out if I’m lunch.
I noticed today that my anxiety level, the tension in my shoulders, dramatically increases on the block with the white dog’s house. Just thinking about it now has me looking around as if a dog is going magically show up in this office and attack me. I’m embarrassed to admit that – that I think a dog is going to show up in the most idiotic places: my office, my bedroom, when I open the closet door, IN THE BATHROOM WHILE I’M IN THE SHOWER. Why do I feel so tense? Oh, it’s because I think I heard a growl and there might be a dog outside the shower curtain.
A friend sent me a link to a retractable stick to carry when I walk. My husband suggested mace. Or, you know, that I should realize which dogs pose a threat (admittedly, the white dog is a bit old. But! He put his paws on the fence not in a come pet me kind of way, but in an I LIKE THIGH MEAT or PROTECT YOUR NECK way).
I don’t even know how to end this besides saying I’m still walking to the bus stop. That’s good, right? I haven’t seen the dog since last week but I have no idea what I’ll do if I do, since now I know there’s an even bigger dog on the detour street.
Why can’t they range between Pluto, Beethoven, Clifford, Deputy Dawg, or Benji?
What is it, Lassie? Arnebya’s stuck on the corner?