For the fifth time in five years, I was attacked by a dog.
The dog attack itself is less interesting than the ensuing battle with the owner. To avoid chronological confusion, I'll start with the former. Legal Clarification: Although the dog didn't actually bite me, it did qualify as an attack according to strict legal terminology, and I quote, "A situation in which a dog scares the shit out of you." Here's what happened.
It was a balmy Indian Summer day in Marin County, California. "Good to be alive!" I thought to myself as I stopped for a breather, along the old railroad grade, leaning my bike against a tree and sitting on some steps across the trail about ten yards away. After a few minutes of peaceful solitude, a German Shepard trotted around the bend and started barking ... at my bike. The dog wasn't just barking at it. The dog became totally fixated on my bike ... charging it then retreating ... in a most menacing manner. This went on for several minutes.
For those who sometimes don't understand what dogs are thinking in such moments, let me explain what was actually going on in that dog's mind. It's a proven fact, substantiated by numerous conversations I've had with Marin dog owners, that dogs have a sixth sense that enables them to do a psychic reading of everyone and everything they come in contact with. While to the uninformed, it appears that a dog is sniffing you out, it's actually making a snap assessment to determine whether you measure up, karmically speaking.
Some dogs are more demanding than other dogs, but whatever their standard, if you fail to meet that dog's karmic threshold, it will start barking at you to let everyone in the vicinity know that you are karmically challenged or that your "Chi" energy level is precariously low. It's a safety mechanism to alert dog owners and others to the danger of karmic anomalies in their midst. In extreme circumstances, where a person is highly deficient karmically, the dog will take it upon itself to attack, maul, maim or mutilate you -- all in the interest of public safety of course. I know all this from experience, because in all the other instances where I was attacked by dogs, I had consumed meat within the previous 24 hours. Obviously, this would cause my karmic barometer to drop from levels I generally maintain with my semi-strict, Marin-mandated, Whole Food sanctioned, vegetarian diet.
I'll be the first to admit that my bike isn't up to snuff, karmically speaking. It's an old bike, weathered through the years, with the paint scratches on the frame and trail dust caked onto the chain and gears. The tires are worn and slightly soft. It's not a bike that most mountain bikers in Marin would be proud of. This dog was simply affirming obvious by barking: my bike was a sorry specimen. I had no qualms with this, but as I watched this mildly perplexing spectacle, I suddenly remembered that the night before I had fried chicken for dinner. I grew increasingly anxious as I watched realizing that I may be once again punished by the canine Gods from my dietary sins.
By now the dog's owner had arrived. A diminutive figure, she strode confidently up the trail assertively issuing clarifications to her dog. "It's a bike. It's a stupid bike, you dumb dog." She was still unaware that I sat across the trail watching and listening anxiously. The dog evidently understood English quite well, assimilated the information and quickly retreated from my karmically challenged bike. But the ensuing bout with the owner was just about to begin. Here's a round by round summary.
Round 1: After retreating from the beckoning battle with my bike, the dog spotted me sitting on the steps ... and grew equally fixated on me. I remained still ... hoping that the dog would think that I, too, was a bike ... and then retreat. But the dog was too smart. I may have twitched. In any event, it now started barking menacingly at me. This was one of those moments where you wish you had a can of mace, because sure enough that canine charged and jumped on me. I still don't know whether the dogs plan was to lick me to death, or whether its quick karmic scan of my soul suggested another course of action. In any event, this dog was now on top of me and I made a desperate attempt to push it away. I held out hope that the dog's owner would feel compassion for me and give clear instructions to her dog not to devour me.
Round 1 to the dog.
Round 2: Moderately frantic, I cried out to the owner, "Please put your dog on a leash." It seemed like a reasonable starting point for negotiations. She responded firmly, "I don't have to put my dog on a leash." Okay, I thought, What now? as the dog made another lunge at me.
Round 2 to the dog owner.
Round 3: I appealed to the owner's sense of civic responsibility, as I shouted, "They're big signs posted all over the trail, Dogs on leash only. A restive pause followed as she thoughtfully considered this fully apparent piece of information. She finally responded, "So what?"
Round 3 to her.
