There aren’t many situations in life where the ability to run fast is all that handy. Most of the 50,000 miles I’ve run or the equal number of miles I’ve ridden have not served any purpose other than my own vision of personal development.
But this past weekend, I was finished filling the bird feeders when a massive howl erupted from behind the line of houses in our cul-de-sac. There were barks and snarling, growls and screams mixed in. One seemed to feed the other and I dropped the bird feed and sprinted in the direction of the noise. Leaping over the neighbor’s dead garden plants, I landed in a sprint and scanned the open field behind their house with my eyes.
A large German shepherd was walking away from a man crouched next to his dog. I know the man and his dog, who live in a house nearby. I also knew the German shepherd because I’ve seen it wandering free the last few months. It had once followed me while walking our dog Lucy.
I also knew there was a German shepherd loose in our area because someone had placed a Lost Dog poster on a light pole at the end of our block. Thus it made sense that a shepherd might turn up in our neighborhood.
The big shepherd wandered off as I approached. It had its head down and seemed a little scared as well. But my first priority was checking my neighbor’s condition. His hand bore two large, bleeding bite marks. I stood near as his now anxious dog eyed me. It was the smaller and calmer pit bull in a pair that my neighbor owned. It had broken its leash in the fray, and had a little blood on its face.
It turns out my neighbor has an eye condition that doesn’t allow him to see that well. He’s tried to shoo the big shepherd but it approached closely and things erupted around him. So I got him back to his house and returned home to tell my wife about the incident, then called 9-1-1.
The police came out but wanted to talk to the victim, not me. I still filled the officer in on the frequent presence of the shepherd, how I’d seen it 10-15 times and noticed that it often had the same routine, disappearing to the south behind a big white farm house.
The officer listened politely and then took down my neighbor’s information. Half and hour later we started receiving texts from other families in the neighborhood sounding the alarm about a coyote attack on a dog.
That disturbed me, because I had followed the shepherd a bit after that altercation while talking on the phone with the family that had posted the Lost Dog poster. We compared notes and realized that this was a completely different German shepherd than their lost pup. This one was golden brown on its haunches and large, probably 200 lbs. while their dog was all black and 150.
So I called the police and was pushed through to the officer. We had a calm conversation about the description of the dog and I made it clear that while we frequently have coyotes in our neighborhood this was clearly a large German shepherd wearing a blue collar and tags around its neck. When I called out to the dog it gave a series of friendly barks and raised its tail. Not an aggressive demeanor at all. But it still trotted off west when I attempted to approach the animal.
A half hour later I took my Specialized bike on a ride west from our house. I was eight miles into the wind when my cell phone rang. It was the police officer. “We found the dog,” he told me. A shot of worry ran through me because dogs that bite often have to be put down. But the officer gave no such indication, but his next request renewed my concern. “Can you ride back and identify the dog?”
I rode at a 20mph average thanks to a tailwind. Arriving at the victim’s house, I spoke with the officer and answered his questions. But only after he’d shared a long story about his wealthy triathlon buddy who owns a $23,000 bike.
So we’d bonded a bit through the morning’s activities and traveled over to the white farm house visible a half mile away. It turns out the dog was in the yard as the officer drove by. He met with the owners and described the incident. They insisted that their dog never wandered off their property.
“But I told them not to lie to me,” the officer said. “So I’d appreciate if you’d come over and provide some eyewitness testimony about how often you’ve seen the dog.”
I pedaled over and was surprised to see my neighbor with the dog bite standing in the yard with his hand bandaged and his other hand petting the nape of the big German shepherd. My neighbor was chatting amicably with the owners and with that scene came a little relief.
The owners finally admitted that their dog liked going to the house next door and even crossed the busy road in front of their home. That struck me as a bit irresponsible all on its own.
Once the woman owner started talking the whole truth spilled out and my testimony was not necessary to document the fact that their dog was roaming all over the place. One really can’t blame them. Their home backs up to 150 acres of active farmland and the area north of them is all mowed park district property bordering a wetland and swamp. The coyotes love cruising the area in search of rabbits and other prey, and more than once I’ve done a double-take in the early dawn trying to determine which brand of canine was passing by while I walked our dog.
As it turned out, the couple received a $50 fine and a stern warning that Animal Control would get involved if their dog kept running around off-leash. As for the victim, I think he realized that he didn’t even specifically know which dog had bitten him, the German shepherd or his own frightened pup. The whole situation was unfortunate, scary and difficult for all involved.
So I’m not sure the incident had a happy ending so much as it served to illustrate the importance and value of civic responsibility on all fronts. It certainly true that dogs will be dogs, as any visit to the dog park will prove. It is people that are responsible for the ultimate safety and behavior of their dogs, with no exceptions.
I’m just glad I didn’t pull a hamstring or sprain an ankle in that wild sprint to see what the howling was about. Trust me, you don’t want to hear that sound anytime soon. That “red-in-tooth-and-claw” world is what civilization is supposed to moderate. But when it doesn’t, a run or ride to the rescue never hurts.