Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Kids are sometimes irrationally terrified of things. For a while, Nimue was terrified of sea urchins, as they sometimes project a little bulbous eye-like thing on a stalk out between their spines. Unbelievably creepy -- to the point that she would run screaming out of a room if one were encountered -- until I did a little poking around on the web and was able to explain that that was the part of the urchin's anatomy used for excretion. (Bottoms are inherently funny to my small one, as mentioned in the past.)

Then it was old maps of the distorted not-quite-right "Here There Be Dragons" variety -- I still can't figure this one out, except that the juxtaposition of authoritative sources with the unknown bothers her. Most recently, we went through a spate of fear of skeletons. I was afraid that trick-or-treating would be traumatic until I hit upon the idea of routinely talking to and cracking jokes with any freaky Halloween decorations that we ran across on the way to school. "Nice to meet you, sir!" I shook hands with many, many unsold plastic skeletons at OSH before she relented and started doing it too.

For me, as a kid, the phobia was of the neighborhood Doberman. We never saw this dog. It lived behind a tall fence in the spooky corner of the neighborhood near the woods, and would bark its head off any time a kid went by. You could almost hear the feral dog slobber spraying across the fence as he paced you. I was certain it must be six feet tall with balefully glowing eyes. Older kids would tell stories of how their best-friend-from-second-grade's cousin's teacher had a bite chewed off the last time the dog got out. I was terrified.

Over the years, I've learned to suppress my inner distaste for the critters. For the most part, dogs seem to be good at following at clear expectations if your voice and body language match, so I usually force myself to relax and say "Nice dog", or perhaps "Stop!" or "Down!" if it is approaching too quickly. Even when one is on a bike and the dog has to fight its normal chase response, this is generally successful.

Occasionally when I run into a large-ish, but well-behaved dog out in public and respond with my default "Nice dog" mantra, it is misinterpreted by the dog owner as actual admiration rather than me trying to send a brain wave to the beast that it WILL be a nice dog and will NOT chomp me. "He's friendly -- go ahead and pet him" says the dog owner. "No no nono no no no no nooooooo!" says my hindbrain, as I dutifully pat the top of the head, trying to avoid the slobbery teeth. This is not what I want to do. I don't like dogs.

As it turns out, this is justified.

Chad and I were heading out on mountain bikes this weekend, riding up a hill through a rural neighborhood near Columbia on our way to a trail that runs along an old water flume when we came around a corner to see a woman walking with four large dogs. As Chad passed her, she had control of three of them while the fourth ran wild. She said something about that one not being her dog; it got all excited and started chasing Chad, who quickly outpaced it up the hill.

In cases like this, being the second rider sucks.

The dog was all raring to go, ready to chase bikes, and annoyed by the escape of the first cyclist by the time it noticed me. Charge! I rode to the other side of the road to go around it, but of course it was charging down the hill straight at me and matched every move. "Be a nice dog. Stop! Down. Nice Dog! Be a good dog! Ow!!!"

Ow? There were teeth making contact with my flank. Huh? This isn't in the script. "Be a nice dog." He let go and huffed hot breath on my calf, ran around the front of the bike, and chomped the other shin. "Stop that!!"

Meanwhile, the woman walking her other dogs was yelling at this one. Chad's impression was that she was calling it "Splitter" when he went by. I heard something slightly different. One of us must have misheard, or the name had morphed to something unprintable, which roughly translates as "One Who Defecates", by the time I was trying to avoid hitting the beast.

There's humor in the juxtaposition of her swearing at the dog and my "Stop that! Be a good dog!", not that I noticed at the time. At the end of the day, I don't think it cared what either of us were saying, but merely found the spandex-covered mouthfuls of me that it got to be unappealing enough for me to be able to escape and ride up the hill away from it.

I probably should have gotten some information from her about the dog at the time, but a quick check showed that my shorts and legwarmers had protected my legs enough that I wasn't bleeding, and I just wanted to get the heck away. Chad and I proceeded to have a lovely 40+ mile ride (more on that later). When we got back and cleaned up, there were two sets of four bruises each where the dog's canines had made contact and one small scrape where one of the teeth had almost but not quite poked in. Ow.

I did call Kaiser yesterday morning after we got home, as I was overdue for a tetanus booster anyway -- they made me come in to get it looked at, and insisted that I report the incident to animal control. Joy. I spent quite a while on the phone ("Hello, Tuolumne County Animal Control? I'd like to report that a dog with an unprintable name bit me on Yankee Hill Road..."), and had to fill out another form with the same information when I went in for my tetanus shot. Apparently a dog bite does not have to cause bleeding to count as having punctured the skin (the scrape from the pressure was enough). Fortunately, there's not been rabies in dogs in CA for quite some time. (Just don't get a bat or skunk bite.)

Funny thing, when you go to Kaiser with a dog bite, the staff are much more solicitous than normal, radiating a bizarre "Oh, you poor thing!" mien that's so strong it's almost cloying. This doesn't happen if you go in with a broken bone, sprain, or profuse bleeding from some other accidental self-induced trauma, or even if you're taking your small child in with pneumonia. It was weird -- everyone from the person on the phone, to the advice nurse, to the receptionist, to the nurse, to the doctor seemed to treat me as if I was fragile, despite all that really happened was some bruises, a scratch, and the need for a tetanus shot that was already overdue. Maybe others have the same subconscious response to dogs that I do? Or a primal response to wild-acting critters? This level of dog bite is much less of a problem than, say, breaking an ankle in the backcountry.

When I told Nimue the story, she wanted to know the dog's name; I told her that I wasn't sure, but it sounded like it might have been a bad word. "Oh, like Poopsie-Whoopsie?" she asked. Bottoms are inherently funny in the words of an 8-year-old. I'll probably remember that and crack up the next time I see a threatening canine. And start riding the other direction very, very fast.

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