Miraculously, and I mean that in a literal way, neither Tiamo nor I were bitten. But two nights ago we were attacked by a neighborhood dog.
We were walking along in companionable silence in the hush of a snowy night. The sound of a dog barking far away from where we were broke the silence. Tiamo stopped in her tracks. She froze, her front paw raised delicately, as if offering it to a canine Darcy or Count Vronsky, and stared in the direction from whence came the barks. I stood quietly, respectfully, allowing her whatever time she needed to suss the situation. Meanwhile I admired her pretty pose and alert, quivering ears.
More barks. A human voice yelling at the dog.
The sounds came from the middle of a stretch of houses that line the exit avenue to get from my neighborhood out onto the main road.
We weren’t even close to these houses. Between us stood a pair of two-lane roads and a wide grassy median. The back yards of those homes are shielded from sight by mature trees and thick low-lying bushes. This dark, heavy scrim of foliage blocked everything—lights, people, dogs, everything—from our sight, but still Tiamo stood like a statue, her flaring nostrils in that lovely black velvet nose the only movement.
A cannonball of mass and energy exploded through the wall of trees.
It was the dog.
Still barking, it was big, fast, fierce and angry. It charged, unswerving, legs like pistons churning out long, strong strides, and it was heading straight for Tiamo and me.
I yelled to the unseen human. I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was something like “YOUR DOG IS ATTACKING US! PLEASE–COME GET YOUR DOG!” Hoping it was trained well enough to respond to a basic authoritative command, I turned my attention to the dog. “NO! NO!” I shouted.
It kept coming.
“GO HOME! GO HOME!” I roared.
It kept coming.
I think tried to tell it to sit (I know; sometimes I don’t even believe myself–srsly? Sit?). But suddenly it was there at my feet.
Even in a state of rage, its face was beautiful. For one odd moment I imagined its family being charmed the first time they saw this dog as a pup. Pretty eyes, slender muzzle, milk chocolate color. It was shorthaired, regal like a purebred, tall, but not as hefty as a Rhodesian ridgeback, maybe more like a Doberman. But, between fits of barking that indicated either wildness, or intent, or both, I could see its white fangs flashing in the light of the streetlamp.
Tiamo held her own, answering his viciousness with her own fierce big-dog barks. The dog lunged toward her, snapping, biting, and growling, over and over again. I counted three times that it seemed to have gotten close enough to bite her, and Tiamo yelped. I did my best to stay between them. I remember I tried to land a karate kick on the dog’s snout but I never connected. Blame it on the recent knee surgery.
At some point during the fracas the human caught up to us but the dog was so crazed it either didn’t notice or didn’t give a damn. I think our eyes met for a quick moment or two and I understood this person to be a young man, perhaps a teenager.
Clearly, Tiamo was at a size disadvantage but the situation was too volatile for me to even try to pick her up.
I dropped the leash.
Tiamo took off.
She ran like a greyhound.
I watched in awe as she turned on the jets. She’s athletic, she’s fast, and she’s smart, and she put all of these assets to good use in her race to safety. All the way down the street the bigger dog stayed one or two steps behind her.
Then I was paralyzed by knife-stabs of terror: what if her leash got caught in something? My mind flipped through all of the possibilities—the roots of a bush, a chunk of ice, the shepherd’s poles from which hang our solar lanterns—and I went just a little bit nuts. If that happened, Tiamo would be a sitting duck. The attacker would go for the jugular and she’d be dead.
I snapped back to reality when I saw the young man running after the dogs. I joined the chase.
I could hear by the barks that Tiamo made it to the front door of our house. Poor thing, there was no one to let her in. Plan B. Somehow, she was able to escape the confinement of the front entrance and she ran to the back yard. THANK GOD I had left the gate open. Minutes before we took our walk, I had rolled the trash bin from the curb to the house. Thank God I had neglected to close and latch the gate.