Round 4: Sensing the magnitude of this challenge, I assumed a more assertive tone, "I'll call the police," I shouted with a sense of urgency. Again a pause. "Go ahead," she said surprisingly confident that I was bluffing. Damn! I didn't have a cellphone with me. She'd called my bluff and won.
Round 4 to her.
Round 5: We're in each other's face now ... with the "conversation" rapidly deteriorating. The dog is snarling and brandishing its teeth like swords. I fear I'm about to be carved into little pieces for easier consumption. I'm desperate. I'm at a loss for words. Logic has failed ... (Note to self: Logic never works with a dog owner. Remember the time at the softball game when that pit bull (or close cousin) started barking at you and the owner came over, "Don't worry he's blind. He's barking because he can't see you." Of course, why didn't I think of that?)
Round 5 to her.
Round 6: With logic no longer an option, I decide to try something completely off the wall -- something to throw her off her game, something to shift the energy. So I clapped my hands in front of her face. She blinked and for an instant, I thought I'd gained the advantage ... but she was too fast. She grabbed the chord that kept my hat from blowing off my head in the wind, and started pulling said hat and me towards the ground. Curses, foiled again! How did she know this hat was my prized possession?
Let me back up here. Marin County is indisputably the fashion capital of the enlightened world. There's intense competition for fashion leadership especially amongst mountain bikers. The sponsors names on your spandex shirt and pants say a lot about where you stand in the fashion pecking order. Not adhering to strictures of the Marin County Fashion Police, can be fatal to your hopes for advancement. The hat I wear is my fashion statement and my ticket to acceptance in the fashion elite of Marin. Although sweat stained from years of use, I wear a hat instead of a helmet largely to honor my responsibilities, now, as one of the established fashion leaders of Marin. But this was now all jeopardized. This little woman had instinctively seized the very emblem of my Marinasculity and was yanking it away from me. I sensed that this was a defining moment in my life. I knew I had to act. So ... I yanked harder ... and pulled the hat back. Thankfully, the hat was not damaged.
Round 7: a draw.
Round 8: As I inspected the hat, she started hurling insults at me, a mile a minute, "You motherfucker ... get a life ..." and so on. She was very good at this. I wondered if she had it rehearsed. Perhaps it just came naturally to her. I was on the ropes and getting pummeled. The momentum had shifted back to her. I wondered, Why they didn't teach me any of this stuff at Harvard?
Round 8 to her.
Round 9: With her dog barking wildly now, she armed herself and summoned reinforcements, picking up rocks, waving them menacingly in my face and screamed at at me, "I'm going to sick my dog on you." I was out of my league ... completely outclassed by this 5 foot, some odd inch trail terror.
Round 9 to her.
Round 10: My very survival at stake now, I had but one possible course of action. As so often happens, necessity responds when needed most. Suddenly, I realized: I have an ace in the hole ...and I have to use it -- NOW. It had to work or I was dead meat. I summoned all the Chi in my semi-enlightened soul ... strode up to her ... looked her squarely in the eye and enunciated slowly and deliberately, "Listen, I've been attacked and bitten by dogs four times. The last time by a German Shepard. We settled out of court for $21,000."
Bingo. It registered -- I was not some sloucher to be messed with. It was a knockout punch. She turned and started walking away. As she headed down the trail, I lobbed statistics at here like grenades: "5 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year ... 1000 dog attacks a day require treatment in emergency rooms ... the average legal settlement is $24,000 ... 53 percent of the victims are children ... I think she was out of earshot when I punctuated the encounter with a cheery, "Go f--- yourself."
When I got home I was thankful to be alive. I managed to steady my trembling hands as I dialed the Sheriff's office to report the incident. After listening to my tale of woe, the nice lady on the other end said, "Let me give you a word of advice should this ever happen again."
"Please," I implored her.
"Don't ever engage with an aroused dog owner. They are passionate ... and not in a good way."
I promptly confined myself to a dark room and started writing a thousand times on my mental blackboard, "Don't ever engage with an aroused dog owner. Don't ever engage with an aroused dog owner. Don't ever engage with an aroused dog owner. Don't ever engage with an aroused dog owner. Don't ever engage with an aroused dog owner. Don't ever engage with an aroused dog owner. Don't ever engage with an aroused dog owner. Don't ever engage with an aroused dog owner. Don't ever engage with an aroused dog owner. Don't ever engage with an aroused dog owner ..."