They say humans are born with the primordial instincts for either fight or flight, when faced with acutely stressful situations. I sometimes fall victim to a third option: not fight, not flight, but freeze.
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t afraid of dogs. This is not something I am proud of. In fact, I am quite uncomfortable with my discomfort. I am embarrassed by it, mostly because I see how abnormal I am. I would love to be one of those people who feels at ease in the presence of dogs. I would love to bend at the waist and gleefully greet your dog—to not mind if it licks me, jumps on me, chases me—but I am not that girl. And so I have spent a lifetime looking for routes to walk, run, and ride my bike that will not lead to encounters with dogs. I have run my current course hundreds of times in the last eight years—a mile and a half route, out and back, for a simple, three-mile run. I don’t love the route, with its traffic and the occasional driver who honks at me for no apparent reason, but the proximity to my house makes this my most convenient run. In addition, this route has been almost entirely devoid of the dreaded LLD: large, loose dog. That is, until now.
A block before my first mile marker, I am focused on the act of running anticipating checking my next half-mile split time—when my attention is captured by desperate shouting from across the busy, five-lane road. What happens next convinces me that filmmakers did not invent the idea of slow motion. It seems to happen in a nearly-silent vacuum of deliberate movements. I turn toward the sound of the shout and see my worst fear come to life—a large, loose dog, sprinting directly toward me—at me; I am clearly his intended target. A young boy, about ten, is chasing him, and it is his desperate shouts that have alerted me to the dog’s pursuit. In the brief moments before the dog reaches me, I slow and then stop. “Oh God,” I say aloud, not as a random, mindless interjection, but as a desperate plea. And then the thoughts pour through my brain: “He is going to bite me. No, the boy is going to rescue me—no he’s not. He’s way too far behind—will never reach the dog in time, and the dog isn’t slowing or responding to the boy’s shouts at all. This boy is scared for me; he realizes how afraid I am. He knows, as I do, that the dog is going to attack me. But he can’t save me.”
The dog reaches me, circles me, and slowly I become aware that the boy is now shouting at me “hold him, hold him.” I see the chain collar around his neck, as the dog moves around me, and some small part of my brain actually considers grabbing it, but the part of me that fears dogs—especially large, loose, pursuing dogs—knows there is no way I have the courage to do that.
It isn’t until the dog finishes circling me and heads back across the street that I finally understand the real purpose of the boy’s shouts. His concern is not for me; it is for his dog. His dog has crossed five lanes—is re-crossing five lanes on a busy road. His fearful cries are so intense that I am suddenly surprised that he had the good sense to stay on the sidewalk—that he has not followed the dog across the street but has waited on the other side, hoping that I will grab his dog and return him safely. I see the dog reach his young master safely, and they run together into the unfenced back yard.
And then I start to cry. I cry because I wish I weren’t so desperately afraid of dogs, and because my route is no longer safe . . . and because I won’t get my half-mile split. I cry because the dog is safe and the boy is safe, and because I know that if either of them had been hit by a passing car, I would have felt responsible and horrible. I cry because I am tired of feeling tired and afraid. And slowly, I start to run again.