By the time the young man and I caught up to them, the big dog was in the yard, still agitated, still barking aggressively, still intent on Tiamo. And even though I still had not gotten a good look at the young man, I was able to see enough to understand that he was just as frightened as I was. What seemed odd was that he was very much afraid of his own dog. He couldn’t get near the animal. I’m not sure he tried. You would think that once the dog was inside my yard and his person was there too, the dog might come to its senses. Guess not.
Tiamo squeezed up against the sliding glass doors that lead from a raised deck to the dining room. Clearly, she was terrified. I edged toward her, but all the while I had to keep my eye on the other dog and try not to draw it toward Tiamo. Barking, barking, barking–it was terror, pure and simple, for everyone. We hung out like that for what seemed an eternity, with me being the goalie that kept the dog from scoring Tiamo.
The most obscene things came out of my mouth. “YOU STUPID B-$T-RD! DON’T YOU DARE! DON’T YOU DARE COME NEAR MY DOG!” And–this is a good one–“WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?”
It seemed that the young man needed some direction, so I yelled that he should try to get control of his dog. Then I realized–How could he? He needed a leash! –Matter of fact, I wasn’t even sure the dog was wearing a collar.
So then I yelled that I needed to get my dog inside and then I’d come right back out and give him her leash. I begged, “Please just keep your dog away from us–just for a minute.” Then I focused on Tiamo, who was so jittery she backed away from me. She didn’t trust that picking her up was the right thing to do. Nevertheless, I was able to reassure her, and she let me scoop her up in my arms. God bless that young man because he was in fact able to keep his still-barking animal from charging us as I hurried Tiamo from the deck through the garage and into the house.
Instead of returning to the yard, which would give the dog another chance to go berserk at me, I opened the sliding glass door and stepped out onto the deck just far enough to be able to toss Tiamo’s leash at the boy’s feet. He looked at me with an expression of confusion, or uncertainty. “Just take it,” I yelled over the barking dog. “You need a leash to get your dog home.”
I went inside and collapsed on the couch beside Tiamo. My brain was on fire. Everything had happened so fast. It was all so loud, so scary. Throughout this noisy drama, images of Donovan when he was attacked and nearly eaten alive by a coyote had been running through my mind.
A minute later there was a knock at the front door. I was stunned. Are you kidding me? I thought. I went to the door and there was the kid. And this was the first time I got a good look at him.
He was wearing thin cotton shorts and a short-sleeved t-shirt. His glasses were fogging in the freezing cold night air. A stream ran from his nose down into his mouth. He looked kind, and earnest, and very, very sweet.
My heart exploded. I felt so sorry for him. I wanted to open the door, bring him inside, give him blankets and sweaters and hot chocolate. But I couldn’t risk opening the door, not even a crack, because that dog could lunge its way inside and go tearing through the house and then where would we be? I felt terrible for doing it, but I had no choice but to conduct our conversation through the oval of glass in the wooden door.
He asked if I wanted him to bring the leash back. Horrified that maybe he was talking about doing this tonight, I shook my head no and told him to just go home. But as he spoke I saw something in his eyes that haunts me. Was it pain? Embarrassment? Cold?
This is the moment that I saw that he was barefoot.
I was stricken.
He had run over ice and snow and all the frozen crud snowplows leave behind in his bare feet.
The temperature was barely in the double-digits. My weather app reported that with wind chills it was between 3 below to 7 above zero.
“Let me give you some boots or shoes,” I pleaded. He shook his head no, no, and said he’d be fine. Quickly, I thought through options: Can I give him a ride home? No, stupid, because of the dog. Can I call someone for him? No, because I couldn’t invite him in while he waited. To argue with him would be to prolong his agony, and so, reluctantly, I nodded and waved goodbye.
I called Juli. Regurgitated the whole story. She told me that everything, especially the part about dropping the leash, was the right thing to do.
Then I went on Amazon.com and ordered a new leash and a canister of dog pepper spray.
I didn’t sleep one minute that night. Every time I closed my eyes I saw that dog in all its horrid rage. I saw Tiamo in all her fear and courage. And I saw somebody’s son shivering in the cold.
I have to find out where he lives. I need to know that he’s okay.