Have you ever been confronted by an angry, menacing and aggressive dog, its teeth bared and growling? I have. Was I scared? You bet I was. It was an unnerving and entirely frightening experience that I would not wish upon anybody. Let me tell you; I was really scared. I was near panic. I was churning inside with fear that I would be bitten or clawed. What was I to do? My first instinct was to run, but I remembered having read something months earlier about what to do if menaced by a dog.
Perhaps it was because of that, that I escaped unharmed. The incident occurred several years ago when I was working at the Times-Advocate, and our offices were at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Kalmia. It was just a couple of blocks from the T-A in an alley one block north of Pennsylvania and just west of Kalmia. It was the route I took to walk to Jacobson’s Tire and Automotive (directly across from Grape Day Park) whenever I left my car for servicing.
On my previous walks along the alley, I was aware there was a dog, chained in a yard on my right. As I passed, the dog was always growling, barking and lunging, stretching its chain to its full length, trying to break away from the tree to which it was tied. I never paid much attention, knowing that the dog was chained couldn’t get free. But on this particular day, things were different.
I was walking at a normal pace when I noticed a large dog of mixed breed about the size of a full-grown doberman) on the left side of the alley. It was browsing in weeds about a foot high. Momentarily, I thought nothing of it, as the dog had a chain attached to a collar on its neck. The moment the dog saw me, it began to snarl and bark. With lips curled and teeth bared, It started to lope toward me. I assumed that the chain would halt its lunge, as it still was about 15 yards away. But it kept coming; the chain didn’t stop it. It wasn’t chained! The chain was dragging behind it. About five feet of chain.
I suddenly realized that there was no dog chained to a tree on my right – as was usual. Now, there was an unchained dog on my left. It had to have been the one from the house on my right and had broken its chain that had been tied to a tree. (It only takes seconds for all these thoughts to pass through your mind.)
Believe me; I had done nothing to arouse the dog. I had not teased it; I had not yelled at it. But, I apparently had startled it just by being in its space. I froze in my tracks when I realized that the dog was about to attack. It came to within two feet of me, snapping, snarling, lunging back and forth. I wanted to turn and run so badly, but I knew that I could never outrun the dog; it was too close. If I had run, that dog would have been on me in no time.
It was at that moment I recalled the article I had read about what to do if a dog were to menace you: Freeze. I froze on the spot. Close your fists to avoid any fingers sticking out; a finger is easier to snap off than a whole fist. I closed my fists. The dog kept lunging back and forth, still snarling, as if it was testing me, seemingly to draw a hair closer each time. It began to circle me. I moved slowly – and I mean slowly – keeping my eyes on the dog. I knew that any sudden movement might cause the dog to become bolder and move closer. It began to move back a way. I started to walk backward. But apparently I was too fast. The dog came at me again. I froze. Up to that point, my mouth was so dry and I was so scared that I couldn’t make a sound.
I also remembered that the article said to talk in a low voice to the dog and to jingle any coins or keys you might have in your pocket. For some reason, that jingling is supposed to distract the dog. I started to say – and I had to gulp for words – “Nice boy; nice boy.” It backed off a way. I very slowly inched my hand into my suit jacket pocket to reach my car keys. I got them out and began to jingle them lightly.
My actions – freezing, talking in a low voice, jingling the car keys – must have had a soothing effect on the dog. Because it moved away, although still eyeing me. I backed up slowly all the way to the end of the alley until I was safe, and hightailed it back to my office. I called the Humane Society, which dispatched an officer, who in turn had to call for assistance. I could watch this action unfold from outside the T-A building, as the dog was now wandering around the east end of the alley, near Kalmia.
The dog attacked one of the officers when he first approached it. As the dog tried to bite the officer, he kicked at it. The kick missed, but the two officers finally captured the dog. As for me, I never again walked to Jacobson’s along that alley. I chose an alternate route.
I am not a hater of pets, nor am I a lover of pets. But you have no idea – unless you have experienced it – what a chilling experience it is to face a menacing animal. After all these years, I still tense up a bit when I see a loose unchained dog.
Ron Kenney was a reporter and editor for the former Daily Times-Advocate from 1952 to 1979 and was a copy editor on the pages of the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1985 to 1997.